The marketing campaign for the new film Divergent is ramping up with only six weeks to its release date, so I thought I’d put my new Kindle Fire to use and see if this story is really all it’s cracked up to be. Because let’s face it, the trailers look cool and when it comes to future dystopian fictional landscapes, I’m usually all in. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but I will always give it a go. Also, Kate Winslet is in it, so you know there’s something to this thing.
Now let’s get one thing straight… this is Young Adult Fantasy Fiction, a fact of which I remained very aware of as I made my way through the trilogy. Now, I’m going to try my very hardest to avoid comparing these books to The Hunger Games (THG). And that’s not going to be easy because there are so many similar elements. But Divergent is not a rip off of THG, though it may owe some of it’s success to it’s predecessor. And if you enjoyed reading THG, as I did, you will very likely enjoy reading these as well.
I’ll give the quick synopsis (since many of you have probably seen the trailer for the film you probably have an idea of the premise already anyway). In the world of Divergent, society is broken in to five factions… Amity, Abnegation, Dauntless, Erudite, and Candor… so called because of the human trait they stand for and value above all else. When a child of this society is sixteen, they must choose to either stay with the faction in which they were born, or choose to leave their family for another faction. All children are given an aptitude test to identify which faction they truly belong in, but the choice is ultimately left up to the individual. And then your faction becomes your family. “Faction before blood”, they say. In this way the society has kept order and peace for generations. But if the test is indeterminate, and shows that a child has aptitude for multiple factions, those children are known as “Divergent”.
The books starts on the day of the aptitude tests, with our protagonist, Beatrice Prior, learning that she is divergent. The test administrator is sympathetic and changes her report to show her aptitude for being with just one of the factions and warns Beatrice to never let anyone know she is divergent. Those in control fear the divergent, believing it threatens the social structure that brings their society peace. But no one explains this to Beatrice. It’s all a great mystery what divergence is and why it’s dangerous. So on choosing day she chooses the faction she believes she belongs in… Dauntless. The warriors and protectors of the city. From there we follow her training and learn about the others who chose Dauntless and will become her friends, allies and enemies, all while slowly unraveling the mystery of the divergent.
The second book in the series, Insurgent, gets much deeper into the government conspiracy that has now pit faction against faction. The society is on the cusp of civil war, and there is already almost an entire faction of people wiped out. And moving into Allegiant, the conspiracy grows deeper and weirder as our heroes explore beyond the borders of their walled in city (which turns out is, or was, Chicago).
It’s a pretty good set up and opens up some interesting ways to explore themes of choice, consequence and nature vs nurture. Which is exactly what the books do and in a way that is very accessible to it’s target audience. And the books don’t get too bogged down with the philosophical stuff either (and honestly, philosophically this story could go down a very seriously dark rabbit hole if it wanted to). Its story continues to move forward at a good pace and most scenes in the first two books have pretty clear conflict and purpose. Though admittedly the third in the series, Allegiant, does seem to have a lot of filler regarding the two primary characters romantic relationship and their inner conflicts about lying to each other. It gets a bit repetitive and tedious, but seriously, is there a such thing as a teen romance that isn’t tedious when viewed from the outside? Yes, I would have rather learned more about the people in The Fringe than about Tris and Four’s relationship troubles. And there were a few times I thought characters were making choices out of necessity for the story rather than the choices they would have actually made. But ultimately I can’t ask too much of a YA novel except to make the world I’m visiting internally consistent, which it mostly was, and to honor a set of values, which it did. And it was a fun (and quick) read that will hopefully result in a movie as good as (if not better than) THG. There are a number of ways it could go wrong (if the gif-heavy Pinterest style website is any indication, it could be a disaster, but I hope not). But there are lots of ways it could go right too.
Overall it’s an interesting story, a good fun read, and potentially a good movie. Its prose and mythology is not as sophisticated as something like His Dark Materials (which if you haven’t read that, do it, immediately). But it blows Twilight out of the water. I would give it the first two 4 out of 5 Nerdskulls, and the third one 3 out of 5.
I’d also like to note that there are some EXCELLENT casting choices here, as well as other credentials worth mentioning:
Writer Evan Daugherty has credits on Snow White and the Huntsman, which slightly missed its mark as a film but I think was written well.
Writer Vanessa Taylor has credits on Game of Thrones and Alias, among other things. Nuf’ said.
Final Divergent Theatrical Trailer:
And an official featurette:
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