WARNING: This review contains MAJOR spoilers for Allegiant, the final installment in the Divergent series. DO NOT READ ON unless you have finished the book.
I’m sure that author Veronica Roth is tired of being compared to Suzanne Collins, although arguably the Divergent books (like most popular YA dystopian novels) are derivative enough to invite the usual generic comparisons: The Giver, Ender’s Game, and of course The Hunger Games. However, Allegiant, Roth’s conclusion to the Divergent series suffers from much of some of the narrative issues that also plagued Collin’s final installment Mockingjay: taking the protagonists out of the context of the first two books and spending great amounts of time on exposition only to attempt to breathlessly cram game-changing action into the third act.
The world Roth created in Divergent and Insurgent (in which society is divided into five factions based on their primary personality traits) however derivative, was at least interesting and posited some significant arguments about nature vs. nurture and what qualities or traits are most (or least desirable) in leaders and governments. Unfortunately, Roth falls back on a well-worn literary trope by revealing that all the action in the first two books takes place in a snow globe of sorts.
We learn that Tris’s city is actually part of a social experiment resulting from a eugenics war that wiped out most of the U.S. Instead of giving the reader an ending that takes into account all of the events of the previous books; the fractured Chicago becomes a pawn in a far less interesting conflict taking place in the “real world.” It is interesting that like Mockingjay, most of the narrative of Allegiant takes place in a self-contained environment: in Mockingjay the underground headquarters of district 13 and in Allegiant the remnants of O’Hare airport, now the locus of a shadowy government operation. However, it is jarring that Roth moves away from her earlier themes of identity and choices and opts for the larger allegories of racism, poverty, and the perils of unethical science.
Another jarring choice by Roth is to split the narration of Allegiant between Tris and Tobias (aka “Four), Tris’s strong, reserved, yet attractively damaged boyfriend. This split unfortunately shifts the narrative away from a strong female protagonist to her far less interesting romantic counterpart (teenage girls, disagree as you may). Tobias, as has been said of Twilight protagonist Bella Swan, is a cipher—there is not much unique about him aside from a history of parental abuse that serves as a commentary on themes of damage and wholeness. During the segments when we are inside Tobias’s head, I wished we were back in Tris’s. Like Katniss, Tris is flawed—ornery, stubborn, bordering on arrogant, but she is at least a multifaceted character. Roth has done such a good job making Four seem like a mysterious, reserved character whose main role is Tris’s love interest, that I as a reader felt I didn’t know him well enough to engage in his perspective.
In a move so obvious that I should have been smacked over the head with it from the beginning and not during the buildup to the book’s “controversial” ending, it soon becomes clear that shifting part of the narrative to Four is done only to add a coda to the story that Tris can no longer tell, because, well, she’s dead. Just like Marius in Les Miserables holding the last note of “A Little Fall of Rain,” Tobias is the one who lives to tell the tale. Unlike many other readers, I personally respect Roth for choosing the more honest of the two options for ending a hero narrative—the implausible survival of the hero amid the carnage of other, more minor characters, or the heroic sacrifice in which the protagonist does not live to see the better world that he/she fights for. This is not a shocking death in the tradition of George R.R. Martin but rather takes the final logical step by not forcing an awkwardly cheery epilogue Harry Potter-style. Many I’ve spoken to believe that Katniss Everdeen should have gone out in a blaze of glory, and that her eventual marriage to Peeta is a diminishment of the character and unrealistic given the violence she’s seen and participated in.
I believe that there are merits to both endings—Mockingjay shows that even the most damaged and broken among us can eventually heal, while Allegiant counters that sometimes the bravest and most deserving do not survive, leaving their loved ones to carry on. Although Allegiant has many flaws, Roth does do a masterful job of creating a situation where the reader cannot imagine a scenario in which our hero could live and still be the authentic character we’ve come to know. The ending of Allegiant, while unsettling (especially, I imagine, to younger readers) also rings true to its depiction of a dystopia in which people, even young people, can die senselessly in unjust wars. In my heart of hearts, I myself longed for the sunlit scene where Tobias and Tris watch their children play in a better, more compassionate world—but in life it is impossible to avoid grief and death. Roth refuses to condescend to her teenage and adult readers by making the same tenants hold true in fiction.