Let’s begin with a visual representation of this book’s fandom right now:
I haven’t seen a book reaction this wanktacular since Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. So wanktastic is it that I don’t know how I will write this review without spoilers. So guys, this is your warning. I’M GOING TO SPOIL THE WHOLE BOOK. DO NOT READ BEYOND THIS POINT IF YOU’RE NOT OK WITH THAT.
Now let’s get this shitshow started.
We begin after THE BIG REVEAL that closed book 2: Amanda Ritter Explains It All. I kept wanting to type Amanda Palmer so now I’m going to imagine it was Amanda Palmer in the video instead.
So Amanda Ritter a.k.a Edith Prior (Abnegation would like names like Edith) said the outside world was in chaos and the problem was human nature. A select group of people were placed in Chicago and given new identities. They were to keep reproducing until there were lots of “divergent” people who would then be let out into the world to save the day.
SPOILER we later find out that this is mostly bullshit, but at the time, I wondered how this would work. They’re people with multiple personality traits, not the fucking Avengers. How are a bunch of randos from Chicago supposed to save the world?
My brain hurts.
This is not a good sign, since I haven’t even started this review proper yet. And unforch, it only gets worse from here on out.
So the factionless, led by Tobias/Four’s mother Evelyn, have taken over and abolished the factions. A rebel group known as the “Allegiant” is formed who want to reinstate the factions. While all this is going on, our intrepid heroes bounce the city to see what’s out there. At the fence, they are attacked by guards and Tori, former Dauntless leader who seemed to have nine lives in the previous book, finally hits her last one and dies. The rest of the gang make it out of the city where they are met by Amar, Tobias’s former instructor whom he thought was dead, and another new character who is promptly ignored after this so I won’t bother with her.
Now, this is a potentially exciting point. This is when we find out what is really happening in the outside world and how the divergent are supposed to save it. This is when all the inconsistencies in the world building get explained and it allll makes sense.
Oh, no. Rather, we explain crappy world building with more crappy world building. It’s crapception.
But I get ahead of myself. The gang are taken to a compound out in the middle of nowhere, which we find out is the Bureau of Genetic Welfare. It turns out that the Bureau has set up a series of communities like theirs in various cities, and those communities are being monitored. It gives the term “social experiment” a whole new meaning.
See, what happened is that a while back, people were being genetically engineered to remove undesirable traits such as selfishness, dishonesty, cowardice, etc. There is no way this could end badly, not at all. So in a shocking turn of events, people continue to be assholes, and there was a huge “Purity War” between the genetically damaged (GDs) and genetically pure (GPs). In the wake of said war, communities like the one in Chicago were created, populated by GDs whose damaged genes were fixed, and the Bureau would wait for them to reproduce enough times that genetically pure, or “divergent” people would start appearing.
This has literally got to be the dumbest thing I have ever read. First off, only the genetically damaged were acting like assholes? Not a single genetically pure person was selfish, cowardly, wrathful, or whatever other emotions that people feel during a war? Secondly, has world history stopped being taught in schools or something? Because there was totally no war, genocide, or injustice when everyone was “genetically pure.” Nope, not at all. And thirdly, why take such ridiculous and counterproductive measures to restore “genetic purity” when you have advanced enough technology to a) fuck up everyone’s genes in the first place and b) create 13412432143124 serums to manipulate people? Couldn’t they just re-engineer the next generation or some shit?
To add some garnish to this cornucopia of fuckery, we also find out that several divergent people that were supposedly killed are actually alive and well and living at the Bureau. Among them is Tori’s brother, George, whom she has spent her life trying to avenge. I imagine we’re supposed to feel some kind of poignance that Tori died before she and George could be reunited, but the only reaction I could muster was:
This is just one of many obvious, contrived attempts to tug the readers’ heartstrings. Fortunately I, like Harry S. Plinkett, have no heartstrings to tug. I’m onto you, book. VR keeps killing off supporting characters left and right, but the problem is, none of them have the depth or development to make readers care very much. Every time a supporting character is knocked off I was like, “another redshirt down.”
I’m also wondering if the surviving divergents are all sociopathic or something. How do you sit around watching your loved ones grieve for you and try to avenge your “death” while you’re perfectly alive and well? And don’t any of you fuckheads tell me, “They couldn’t ruin the experiment!” Bullshit. The controls on this experiment are leakier than a damn sieve. And considering both Amar and George came from Dauntless, you’d think they of all people would be like “fuck da police!” and try to smuggle their families out or tell them what’s up or something.
The bulk of the book’s middle is occupied by establishing the Bureau and the GP/GD conflicts, which essentially amount to a rehash of the factions/factionless conflict. There’s a rebellion attempt within the Bureau by GDs, and we learn of “the fringe”—an area outside the city where the genetically damaged live in slums and abject poverty. Hmm, sound familiar?
Hey, don’t bring a perfectly good show into this! That was not what I meant.
We also find out that Tris’s Mom was actually part of the Bureau—she was a runaway “adopted” by the Bureau because she was suspected as genetically pure—and volunteered to enter the experiment and be their eyes on the inside. Well, you all know how that turned out. Now the Bureau wants to “reset” the experiment by mass memory-wiping everyone in Chicago with MAGIC SERUM (and it’s not the first time they’ve done this). Tris, Tobias, and co have to stop them.
Which begs the question—what do the Bureau do when they mass-wipe everyone’s memories? Do they sit each individual person down and explain who they are and who their families are and whatnot? Or is it some 50 First Dates thing in which their memories are wiped to a certain point, erasing the conflict or whatever?
NOW I’M GOING TO SPOIL IT ALL FOR YOU so if you still kept reading despite my earlier warning, this is your last chance. Abandon all hope of not being spoiled ye who enter here.
So after we’ve dicked around long enough with GD/GP wars and whatnot for a couple hundred pages it’s time to wrap this shit up. (Random aside: whenever they used the acronym “GD” I kept thinking G-Dragon and now I am imagining G-Dragon leading riots of genetically damaged K-poppers. It’s kind of glorious). The factionless/allegiant conflict is resolved in the most pat and contrived manner I’ve seen since Bella Swan’s love shield. Basically, Tobias ganks some memory serum and goes into the city to wipe one of his parents’ memories. But after he talks to his mother—the same woman who faked her own death and hid out with the factionless for years planning this coup—she concludes that love is all she needs, and she’ll stop fighting for what she’s been fighting for all her life because her son asked her.
Back at the Bureau, the gang conspires to wipe the memories of the Bureau leaders to keep them from memory-wiping all of Chicago. Serum-ception!. The only way to accomplish this is for one of them to go on a suicide mission—break into the lab to release the memory serum but get sprayed with MAGIC DEATH SERUM in the process. Caleb volunteers, but at the last minute, Tris takes his place and sacrifices herself. Because of her soopah speshul resistance to serums (better than the other divergents), she somehow survives the death serum only to get shot and killed by the Bureau’s leader.
So I think now you guys can figure out why there’s so much wank. It seems VR was trying for something like this:
But it ended up like this:
We all know (or at least, Buffy fans do) that Buffy’s death at the end of “The Gift” wasn’t final. But it could have been. In fact, there are many fans that, given the events of the later seasons, would prefer that it was. But I digress. Buffy’s death was powerful and effective because everything in the narrative built beautifully up to this moment. She acted out of love for her sister, and out of duty as a slayer. Sacrifice was a recurring theme throughout her narrative, so it made sense for her to make this final, ultimate sacrifice. When Buffy made her swan dive of death, it delivered a maximum emotional gut punch.
The moral of this story? If you can’t do it right, don’t kill off your protagonist for shock value.
Guess which option applies to this book.
There are some who would argue that Tris’s sacrifice is consistent with her character—she was always willing to lay down her life for others. I don’t dispute that. That’s not the problem. The problem is that her death was contrived and unnecessary. First off, if your protagonist is going to die for someone else, it needs to be someone worthy. Going back to the Buffy example, not only was Dawn her sister, but she was an innocent—one of the many innocent lives the slayer has sworn to protect. In Allegiant, however, Caleb is no Dawn—in fact, he’s actually pretty despicable. While it might seem noble for Tris to sacrifice her life for her brother the traitor, it’s ultimately unsatisfying as a narrative device. Caleb does fuck all throughout the book and there’s no reason to believe he’s been redeemed. In fact, it would be a more complete and satisfying character arc if Caleb were to sacrifice himself for his sister—not out of guilt, but out of love—and redeem himself.
But instead VR tosses that right out in favor of the cheap shock tactic.
Tobias mopes around for a few chapters, everything is tied up with a neat bow, and it’s over.
Oh, and I forgot to mention—instead of being from Tris’s PoV all through (which would be difficult since she, you know, dies)—this book features alternating chapters in Tris and Tobias’s PoVs. I wouldn’t have minded if not for the fact that Tris and Tobias’s voices are basically identical. I often got confused as to whose PoV I was in. To be fair, Tobias’s behavior is pretty out-of-character, though—he basically was acting like Tris in Insurgent, taking stupid risks for no good reason. I actually liked him as a character during the past two books, but he really fell flat in this one.
Ultimately, Allegiant presents a highly unsatisfying conclusion to this series. It might even be worse than Mockingjay. However, unlike Mockingjay, Allegiant suffers not from a lack of content but from too much. See, by the time you hit the third volume in a series, most of your world building should be done. Now the focus is on resolving conflicts and tying up loose ends. But because we’re taken out of the world established in the first two books and thrust into an entirely new one, this book has to build that world at the expense of the one it’s already (admittedly, very badly) built. We get all these new characters who are never developed or given any real depth (granted, this is nothing new, but at least this book could’ve focused on fleshing out existing characters) and all these new conflicts while the old ones remain unresolved. As a result, we get a rushed, sloppy ending.
If you’re really invested in this series and the characters, I suggest skipping this book altogether and turning to “fix it” fan fiction. Trust me, it couldn’t be worse.