Book Reviews 2014 · Dystopian Books · Young Adult Book Reviews

‘Insurgent’ by Veronica Roth

One choice can transform you – or it can destroy you.

In times of war sides must be chosen and secrets will emerge. Tris has already paid a terrible price for survival and is wracked by haunting guilt. But radical new discoveries and shifting relationships mean that she must fully embrace her Divergence – even though she stands to lose everything…

2.5 Stars (Rounded to 2)

For those of you who do not know, ‘Insurgent’ is the second instalment of the ‘Divergent’ trilogy by Veronica Roth. I was incredibly late getting around to reading ‘Divergent’, mainly due to the fact that it sounded so much like everything else on the YA Dystopian market, I had read many negative reviews, and, along with the majority of people out there, knew the series’ major plot twist before even picking up the first book.

After vaguely tolerating ‘Divergent’ (although I am not dispelling my first point that it is just like everything else on the market), I was hoping that ‘Insurgent’ would inject a flair of originality to help aid my major issue with the first book. And while I feel that it was a slight improvement on its predecessor, I was still left disappointed by the same things which made ‘Divergent’ lose some of its potential.

My general stance on the series at the moment is that the idea, whilst not as original as I would like, is a decent one.; the story is one which a lot of people, including myself, enjoy reading. However, my two main problems lie with originality and execution.

My major problem with this series so far (I am over halfway through the final book, ‘Allegiant’, at the time of writing this) is in the writing. Of course, you have to applaud Veronica Roth for creating such a popular franchise, yet sometimes I feel that her work is incredibly hard to read. She often lacks commas and uses awkward phrasing, which is a personal peeve. It is not always that her grammar or phrasing is wrong, however I felt that it was incredibly difficult to process some sentences, and had to reread lines several times to clarify the intended meaning. This was my first criticism of the series, and it has been constantly annoying me throughout, making the books slightly harder for me to finish.

This is where my review gets slightly ‘spoilery’ Although most people know all of the twists of this series before reading it, I still recommend leaving the review if you do not want to be spoiled for ‘Insurgent’, or indeed ‘Divergent’ before it.

~SPOILERY BIT~

Roth, at 25, is very young for the author of such a successful series, and I was hoping that her writing would have matured between the first and second book. The main qualms I had with ‘Divergent’ were the lack of description and foreshadowing.

In ‘Insurgent’, as before, we get little to no physical description of characters and buildings. I still find it hard to picture what the city or the Dauntless compound actually look like, and I feel that the only character who has an in-depth description of his appearance is Tobias (whom, even after reading two-and-a-half books, I cannot decide whether to call Tobias or Four), and the majority of this comes from Tris expressing her love of his blue eyes and muscles, and various other pieces of information I did not require or wish to know. To be able to picture events in my head, I would like more of a description of surroundings and character. Without this, I really do struggle to immerse myself in the story.

The lack of insight into characters besides Tris and Four means that I am left not particularly attached to any characters in the book. As I do not like Tris (for reasons I will state later), it is important to have information on other characters, so that those of us who do not adore our protagonist at least have another character which they can invest in. As we know little about anyone besides the main two, I struggle to understand anything about any of the supporting characters, therefore I feel little emotion when anything happens to those characters. When I finally do find someone I like (such as Fernando, who I am drawn to purely because he tackled the situation in the same way I can picture myself doing), they die within a handful of chapters. On the whole, I feel that we are bombarded with a host of secondary characters whom we know little to nothing about and then are expected to have a reaction when something happens to them. I can count on one hand the amount of characters I actually warm to during the course of the first two books, and I feel this dismal number is not down to bad concepts for characters, just bad (or non-existent) characterisation when writing about them.

There are also inaccuracies in the story, which left me incredibly confused. We are told in ‘Divergent’ that Tori’s brother is called George, yet when she is avenging his death by killing Jeanine, we get the line ‘I hear her murmur her brother’s name – “Jonathan Wu”‘. This typo comes at a vital part of the story, and distracted me from Jeanine’s death to a point where I put the book down to investigate whether his name is actually Jonathan or George (George, for anyone who is interested). There are also certain sections which, whilst not containing inaccuracies, are phrased in a way which made me believe that there was a fault. For example, when entering the Erudite headquarters, Christina gets shot in the leg. This is mentioned briefly at the end of a paragraph: ‘He [Edward] wrenches me to the side and fires again, hitting Christina in the leg’. Christina then proceeds to shoot Edward in the side of his body, as seen in the line ‘Christina draws her gun and shoots. The bullet hits him in the side’. When asked about how she is, further down the same page, Christina responds with ‘”It hit the side…'”. Because of the fact that we only hear that the bullet hit Christina’s leg once, stuck on the end of a sentence further up the page, then get paragraphs about Edward clutching his side, Christina’s comment gives me the impression that she was shot in the side, due to the vast amount of time spent mentioning the word ‘side’. I realised this mistake when reading the first line of ‘Allegiant’, where Christina is mentioned as having her injured leg propped up. Upon going back (to the previous book, might I add) to reread this section, I noticed the tiny bit of information regarding the bullet to the leg, discarded at the end of a chunk of text. I feel like Christina mentioning that the bullet ‘hit the side’, when another character has been shot in the side, is just an awkward bit of phrasing which had to be read again to grasp the whole story. It may be irrelevant, but when you have to reread paragraphs over again to understand what is happening, it takes up quite a lot of time and slows down reading. This could be avoided by using less confusing phrasing, which is an easy thing to remedy.

One thing I feel is really missing in ‘Insurgent’ is foreshadowing. I love foreshadowing in a book; I am the kind of person who scrutinises writing to try and guess what is coming (with varying degrees of accuracy, which adds to the fun). I love techniques such as Chekhov’s Gun, where a seemingly insignificant thing is mentioned in passing, and then comes to the forefront as a vital piece of information. I saw barely any subtle clues as to what is to come; everything is either blatantly obvious or completely spontaneous. This makes the revelations unsatisfactory, as you’ve either completely guessed it or had no way of getting anywhere close, removing the feeling of pride I get as a reader if I pick up on an important clue.

In ‘Insurgent’, Tris and Four’s relationship takes a ‘Bella-and-Edward-in-Twilight’ route; instead of being content that both of them are alive when they were both an inch from death such a short time ago, they are keeping tabs on who has lied to who, and feeling wounded that they are not completely in the loop. It is a full-on war. It is not the time to fight about keeping secrets from each other. I found Four being angry that Tris was trying to sacrifice herself completely laughable – she is in permanent danger anyway, and chastising her about taking risks when they are at war is a complete waste of breath. One thing that I liked about their relationship in ‘Divergent’ is that they had an understanding of each other as people and were comfortable in where they stood – for example, Tris knew not to push Four about his relationship with his father – and yet in ‘Insurgent’, the pair just fight about how they feel they were wronged by their partner, then do absolutely nothing to put it right. This made me lose all interest in the relationship, and made me dislike Tris, as opposed to the mild disinterest I felt in ‘Divergent’, as I felt that she was too invasive of Four and never seemed to acknowledge his opinions or his feelings.

The overall story, whilst still seeming like a regurgitated ‘Hunger Games’, was readable. I still find the factions far too ridiculous and conflicting; the one-characteristic idea is flawed by the fact that the traits are too entwined to work separately, and the idea that only certain people possess the five basic traits to human nature is an infuriating concept. The plot is predictable, with far too many completely unnecessary deaths, however it is not really the story which let the book down for me. It was the execution, which I feel let down by; had the writing been a tad better, I feel that I would have enjoyed the book so much more than I did.

I actually preferred this story to ‘Divergent’, and think that this could have been a better book overall, but I am greatly disappointed by the fact that not one of my faults with the first book was actually remedied. If anything, I found the writing style, my main qualm, to be worse than before. Being midway through ‘Allegiant’ and enjoying that plot a lot more (even if none of these issues have been sorted yet), my hopes for the series lie solely with the third instalment, as the second was more disappointing than I thought it would be.

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