Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) One choice can transform you–or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves–and herself–while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.
Tris’s initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable–and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.
Thoughts: This was a strong follow-up to the previous book in the trilogy, Divergent (review here), one that really worked hard to expend on the very concept of what Divergence really was. The first book introduced Divergence almost as a combination of brain chemistry and personality type, one that fit outside the normal bounds of personality division within Tris’s world, something odd and undesirable. Here, it becomes the main focus of the war, a freedom from mind-controlling drugs and simulations, and a deadly and dangerous thing to have associated with you.
More detail is also given about the Factionless, who were only briefly touched on in the first book. Society’s untouchables, people without a Faction to call home. Divergent did mention that not everybody makes it through their Faction’s equivalent of boot camp, but it wasn’t completely clear on what happens to those who, for one reason or another, leave their Faction. The Factionless are an incredibly large yet mostly unseen presence in society, who stand poised on the edge, able to make a difference for one side of the war or the other.
The book picks up almost immediately after the closing of the previous installment. While this can make for seamless reading, the large cast of characters (especially characters who played roles in the past but who are not playing roles now) makes it hard to remember just who’s who and what they did unless you’ve very recently read (or reread) Divergent. While I’m not always fond of books that feel the need to recap the situation at the beginning of each new novel, I have to admit that a couple of friendly reminders about who Random Person 1 was might have been beneficial.
Roth tackles some really interesting dystopian concepts in this novel. The largest one, the war and the division and unification of factions, is the obvious one, but there are more subtle explorations peppered throughout the pages, too. One that comes immediately to mind is the way that the Amity faction keeps people happy and friendly through the addition of mood-altering drugs in the food. It’s a scary vision of the future in which not even friendly people are friendly of their own volition, and this sort of behaviour is preferable in order to keep the peace and social harmony. At least when Candor forces truth serum on you, they’re being up-front about it!
Character development is also key in this book, though admittedly, sometimes it got a little tedious. From everything that’s happened to her, from all the people she’s seen die and all the high-stress frantic situations she’s been forced into, Trist has very understandable PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). It’s not a pretty picture, and she withdraws and goes introspective quite often, cutting herself off from others and alternately takes crazy risks and then seems unable to do anything at all. While I can’t deny that this is realistic, it does become hard to read after a while. When a book is written from a first-person perspective, it’s hard to read the umpteenth repetition of a person’s insecurities, no matter how genuine they may be.
This is a dystopian series that is really making waves, and for good reasons. It’s smart, it’s insightful, it has some gorgeous prose and some truly hard-hitting events that make for a fascinating and mature read. The romance is good, believable and deep without being all-consuming. People deceive, are selfish, and have their own reasons for fighting on the side that they do. There is more pain, death, and nightmare-fuel just willing to be consumed by the reader. It suffers very few of the hallmarks of Second Book Syndrome, and is definitely something that the author should be proud of accomplishing. I’m eagerly awaiting the conclusion of the trilogy, and I highly recommend it to fans of dystopian fiction, and/or fans of YA fiction who are looking for a gritty and mature read.