Sunday, November 17, 2013

Breaking down the ending to Allegiant

Allegiant, the third and final book in Veronica Roth's Divergent series, was a huge fail in storytelling -- disappointing and unrealistic revelations, huge plot holes, aimless storylines and a poorly-executed narrative device -- but the ending is the biggest transgression and the reason most people have issue with this book. I will now break down all the reasons why these folks have every right to hate it.

The Execution

From a thematic perspective, this ending is really a beautiful and bittersweet conclusion to the story of young Tris Prior. This series has seen Tris struggle to reconcile her Abnegation upbringing with her newly realized Dauntless nature and understand how her Divergence fits into it all. We see this come together in the finale when she decides to give her life to save the people she loves -- it takes an unprecedented level of selflessness and bravery to sacrifice your own life. It is haunting and tragic and wonderful. I do commend Veronica Roth on bringing the story’s overarching themes in Tris’s journey together in such a powerful way; the heart behind the story does make sense. The problem, though, and the main reason this point largely failed to reach her readers, is in its execution. Because rather than have the story's main theme of sacrifice emerge seamlessly through a natural plotline, the plot in this book seems to exist for no reason other than to finally force this theme to clumsy and ultimately pointless fruition.

The ending falls flat on several points of failure in the writing. First, the entire plot leading to the climax was too contrived to make the situation read as truly necessary or authentic or even believable, so Tris's death comes off as forced and inorganic. Additionally, the aftermath was poorly written in showing how her death added to the plot in any way or served any real purpose to the narrative, so her death looks like it was done only for “shock value” even though it wasn’t meant to be. It was relevant only to Tris’s character arc, and barely so, but that is only half the story. The narrative is still incomplete. Another problem is that the ending is lacking an emotional payoff to reconcile the loss with the promise of something richer, and so the death remains hollow. If Veronica had successfully handled these elements and produced a more cohesive narrative, I believe the book would not have been received this poorly. 

While it is entirely believable for Tris to decide that sacrificing herself was necessary in the situation she ultimately found herself in, the problem is that the situation itself wasn't really necessary. The plan to break into the Weapons Lab to release memory serum onto the people at the Bureau was an entirely arbitrary decision. The characters make no effort to come up with another, more logical or even an ethical plan to stop the Bureau from resetting the Chicago experiment, and there were far less dangerous and drastic options available for them to try. Why not work toward coming up with a plan to sabotage the vessels deploying the memory serum over the city? Why not try to evacuate everyone out of the city? Why not beg for a temporary stay of execution while Tobias talks his parents down from their war plans (since apparently all he needed to do the whole time was ask)? Why not threaten David with very creative bodily harm unless he calls the reset off? At the very least, one of these plans would buy them time. If none of these plans could actually come to fruition is one thing, but what's most frustrating -- and unbelievable -- is that no one even bothers to suggest anything.

Somewhat surprisingly, Tris is the one who proposes this foolhardy plan. Tris has shown throughout the series that she can be tough and unforgiving and it makes sense that she would want to seek retaliation against the people responsible for the attack that killed her parents, but still I question how in character it is for her to suggest a preemptive strike that involves using the same despicable weapon upon her enemies that said enemy was going to use on her friends, despite the fact that a good many people at the Bureau are innocent, simply because this is the lesser of two evils. The book even goes so far as to have the characters acknowledge what a questionable plan this is but that they just don't know what else to do. This might as well be the author saying this to the reader. I guess in war, even the good guys have to be the bad guys sometimes in order to do what needs to be done, but it still rings false and unnecessary. This wasn't a kneejerk decision made in the heat of the moment with no time to think; they had two days to plan this. Why ignore more obvious solutions and instead automatically go for the most extreme and most damaging thing they could possibly do -- to both sides? The answer: How else is Tris going to conveniently find herself in yet another situation where she can volunteer to be a sacrifice?

The fact that breaking into the Weapons Lab had to be a suicide mission was also an arbitrary decision. They know there exists a way to enter the room legally but no effort is made to try to get it or otherwise find another way to disable the trigger or avoid setting off the death serum. The fact that the Weapons Lab is even booby-trapped with death serum in the first place just screams "random plot device," because really, why would they need to kill anyone who enters without permission? I understand the need to make the room as off-limits as possible, but why would they rig it with something that automatically kills people when this can just as easily kill their own people if they were to set it off by accident? This killer failsafe is not at all a believable plot device. The death serum trap was entirely contrived for no reason other than to make sure this plan would be a fatal endeavor, because it makes no sense for it to even be here otherwise.

Why would death serum ever be invented in the first place? For that matter, why are we even calling it "death serum"? Why can't Veronica just call it "poison" like a normal person? The name "death serum" sounds like something a 6-year-old would make up. And memory serum? What's the point of anything in this world if you can just use memory serum to force a do-over?  Why are serums the solution for everything? It's incredibly lazy storytelling to rely on plot devices to move the narrative forward. The plot points involving serums in the previous books were woven more organically into the storylines. For example, the simulation serum had a central plot purpose before Jeanine used it to turn people into sleeper soldiers, which in turn became a story arc of its own that moved the narrative forward over the course of both books. Another example is the truth serum, which already exists in the story as a part of the Candor initiation process, being used in Tris and Tobias's trials and leading to important character revelations -- these revelations, not the serum itself, are the instigators of the character and story development in Insurgent. The serums were subtle tools to move the plot forward through the characters' reactions and the situations they create, but the concept becomes hokey and overused in the third book. It is a little too convenient that there is somehow a serum for any problem and exists for no real purpose beyond that. This forces the story to revolve around cheap contrivances instead of organic plot points, as the characters are at the whim of the serums as the driving force of the plot rather than driving the plot themselves. This fact is never more apparent than in the actions that lead to the suicide mission. The Bureau's plan to reset the city with memory serum and the preceding plan by Evelyn to destroy the Allegiant with death serum are themselves illogical bordering on nonsensical ideas, but worse yet they rely solely on these handy plot devices as a quick and easy fix for the conflict building up over the course of the entire story. This is supposed to be the impetus for the characters' decisions in the final act, but it's difficult to take their dilemma seriously when it's based on artificial conflict.

It's interesting that all of the conflict resolution relies on serums, yet the characters ignore the myriad ways they could have used them. Rather than break into the Weapons Lab to access the Bureau's memory serum, why doesn't the gang just get the memory serum from the Amity who are armed with it to keep people in the city? Just grab a stash and use that on the people in charge of the reset. They don't have to release it on the entire compound; that was not necessary at all. Can't get the passcode? Drive back to the city -- since apparently it's very easy to drive in and out all of a sudden -- and get some truth serum from the Candor, and use it to coax the passcode out of David. Or better yet, take the memory serum that Tobias planned to use on one of his parents and just use it directly on David to wipe his memory of the reset plan. He's the head honcho in charge here -- if they trick him into saying the reset is off, his underlings will fall in line. And while we're at it, since we're all about making up crazy serums for illogical plot purposes, it would make much more sense for the Weapons Lab to be rigged with some type of paralyzing serum instead of the completely unnecessary death serum. It could render a person unconscious so they could be easily detained, and the Bureau wouldn't have that pesky risk of accidentally killing their own employees. So many ways the story could have gone that wouldn't defy all semblance of logic.

The absence of logic continues once the plotline reaches its crescendo -- when Tris enters the Weapons Lab to enact this harebrained scheme. It is far too convenient that levelheaded, logical-minded Tris would happen to leave her gun outside and then be countered by an attacker armed with his own gun. It also makes no sense that her attacker, David, would even want to kill her, regardless of what he was trying to protect. His sole agenda, his life's work, is in the study and perpetuation of so-called "pure" genes, and yet he kills an individual whose purity extends to even withstanding the death serum that was believed to be fatal to everyone? On a personal level, David was enamored with Tris's mother and so he took Tris under his wing due to his connection to Natalie. It is not very realistic that he would so easily kill the daughter of the woman he cared about. Having David be Tris's ultimate killer was not believable at all.

The sacrifice moment is built on a series of contrived plot points blatantly manufactured for the sake of creating the sacrifice moment -- a byproduct of having the story designed specifically for the character to arrive at this particular end but which nonetheless could have been executed in a more organic fashion by a more competent writer. Tris tells David, in that last confrontation, that true sacrifice comes from necessity and not without exhausting other options. But what other options did they exhaust? It’s as though Veronica didn’t even pay attention to what she was writing. I was not the least bit convinced that any part of this plan was necessary or even important. There were just too many plot holes to justify a sacrifice by anyone, least of all the main character, and adding a killer to the scene at the last minute was manipulative. The end result is that the situation is not written to be authentic, and so Tris’s death comes off as forced and unnecessary. Even ignoring the author's over-reliance on serums to deus ex machina her way through the plot, the actions leading to and even during the climactic moment were not logical or believable. It was simply not realistic that these supposedly intelligent and reasonable individuals would make these choices and accept these options so easily and without considering any alternatives. The characters went out of their way to create a death scene for literally no reason other than to coax, cajole and brass-knuckle the story into the author's prearranged conclusion.

Even if we accept the hackneyed plot devices that brought Tris to this final situation, was it actually necessary for her to die? She survived the death serum by sheer force of will, proving that she didn't really want to die and was truly acting out of selflessness for her brother, only to be shot by David shortly afterward. A substantial number of readers have questioned this particular sequence of events: What was the point of having Tris survive the death serum just to shoot her anyway? To be fair, they have a good point, as forcing her death this way doesn't seem like something that "had" to happen. If David had not been there at all, and if Tris had no immunity to the death serum and instead died from the exposure as was expected to happen, her death really would have been necessary to the plot. Succumbing to death in the very process of carrying out the plan would be proven as truly the only way Tris could go on this mission in Caleb's stead. It would really be a sacrifice. But Veronica did not go this route. She showed that Tris's resistance to serums extended to the death serum and had Tris survive it -- at least for the time being. With this detail, though, it no longer became necessary for Tris to die in order for her to carry out her intention of replacing Caleb in the mission. It was now possible for her to complete her task and return alive. The plot no longer required her to die. Putting David into the scene, it would appear, was to ensure that the mission really would be fatal for Tris -- to make the sacrifice not just an intention but something tangible and real.

But having Tris survive the death serum only to be shot by David is pointless because that had nothing to do with her sacrifice. Tris decided to sacrifice herself for her brother; she chose the possibility of dying from the death serum in his stead. But she didn’t die that way. She overcame the death serum and was then put into a new situation where she encountered a would-be assassin.  Up until then, Tris still technically had the option to turn tail and run out of the room, out of the cloud of death serum, and out of danger. She had the option to choose not to die, but it was her decision to soldier on and complete her task.  But as soon as she met David inside the Weapons Lab, the situation went out of her control. David mistook her reasons for being in the room, pegged her as a rebel and a thief, and he most likely would have shot her whether she continued to go for the memory serum release, as she did end up doing -- how convenient that this facility has airborne memory serum able to be dispersed through the entire complex at the push of a button -- or if she turned around and tried to run away. She also could not defend herself against him, since, as mentioned, she left her own gun outside. Tris had no choice in what happened to her at that point. It's not a sacrifice if you don’t have the option to choose.

Veronica says she had Tris meet her death even after she survived the death serum because this was the end she had chosen. But Tris did not choose this end. Tris took Caleb's place because she believed the obstacle awaiting them was death serum. A madman with a gun was not factored into her choice. Tris was murdered, and manipulating her death to occur this way negates the entire point of the theme. This was killing her for the sake of killing her, making sure she has that "hero's death" that Veronica seems to think is necessary for a character to have a "powerful" ending. (Research her stance on how she feels the "Harry Potter" series should have ended.) Death is a powerful construct, no doubt, but contriving a character’s death “just because” instead of having it occur naturally through the logical progression of the plot does not create a powerful or believable story. If Tris had to die this way -- and I will admit that I am not opposed in principle to the tragic irony of Tris "I Am Immune To All Simulations and Serums" Prior being taken out by something as mundane as a couple of bullets -- it still needed to serve a purpose to the narrative beyond just being the "powerful" ending the character deserved, beyond making a point about sacrifice for the theme's sake. Where are the repercussions of Tris's death to the plot?

No one really wants a main character to die, but we accept it if it is truly essential to the plot, if it is necessary for the direction of the story. We must be able to tell ourselves, "I see why this had to happen, because if so-and-so had not died, these other things in the story would not have been possible."  If we can apply this statement to the death, then it was justified and essential to the story. Spoiler alert: In "Mockingjay," Primrose's death is sudden and tragic, and it's almost ironic since the need for her little sister to survive was the catalyst for Katniss's journey in the first place, but if it had not happened Katniss would not have discovered the truth about President Coin's duplicitous nature. Her decisions at the end would have been completely different. In the Harry Potter series, Dumbledore's death was truly devastating, but it was necessary to set the course of the heroes' mission -- and important revelations about another key character -- and for the discoveries into Dumbledore's past that would not have been unveiled if he were still alive and were themselves instrumental to the remainder of the plot. If he had not died, the entirety of the seventh book would have had to be rewritten. These are necessary deaths.

"If Tris hadn't died, these other things in the story would not have been possible." -- Is this statement at all true? Let's examine the events that took place after her death.

Tris’s actions succeeded in saving the city from being reset, yes; the mission prevented the memory reset on Chicago and allowed the members of the Chicago branch of the Bureau to have their memories reset and their agendas changed for more altruistic purposes. All of this is revealed in a betrayal of the “show, don’t tell” rule when it comes to writing. We learn these details in a few perfunctory sentences in Tobias’s narrative in the chapters after Tris's death, buried in the midst of his numbness and grief, mentioned in an offhand way almost as if they were just afterthoughts -- almost as if Tris didn’t give her life to bring about these changes. We do not get to witness any of this change in the narrative, do not see the people at the Bureau set about to enact their new attitude or the transition of Chicago from being another experiment to just another metropolitan area. We do not get to experience what Tris’s sacrifice brought about, and so we do not experience the true worth of her actions. 

And what we are told has come of it seems pretty inconsequential.  I discussed above how the mission had too many plot holes to be acceptable as the "only" option. The flaw in the mission's so-called necessity continues in what their efforts actually accomplish. What good does it do to reset this branch of the Bureau of Genetic Welfare when we know they are just one of many satellite offices that operate under a national effort and carry on the same program elsewhere? It would have been nice if it were at least implied that the change at the Bureau served as some kind of tipping point for more widespread change throughout the United States, but it only changed the one experiment, the one branch of the Bureau. The story indicates that the country remains largely unaffected by the goings-on in Chicago; the climate of genetic inequality didn't change in the whole of society and the other remaining city experiments continued to operate as they were. And as far as Chicago is concerned, the emancipation of the city from the experiments doesn't really carry resonance, mainly because the characters never knew they were in an experiment to begin with so it largely doesn't make any difference to their lives to be out of it now. The only change is their ability to come and go as they please, but they never realized they were "trapped" before, either, and we don't see that very many people care to leave anyway. The faction system is over, but it had fallen apart already at the end of the previous book and was resolved (rather incredulously) amongst the characters leading the war themselves. Even if the Bureau hadn't been reset, it is highly unlikely the system would have started up again.

Considering Tris was the main character of the story, the gap between her loss and the gain, both immediate and long-term, is too wide to make it really seem worth it.  The mission just did not serve a large enough purpose for it to be worth taking the protagonist's life at the end of a three-book series. Just for one building full of bigots, a bunch of people we never even heard of until this book? I found no satisfaction in their useless comeuppance because we were given no reason to care about what happened to these people one way or the other, and their aftermath was not at all believable anyway. Are we really supposed to believe they could get away with erasing and reprogramming people's memories and nobody would notice or care? That all they had to do was "negotiate" with the government to let the experiment end and allow Chicago to become some sort of free utopia for GDs and GPs alike? The whole country has been operating under the same misguided notions for 200 years. That kind of indoctrination does not go away overnight. No matter how much the government wanted the Chicago experiment to end anyway, it is not believable that they would just allow these employees to switch sides and start pushing for GD equality. The government would just remove these unstable workers from their posts and assign new people who followed the national agenda of genetic purity and weren't practically brain-damaged from a memory serum "accident." 
 
Another problem is that this mission -- stopping the Chicago reset by resetting the Bureau instead -- was just as much about hurting people as it was about saving them. Tris decided that the people she knew and cared about, some guilty and some innocent, were more deserving of keeping their identities and memories than the many people, some guilty and some innocent, at the Bureau who ended up getting their memories erased. She decided that her evil act was more justified than the Bureau's evil act because it was her home. She decided that this was the least of the evil things the Bureau deserved after what they did to them, that they "were lucky [she] didn't kill them."

Can this in any way even be considered a selfless act, dismissing one group as expendable to save another group in the name of personal interest?  

It's interesting that one of the series' main themes is about the power of choice, and the hero dies in order to preserve this liberty ... by forcibly taking it away from someone else. As mentioned earlier, sometimes the good guys have to be the bad guys in a war, and not every action can be completely noble, and this is true. This type of moral relativism may be acceptable in another context for another purpose, but if the entire point of this death was to demonstrate Tris's selflessness then why does she die committing an ultimately selfish act? Is this a hero's death? It was only selfless of her to take Caleb's place in carrying out the mission; the mission itself was self-serving and vengeful and, all told, certainly not worth dying over. Tris deserved a better legacy than that.
 
At any rate, the changes that took place in the aftermath are only the result of Tris succeeding in setting off the memory serum; the impact, slight as it is, had nothing to do with her dying.

But what about the other characters? Her death had no effect on the plot, but did it create changes with the other characters in the story? The impact of Tris’s death in terms of the other characters is barely addressed and is not explored at all beyond Tobias and his grief. What do the others take away from her loss? What discoveries are made? What lessons are learned? Tris died as an embodiment of what it means to be selfless and brave and so many other things – do the rest of them learn that they too are so many other things and so should live their new lives as who they are instead of what they were, that they are more than just Abnegation or Erudite or Amity or Candor or Dauntless, more than genetically pure or genetically damaged, but merely Human? Does her death motivate them into any actions that affected their own lives? Does it propel them to actions that affected the rest of the plot? Does it change who they are?  Did her death change Tobias? He loved her more than anyone, and mourned her as much as anyone possibly could. Did it affect Christina, who has now lost every one of her friends? Tris died to spare her brother -- if there's anyone who had something to take away from her death it's Caleb. Did we see how this gift of sacrifice affected him, what he learned from it, how it changed him in any way? As far as the narrative shows: no. We do not see how Tris's death affected or changed anyone in any way.
 
"If Tris hadn't died, these other things would not have been possible." We can now determine that this statement does not apply at all to the events in Allegiant. The outcome of the plot would have been the same even if Tris had lived. All of the changes presented in the aftermath would have happened anyway, and her death did not cause any real change in the other characters' stories. Her death therefore is not proven to be justified or essential to the story -- it was, in fact, solely to make a thematic point about sacrifice. This is the reason the second-most popular word among this book's reviewers, after "disappointing," is "unnecessary." If the main character is going to be killed off, we must have results and repercussions in the story that were only possible from that character's death. Otherwise it is just random collateral damage.  And collateral damage rarely gets the emotional treatment it deserves.
 
Tobias is the only character who is really affected, emotionally, by Tris's death, going so far as to consider erasing his memory to free himself from his pain, but as stated above it still does not change who he is. We are not shown how experiencing this grief and loss allowed Tobias to come out changed in any particular way, better or worse, on the other side of it – a resolution of feelings that is absolutely required in order for readers to experience the full course of grief and recovery themselves. Like the aftermath of the Bureau mission, the aftermath of Tobias's grief is woefully glossed over. His plan to take memory serum is the only thing we really see and even that is handled, and resolved, far too quickly to be really resonating -- or believable -- and with nothing more than a brief platitude about bravery the story jumps two and a half years without exploring this any further. The zipline memorial was a charming send-off for our beloved character but the epilogue as a whole was nonetheless inadequate in showing how the story recovers from her death or how her death had any real impact on anyone or anything else beyond breaking Tobias’s heart.

Over two years have gone by and it is implied that a (partial) recovery has taken place in the interim, but we are not shown any of it, not allowed to live through it, and so the story does not give the reader a chance to reconcile with her loss and achieve their own acceptance. The epilogue centers around additional and equally trite platitudes amounting, basically, to "It'll get better," but we don't see how things are getting "better" or how Tobias's emotional outlook -- on life, on Tris, on love, on himself -- has improved. It appears that everyone, particularly Tobias, is just living day to day and getting by. There is no promise of hope and purpose at the end of it all -- a betrayal in itself of the genre of young adult literature, which exists on the very principle of providing hope among the ruins. There is nothing to be gained by this loss.  It simply ... is. With no emotional payoff in any larger sense, the resolution lacks the depth that such a major character death requires and so it remains hollow and unfulfilling.  The story ends on a flat and depressing note. A book that has a devastating ending can leave the reader emotionally spent but satisfied. This ending just leaves the reader feeling empty and slightly traumatized.

The Logic

Let’s revisit the necessity of Tris’s death as a defining moment in her character development.  Killing off the main character in a story is something that is rarely done in literature, particularly literature aimed at a young audience. It typically only works if it adds to the plot and is the necessary final step in the character’s development. This is not an either/or negotiation -- it has to apply to both.  We’ve already well covered how the former doesn’t work, but while the relevance of Tris’s death to her character is apparent from a thematic standpoint, showing her selflessness, if we’re being completely honest it actually doesn’t add to it. At all. Because we already knew she was selfless.

At the start of the series, Tris is established as a character conflicted as to who she is. She was raised to be selfless, but she believes she is really selfish -- she does selfish things, she has selfish wants. And this is true.  She picks Dauntless at the Choosing Ceremony, even though she would be leaving her parents all alone with Caleb having already defected to Erudite, because she wants to make herself happy. She is too scared to stand up for Christina when Eric forces her to hang over the chasm because she worries about what would happen to herself. She beats Molly senseless because she wants revenge, to make herself feel better. Tris shows bouts of her selfishness -- which was not so much a vice as simply a part of her humanity -- throughout the first book, struggles with the conviction that she is a selfish person, but this conflict is reconciled by the end of that story. As her journey unfolds, we see there is true selflessness in Tris even when she doesn't realize it. She stands up for her friends. She puts the safety of others ahead of herself. She is willing to sacrifice. Tris goes from being a person who can't help but think of herself and her own needs and wants to someone who instinctively puts herself out for others.  Eventually, she learns there is selflessness in bravery and bravery in selflessnes, and that she is both and has been all along. And we learn this right along with her. 

Tris's death in an act of selfless sacrifice in Allegiant does not teach us anything about her that we didn't already know two books ago.

We have always known that Tris is selfless and brave and willing to give her life for the so-called greater good. Between Divergent and Insurgent she has done this repeatedly. Sacrificing her life -- successfully this time -- just reiterates what was already established to the point of redundancy, not to mention conveys a somewhat reckless disregard for her own life. In fact, this last act seems more an example of character regression, as Tris was shown to have previously learned the value in not needlessly risking one's life for the sake of fulfilling some Abnegation archetype and still she goes and does the same thing again as if she didn’t learn her lesson at all. Where is the growth here? What was the point?

Veronica has taken to her blog to offer an explanation for Tris’s death and how her sacrifice was set up in the previous books, and how her parents’ deaths were the catalyst for Tris’s decisions from that point on. After Andrew and Natalie died in an act of sacrifice for her, Tris’s motivation, Veronica explains, has been about trying to honor her parents for this sacrifice while maintaining her identity. We do see Tris struggle with this and even try to emulate their sacrifice. There are specific incidents in each of the first two books where we see this. In the climax of Divergent, shortly after she has lost her parents, Tris first attempts to sacrifice herself for the sake of Tobias, offering him her gun so he can shoot her because she refuses to kill him herself. This attempt at sacrifice is not right, Veronica says, because while it was noble of Tris to refuse to kill the boy she loved, allowing him to kill her instead served no logical purpose because it did nothing to solve the outward problem at hand. In Insurgent, Tris attempts to sacrifice herself again when she surrenders to Jeanine, answering the Erudite leader’s ultimatum in order to keep more people from being simulation-controlled to their deaths. This attempt is also wrong because while it was logical -- a means to an end, a way to stop the danger -- it was not noble because Tris is motivated here by guilt and an almost suicidal mindset rather than out of love for the people she was trying to protect. The final sacrifice she makes in Allegiant, however, is a “true” sacrifice.

Tris's final choices are meant to show her finally coming to terms with her beliefs about selflessness, finally understanding the true nature of sacrifice that her parents tried to teach her in Abnegation. She reconciles the requirements of love in her refusal to allow her brother to die out of guilt with the necessity of the situation as the only option that will protect the ones she loves (the illogical nature of the plot obviously makes this highly debatable). She has no desire to die, in fact bases her decision partly on her conviction that there is a good chance that she will not die, but she is fully aware and accepts that she may die nonetheless. She is willing to risk the possibility of her death in order to spare her brother a guaranteed death. Some people say that Tris should have let Caleb go because he needed redemption, but this would have been disingenuous to her character. She could never let her brother die just to prove himself to her, and she realized how wrong his sacrifice was. Caleb was weak and afraid; Tris was strong, and brave, and she needed to be strong for him.  It is particularly poignant that Tris makes this sacrifice in spite of what Caleb did to her, especially because of what he did to her, as that is the mark of real selflessness. Because we do not give of ourselves only to those who are deserving of our sacrifices. We sacrifice for people who need it, because we love them, because it has to be done. Tris is truly Abnegation at the end.

Can she be forgiven for all she has done to get here? In Divergent, she just doesn't know. In Allegiant, she believes she can. She has come full circle in her journey. 

Tris’s sacrifice isn't really supposed to be about her simply yet again throwing herself into a dangerous situation in an effort to yet again save everyone, as the storyline seems to imply. The conclusion is actually meant to show how Tris finally understands what "true" sacrifice is as opposed to the "empty" sacrifices of before. I do see how Veronica plays this out in hindsight -- I understand how Tris didn’t get it quite right the first two times she offered herself for the greater good, didn’t have all the necessary elements of a true sacrifice but rather having only one or the other, but that this time she had it correct. This time, it was a true sacrifice. The overall story is not actually about Tris proving herself to be selfless but rather understanding what selflessness means to her, what it means to be a sacrifice, and how and why a person should do it. 

Question: Why exactly is Veronica telling a story about a 16-year-old girl trying to figure out the right way to sacrifice her life? And why did the long setup nonetheless just look like she’s doing the same old thing “yet again”?

Veronica says that Tris’s death as an act of sacrifice was partly in honor of her parents and their own sacrifice -- this is a problematic idea. Natalie and Andrew gave their lives in the necessity of the moment so the daughter they loved could escape. This makes sense -- a parent’s love knows no boundaries, and they prove that they are truly selfless, truly Abnegation, in their final actions. Tris’s motivations from that point on involve honoring her parents’ sacrifice; it is understandable to want to honor your parents and all that they have given you, but her methods are irrational. Tris’s mother and father gave their lives so their daughter could have hers. The way to honor a sacrifice such as this is to live your life to its fullest potential and to honor and respect the virtues they taught you. With Tris’s actions, Veronica is suggesting that the best way to honor those virtues is to replicate their actions – to honor her parents’ embodiment of selflessness by doing the same, and doing so for Caleb brings this full circle as she sacrifices for him even though he betrayed her just as her parents sacrificed for her after she betrayed them by leaving Abnegation for Dauntless.

I want to be very clear that I have no problem with the idea of Tris sacrificing herself for her brother, given the specific (and contrived) circumstances. It is the only authentic or believable moment in this entire storyline. But it must be said that it's not quite as powerful a gesture on the reader as Veronica probably intends -- mainly because it is Caleb. The reader doesn't care about Caleb. And it isn't because he is a bad person or that we want to see him die; rather, he was just never fleshed out enough as a character for the reader to have any feelings about him one way or the other. He was barely in the overall story until this book, when the plotline required him to take a center role, and we still don't know anything about him. We never did get an explanation as to why he sold Tris out to Jeanine, and we don't learn anything else about him, either. Perhaps if Caleb had been a more featured player in the first two books, had been a more dimensional character; perhaps if the dynamic between Caleb and Tris, their relationship, had been played up more across the series instead of just this one book, we could have appreciated more on a personal level Tris's desire to spare her brother. But as it is, this really highlights the problem with telling rather than showing -- Caleb is important because of the fact that he is Tris's brother and the fact that she therefore loves him. We know these things because they are facts told in the story. But we were never shown the love between them so we could have an emotional investment in this bond, nor were we shown anything about Caleb as a person to make him matter to us so we could have a personal stake in whether he lived or died. We certainly do understand that he means a great deal to Tris, that he is her brother and she loves him, and we accept that, and we believe in her desire to spare him for those reasons. But it honestly doesn't mean much to us, the reader. We were never given a reason to care about Caleb at all, and so for Tris to carry out this mission and make the ultimate sacrifice for him in particular does lose some impact on the reader because we didn't really care what happened to Caleb either way.

Nonetheless, he is, as I've said, Tris's brother and she does love him and could never let him die for no reason. She is willing to sacrifice for him. I agree with these ideas. However, I am extraordinarily disturbed by Veronica's logic in comparing this act to their parents' sacrifice.

For one, Tris’s “betrayal” doesn’t come close to Caleb’s crime. Tris switched factions; Caleb almost got her killed. Secondly, the sacrifice is just not the same. A parent’s love for a child is unparallel to anything else on earth. It is a parent’s nature to instinctively do anything and everything to protect their children even if it costs them their own lives. A sibling’s love, though a very precious bond, does not compare. And I simply cannot abide by the notion that the scenarios are equal, that it was admirable for Tris to sacrifice her life for the brother who sold her out to her enemy and was complicit in her near-execution the same way it was “admirable” for a mother and father to sacrifice their lives for the daughter who left their home and transferred to another faction. While this action may be considered a "betrayal" by the standards of the society they live in, it is still nowhere near the same kind of betrayal of a brother sending a sister to slaughter, and I'm actually quite offended that Veronica seems to suggest they are. Tris went above and beyond her position to make a sacrifice; Andrew and Natalie did what any parent would do. And while it is certainly reasonable for Tris to want to live up to her parents’ beliefs about selflessness and to want to honor that, giving up her life just because they did the same is not necessary to accomplish that. No parent would feel honored by that. 

The ending still fails because, aside from the atrocious execution, the entire point behind it is illogical: it makes no sense to honor your parents' beliefs about selflessness by emulating their sacrifice and dying as they did. Tris's journey therefore becomes about finding her sense of identity through martyrdom, with death as the ultimate achievement. Her life's journey need not continue once she fulfills her purpose in life, this identity quest; she is "done" once she figures out at last who she is and what she's meant to do. With this arc, Tris is no longer the relatable or believable character that made millions of young readers identify with her. She’s no longer a person. She becomes an allegory, a Christ-like figure instead of a regular girl. It's unclear what role, if any, Veronica's own religious beliefs played into these story themes, but the parallels are far from subtle. Intentional or not, the Christ imagery is actually quite obnoxious. Tris has special powers that exceed those of her contemporaries; she dies in the name of an equally God-like parent who welcomes her into the hereafter to sit by her side after a job well done. Tris is the "Chosen One" whose sole purpose is to save everyone with her death. Veronica lays it on far too thick and I'm not buying one bit of it. Now, Tris's actions and decisions throughout the story are based not on character but on metaphor. In Divergent, Tris is willing to sacrifice for no good reason; in Insurgent, she wants to sacrifice just for the sake of being a sacrifice, but partly because she just wants to be done with it all. By Allegiant, she no longer wants to die but she offers to sacrifice herself anyway because there is simply no other way (by the flimsy logic of the plot, anyway). And that is, after all, the ultimate sacrifice -- when you have everything to live for but bravely accept that the only option is to give your life. But her actions through all this, particularly in the heavyhanded finale, are governed by her preordained role as the sacrificial lamb. It's not realistic or organic.

This arc is supposed to show how Tris has changed, but she is nonetheless assuming a role, and it's the exact same role she has willingly played from the beginning -- the savior. Being the savior for the right reasons now instead of being the savior for the wrong reasons before doesn't change the fact that she is yet again being the savior. The fact that she was fully prepared to die in her first two sacrifices but had faith in her own survival in the last sacrifice doesn't change the fact that she was yet again willingly risking her life to save everyone. The fact that she was volunteering to be a sacrifice for sacrifice's sake before but only volunteering to be a sacrifice now to do the right thing doesn't change the fact that she is still volunteering to be a sacrifice every time. For Tris to do what she does in the end does not, as Veronica suggests, show that she finally has become a grown-up. The differences are supposed to demonstrate growth in principle, but put to action it just doesn't read well and instead comes off as redundant.

I am genuinely glad that Tris’s death was not intended to be done for “shock value,” as some people believe at first glance, and that it was meant to be part of a story arc from the very beginning, but this story arc just doesn't work. The motivations are not sensible, and the setup is poorly executed so as to be nonexistent in the overall narrative and so the resolution still appears to occur out of left field. Because regardless of the authorial intent, it still just comes off as Tris yet again throwing herself into a dangerous situation in order to yet again save everyone -- a repetitive storyline that differs only in the fact that she finally succeeds in getting herself killed this time and still tells us nothing about her character that we didn't already know. 

Tris's understanding of sacrifice, her personal growth, is already satisfied with her realization of why she must take Caleb's place. Her actual death was forced into the situation and added nothing to this character development.

So basically what we are left with at the end of all this is a story where our central character sacrifices herself in the climax of a contrived, ill-conceived and unnecessary plan that accomplishes nothing other than fulfilling that character's understanding of what it means to be selfless for the sake of honoring her parents who died in order for her to live. Not the best message and certainly not the greatest story. It would have been different if her sacrifice had occurred in the course of a more uniform plot, as part of some unavoidable situation wherein Tris specifically had to save everyone from destruction at the cost of her own life. It would have been different if Tris's efforts to stop a terrible thing from happening to everyone didn't involve forcing that same terrible thing onto someone else. It would have been different if Tris hadn’t made those previous attempts at being a sacrifice so this last one wouldn’t look like a retread of old ideas and lessons not learned and her possibly having an unhealthy martyr complex. It would have been different if Tris had maintained her conviction in her own selfishness, and her tendency to act as such, all along instead of having already proven herself to be anything but selfish long ago. It would have been different if the final circumstances were not so deliberate and Tris did not achieve her realization of what sacrifice meant until after she was shot, so the moment of her death would serve as a required precursor to her character growth instead of a random afterthought. It would have been different if the entire story leading up to it had been different. But as it happened her death was not necessary, not worth it, and serves no purpose to the story other than to say "This is what a sacrifice looks like." She dies for symbolism's sake ... and nothing more than that.  And that is a pointless ending.
 
And it's not meant to be pointless. I understand the point Veronica was trying to make. I disagree on her logic in making this point, but I understand it. The selflessness theme in the story is obvious from the beginning of the series and moves to the forefront in this book, which would be okay if it had stayed as an underlying message. However, it is shoved down the reader's throat on every other page as the reader is repeatedly told, not shown, about the value of sacrifice. It's rather hard to miss and so the ending is actually quite predictable. But the overall arc, the point behind each of Tris's sacrifice attempts, is near-impossible to discern, and so the real point of her death is lost. This, I think, is partly because Veronica's ideas about sacrifice are not relatable or believable and so readers would never begin to guess that this is really the story she is telling, but also because the story across the series is so disorganized and so the point mostly gets buried in the muddied plot.  Veronica's ideas are not clear in her writing. If they were, she would not have had to take to her own blog to offer a long explanation as to what the entire point of her story was. With good writing, a story should be able to explain itself. Perhaps with more cohesive plotting, fewer distracting tangents and better character motivations, the sacrifice theme would have presented itself better as a story arc across the series. Perhaps then the ending would not have seemed so random and the final course of events wouldn't have had to be so contrived -- and Tris's death wouldn't have seemed so out of sync with the story we thought we were following.

The Audience

We all like a happy ending for our characters every once in a while, but we understand that sometimes a story cannot logically end that way -- and so we are content with a sad or tragic or even an unresolved ending, so long as it is written in a way that fits naturally into the story and satisfies the narrative. Allegiant, unfortunately, failed miserably on that account. I don’t have a problem with the main character dying at the end of a story, and though I disagree somewhat with Veronica’s logic in designing this death, it’s still her prerogative to tell whatever story she wants to tell. She has no responsibility to her readers to tell the story the way they want it or just to satisfy their wishes. However, she does have a responsibility to tell a good story, a logical story, and a satisfying story. She failed to tell either a good story or a logical story and she certainly didn’t tell a satisfying story. Killing off the main character in the end is a fine idea in theory, but the story she created was just not strong enough to support it. This one was a tragic misfire.

The real failure is in the overall writing, but it is well-known that a great many readers were put off by this ending purely on principle. Considering the specific audience that this series was geared toward, this is not surprising -- in fact, the reaction was entirely predictable, which makes me wonder why Veronica, her editors, or the publisher ever thought this would be a good idea.

Certain types of books follow certain formulas, and many readers went into this series believing that this book series was following the young-adult fantasy formula. They expected excitement, they expected danger, and they certainly did expect death, but at the end they expected some sort of triumph or at least the hope of it. Because of these standards and expectations, which still provide wide latitude for story direction, it is very questionable to design a story that kills the main character at the end. Much of the anger from certain members of the reading audience may be due to their feeling as if they have been swindled somehow; they thought they were reading a certain type of story only to be fed another one -- it feels like a bait and switch. This is likely the real reason many readers feel like they have been "cheated" by this ending and that they have now "wasted their time" reading this series. Perhaps due to genre conventions, or perhaps due to some unspoken understanding between author and reader, they expected to reach the end and find some type of gratifying or at least fulfilling resolution for the hero, and instead found the hero dead at the end of the road. There is no real triumph to be had unless you view death as a reward -- which, given the text of Tris's very last moments, seems to be exactly what the ending was going for.

Bestselling young adult author John Green came to Veronica's defense and politely admonished readers for their reactions to this book, tweeting that some people are just "wrong" about what books are "for." I greatly respect and admire Mr. Green and his work, but this statement is somewhat narrow-minded and dismissive of the reading audience. I do not believe there is any one right answer about what books are for, because reading is a subjective experience. Some read for enrichment and enlightenment. Some people read purely to be entertained. Some just want an escape from reality, however temporary. People read for all different reasons, and want and expect different things from the stories they seek out, and no reason is any more right or wrong than the other. This is especially true if story and genre conventions lead a reader to expect certain things from certain types of books. This does not at all mean that authors should never stray from convention -- storytelling should never be predictable -- but if they veer too far off the path they should understand their audience may not appreciate having their expectations so vastly betrayed. Because for many of this book's readers, this ending feels like a betrayal.

Veronica says she focused on what the story needed and tried not to consider what the readers wanted because people want so many different things and it would be impossible to please everyone. For one thing, it's not a very savvy move for a published author who is selling her work to consumers to not take her readers' expectations into consideration. But also, this point of view doesn't make much sense. I don't think readers, as a whole, want very different things. I think people simply want a satisfying resolution to the journey they invested in and the characters they root for (and even the characters they root against). This does not necessarily have to be a happy ending, just an ending that does justice -- to the story, the characters, and the audience who put their faith in the author to tell them a good story that would make their investment worthwhile. They want satisfaction. I don't see how this ending, as it was written, could be satisfying to anyone. However difficult it is to ascertain exactly what everyone wants, it's not hard to surmise that this particular plot twist is the one thing that exactly nobody wants. To the reader who would be fine just having the above mentioned basic expectations met, the story then amounts to: the hero is dead, her lover is sad and alone and the bad guys all get away. This is not in any way satisfying to even basic reader expectations, and certainly not after following the characters over the course of three books. It's a waste of time. You can't please everyone, certainly, but there's not much point in writing a story that pleases no one -- and I think the one thing all readers can agree that they didn't want was for the protagonist to die. So that excuse doesn't work.

It is absolutely Veronica's right to tell her story the way she believes it needs to be told, and to remain true to her vision and her creation, but it's not particularly smart from a business perspective to outright disregard your audience's most basic expectations. One might say that an author only has a responsibility to their art and they should not worry about the "business" of it, but that's only true to an extent; it ceases to be just about art for art's sake the day the author signs a three-book deal with HarperCollins. Veronica stayed true to her art and committed to her vision, and from a writer's perspective that's a quality and achievement that shouldn't be taken away from her. But it showed a very poor understanding of audience.

Writers should not be expected to tailor their stories a certain way purely for the sake of appeasing their audience's wishes -- that would be pandering, which I personally abhor. But a published author does in fact have a certain level of responsibility to their readers, and they should take care to take their readers' expectations into consideration -- particularly if you decide to go against the grain, against genre conventions, in your work. I believe that when you write a story, you are creating your own piece of art, your masterpiece designed to your own liking and for your vision. However, when you choose to publish a book, it's no longer just your art: You are now selling a product for public consumption.  And simply put, it is just bad business sense to sell a product that people don't want, and I think that's where a lot of the outrage-on-principle with this book stems from -- this is just not what these types of readers, in this type of genre, are looking for. Veronica overshot her audience, and the genre, and delivered a story that most people just didn't want. But personally, I think they might have still accepted it if they had any reason to believe in the story that was written. But it was not convincing.

Perhaps this ending was doomed to failure from the beginning by the simple fact of the writing style. It may have been a misstep to write the series in the first-person with this ending in mind. When a story is told through a first-person narrative, the main character therefore also serves as the reader's window into the fictional world, the person through whom the reader experiences the world -- the reader lives vicariously through the narrator, basically becomes the narrator, even. And so when you kill off the narrator, you are also essentially "killing" the reader. I suspect this is another reason why many readers had such a guttural reaction to this ending -- they invested heavily into this world, into this journey, only to be unceremoniously kicked out of it, their window slammed shut, their voice silenced. The loss feels direct, and personal. It's rarely a good idea to kill off the narrator in a story, particularly at the end of a series, unless you make clear from the very, very beginning that this is precisely where the story is going. It is very risky to bring the reader into your narrative world so intimately and then suddenly sever their connection in such a brutal way, regardless of the story purpose. 

Risky plot choices are not always successful. A lot of them screw up. A plot choice such as this is something you simply can’t afford to screw up. Killing off the main character -- the narrator, no less -- is a monumental choice to make. It's a game changer.  And if you add a game changer to your story, particularly if it is the story’s conclusion, you had better be able to pull it off; otherwise it takes the reader out of the story or, worse, ruins the entire book.  It takes a certain level of skill and style to be able to kill off your main character without making the story suffer for it. It's a very delicate dance -- that's why so few writers dare attempt it. I'm not quite sure what made Veronica think she was so above ordinary writers that she could pull off the unthinkable, but suffice it to say she was mistaken. She did not pull this off well at all. There wouldn’t be nearly as many one-star reviews if she had.

I have always been a firm believer in the idea that a book is only as good as its ending. The ending defines the story. And this ending let everyone down, as evidenced by the poor reviews and low ratings. Maybe rating a book solely on the ending isn’t entirely fair, but if it ruined the entire book as most of the one-star reviewers say it did -- not that they merely didn’t like it or hoped for a happier ending, but that it ruined the entire book -- I guess that is as valid a reason as any. It is also my opinion that, if this book and the ending had been executed better, even the small percentage of readers who complained about not getting the “happy ending” they wanted would have been able to appreciate the bittersweet ending the way Veronica probably intended. A reader shouldn’t finish the last book in a trilogy and wish they’d never started the series at all.  Which is a shame because with better writing and a clear purpose, this same ending could have been truly amazing. The wasted potential is what is most frustrating of all.

Please be aware that the purpose of this essay is to explain why the ending did not work and why the reaction to the book was so poor; it is not to prove that the ending, in concept, was "wrong" for the story or that the book was bad.

But, for the record, here is how I would grade the Divergent series:

Divergent: B+
Insurgent: B
Allegiant (without the ending in mind): C-
Allegiant (with the ending): F

51 comments:

  1. Not discussed anywhere I have seen... but it was not realistic to me that David had the actual expert abilities to actually kill Tris (as opposed to just sheer dumb luck).
    First, David was a high level administrator, not a dauntless trained "killer" / soldier. No where does the story leads us to believe that David had ever fired a weapon himself (at least not recently in the storyline). He was wounded and had limited mobility in the wheelchair. And he was fully aware that Tris was a recently and deadly trained soldier (extreme tense situation). There are countless articles where trained police officers fire massive number of rounds in a stressful "firefight" without hitting their targets, but we are expected to believe that David can accurately fire and hit fatal shots twice. In my twenty plus years of army infantry training, this has never been the case. Second, if we are to believe Tris is as smart, resourceful and well trained, then her believable course of action once confronted would have been to evade, maneuver and disarm David, maybe even getting wounded in the process, but not just making herself a silhouetted inviting target.

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    1. Another plot contrivance, thank you. I do recall seeing a few reviews mention the ridiculousness of her being shot by a dude in a wheelchair who has probably never even held a gun before. Not to mention how convenient it was that Tris happened to forget her own gun outside, so she was just a sitting duck for David when she found him.

      The only reason David was put into this scene is to force the story to kill Tris. This scene was forced and manipulated.

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    2. I also could not believe that she would put her gun down, leaving it behind, assuming she would not need it anymore.

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  2. This is a great review/essay that explains why people don't like the book and I think more people should read it because Allegiant isn't liked not just for the sake of not getting a happy ending. There's more to it and you explained it perfectly.

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  3. Wow. You've hit the nail on the head completely. I was so bothered by this book that resorted to discussing these EXACT sames points to friends of mine (who haven't read the book).

    The entire plot of this book feels contrived and leaves readers with the feeling that these characters are being exploited. And I ultimately felt manipulated as a reader. I think Tris's death in and of itself was appropriate, but it was completely overshadowed by the Roth's poor execution. (I also felt that Insurgent suffered from similar issues.) We're supposed to celebrate Tris's death when she sacrificed herself to inflict upon the people of the Weapons Lab the very thing that she was protecting the people of Chicago from? Where's the morality in that? What gives her the right to decide who's innocent and who isn't? Sounds pretty narrow-minded and selfish to me.

    It pains me to say that this book ruined the series for me, and I don't believe that I will find myself reading it again. As for Roth, I feel like she (unintentionally) broke the trust that she established with her readership, and I will think twice before picking up any of her future published works.

    P.S. Here's another contrivance: Uriah's death was simply a plot device to incite guilt in Tobias to get him away from the Weapons Lab and back in Chicago so he wouldn't be around Tris to help prevent her death. (I feel so betrayed as a reader.)

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  4. I'm really tempted just to yell, "Haters gonna hate!" and throw tomatoes at you, being one of the few people who did enjoy Allegiant, but to be perfectly honest, you really do have a point.

    Your blog helps to explain why people found this book difficult to read, and why at some points the plot line did seem transparent and illogical.

    With regards to the ending, I just have to say that I think the author needed a "big moment" to end off the series with a bang, and in that sense her intentions were good. What she really wanted to do was prove Tris' Divergence, and show her bravery alongside her selflessness, but the way that Veronica Roth executed her idea - excuse the pun - left way more to be desired.

    I'm not sure how else Veronica Roth could've ended off the series and still have had the desired effect. The whole point of the series was about how Tris was Divergent in a world of people who could only belong to one human "category" or faction, and the ultimate proof of her Divergence was her sacrifice, as I mentioned before. To me, the ending was the one thing that "made" Allegiant, rather than ruined it.

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    1. I do agree with you that Tris dying in a sacrifice is the most apt way to bring the overall theme together, in theory. For me personally, it's not what happened in itself that ruins the story, not at all. It's the steps to get there and the execution that do that. Like I wrote at the end of this review, the idea could have been amazing, but the potential was wasted by bad writing.

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  5. Jill
    I love reading your comments.
    Recommend a couple of books to you by author Lauren Nicolle Taylor (Woodland Series). I enjoyed them.
    "The Woodlands" and "The Wall", book three in trilogy due out Jan31

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  6. What a thorough and well-thought out review! It pretty much hit the nail on the head for me as far as why I disliked Allegiant specifically (though I remember having rather severe issues with the other books as well). I think the point about a lack of development between Caleb and Tris is extremely warranted. I remember when I was reading through Allegiant, every time Caleb tried to explain his reasons for his actions, he'd get cut off. I thought it was just some kind of odd running joke, and that at the very least, when he volunteered himself for the death serum job, maybe then he'd offer an explanation for his actions. Possibly one that Tris herself could understand on some basic level, leading to a final resolution between the two as well as Tris' full understanding of "blood before faction", thus prompting her sacrifice.

    Clearly, that kind of subplot never emerged, and I found its absence to be nearly as frustrating as that trainwreck of an ending, especially considering how much emphasis was placed on Caleb and Tris' strained relationship.

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  7. You are too kind and show grade inflation. The book grades in order are C-, C+ and F. Regardless of the ending in the final book, the writing was awful. I'm not a writer and have only starting reading fiction since retiring from my science career but this trilogy is by far the worst one I've read. From the beginning of the first book, I read fan of Hunger Games but not that great of an author. Second book I actually thought she was beginning to learn how to write a bit and was looking to see if she would mature further. It's not unheard of for authors to become more adept at the writing thing as they work on it more, look at the Harry Potter series, but Allegiant was crap. She actually did a worse job with the writing on this than her first book. I'm fine with authors taking a story any place they want but the ending read to me as someone trying to out do Suzanne Collins' offing of Prim. All of this combined isn't even Ms. Roth's biggest problem, which of course is her hatred of language and logic.

    And my biggest problem with this, is the fact that I lost that many hours of my life involved with such crap. I will never read anything from her ever again.

    I loved your review here and on Amazon.

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  8. Loved your analysis. I couldn't have said it better. I came here from reading your review on Amazon.

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  9. Really excellent points and information. You saved me from reading this last book as Insurgent was starting to sour me on the series as a whole. It really just boggles my mind how, with so many examples of good 'true sacrifice' there are in literature, history, and fiction, authors can muff this concept so badly.

    In my opinion one of the greatest examples of how to do it right was when David Tennant ended his time at The Doctor in the Doctor Who tv show. He risked everything and had won, but that brief moment of victory was curdled when an old man, utterly without importance, was trapped and would die if he didn't sacrifice himself. And he did so because it was NOT IN HIS CHARACTER TO DO OTHERWISE. When i finished Insurgent I felt the self-sacrificing quality of Tris' character had been firmly established, and i think if something like this had occurred and victory was had but she had to sacrifice herself to save someone like Peter, who was a character that had been developed and was utterly unimportant, I think her death would have had more resonance with the reader populace.

    Still though, really great evaluation.

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    1. What an excellent example of meaningful sacrifice in a story! And what was also a rich layer of the writing in that story is that we see the Doctor being "human" in his momentary irritation at having to make that sacrifice -- but in the end he tells Wilf (the old man) sincerely, "It was my HONOR." The audience can accept that sacrifice because we have come to expect that sort of thing from the Doctor. We also expected that sort of thing from Tris, and I would have been sadly accepting of her death if it had happened in such a way, but after the whole convoluted manner in which the ending was set up, all I could say when I read that passage was, "Oh, so that's why Roth wrote it this way! (the double first person narrative)." I didn't feel sorry that Tris was dead -- by that point I no longer cared about the characters -- I was only reading to see how Roth would finally end what I considered a debacle of a book. I don't quite feel as some might that reading the entire series was a waste of time, but I did resent the time wasted on the final book. And, unlike other books and series that were satisfying, I have no inclination to ever read this series -- or even the first book -- again.

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  10. I just have to say THANKS, i'm glad a more eloquent person can say the words my mind just can't. Also that feeling that something is not right throughout the book is thoroughly explained here, thanks and thanks again. Amazing review, and also: a much better read than the book!!
    the most mind boogling part for me was when Marcus didn't shoot Johanna's head pff after their pact with Evelyn, that's whats everyone expects from him but nooo they just all get along now ¬¬.

    xo

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  11. Great and thorough review. Thanks for helping me understand why I didn't like this book, especially compared to the first one....

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  12. I, like other commenters, read your review on Amazon and came here as a result of your amazing insight. I am much more impressed by your writing than by Roth's. Obviously, you are a gifted writer yourself. Have you written any books, yet? If not, you should. I would be thrilled to read them. Thank you for sharing your intellectual acuity. Awe-inspiring!

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  13. This review was worded perfectly, and thoroughly explained all of the reasons I hated this book. You really should consider writing yourself. From what I've seen here and on Amazon, you'd definitely write a much better series than Roth did. If you decide to give it a try, be sure to let us all know! Most of us would be thrilled to buy a book you get published.

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  14. I fell far less angry about the book after reading your review and seeing you put into words everything that bugged me. The only thing you didn't mentioned was in a previous comment - the biggest thing that bothered me about HOW Tris died was her lack of fighting. A guy in a wheelchair points a gun at her and she just goes "oh, I left my gun outside. I'm doomed." instead of fighting. Someone with her skills, speed, and intelligence, could have disarmed David and suffered a non-lethal shot. Death to the serum (and her not being a superhero, invincible to all) would also have been preferable to the completely lacking-honor death she suffered. Thanks again for your great review!

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  15. I, like many others, found your review to express many of the same flaws I saw in the series. There is one plot failure that you did not mention and I would love to run it by you. It has to do with the Factionless. #1. Becoming "factionless" did not mean becoming mentally-disabled. Why didn't they revolt, use guerrilla tactics and/or constantly attack/rob the factions? Why didn't they escape the city? #2. The Factionless apparently lived and worked together in harmony and none of the "keepers" noticed this? If the Factionless could live in harmony, why were factions even necessary?

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  16. Hey Penny, Tiffany from Amazon here, I wish you would post this link again since the comment section is on page 27 now or do you mind if I do? I just happened upon it.
    Great insight. You blow me away. It has been over a month since I finished this book and I am still upset. Your review and essay help me blow off steam. But it has made me more mad at Roth knowing that the only reason Tris survived the "death serum" was to make her more "supernatural". I kept wondering why Roth would take us through Tris's fight to live just to have her die moments later from 2 bullets? Also, I'm glad you went read Roth's blog, because I just watched an interview and just couldn't go and read her blog afterward. I am 39, a mom of 4, but one child is in heaven. I just cannot understand Roth wanting a sixteen year old to be an adult so fast. I've already agreed with you about Roth and that I think she has a warped since of parental sacrifice and what wisdom a child should glean from that. The time span between Divergent and Allegiant was maybe 6 to 8 months? If this was her intent, why didn't she stretch out the time line? Obviously the last book was rushed, she could've made it longer or a fourth book. She could've made it work, but she didn't. If she had jumped a few more years ahead and had Caleb as a young senator on the camber floor changing the GP/GD laws and freeing all the other cities in the experiment...just some shred of hope! But no, all we got was Christina saying "life sucks, but sometimes it doesn't" (paraphrasing). It just left me still grieving and raw.

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    1. Your comment about the timespan of the books is very perceptive.

      Take the Harry Potter books for example, or even the Hunger Games trilogy; any three sequential books in the Potter series span a period of three years (they full set of seven reflects the UK secondary education years from ages 11 to 18) and the Hunger Games spans what, around two years?

      Those series include enough time for actual character development and change; God knows I wasn't the same person at 17 as I was when I was 15 for example, but the root problem with the Divergent trilogy is that the books simply don't cover a long enough period to allow the personality changes the characters need to make to happen organically.

      Although I'm loathe to suggest Roth every boots her PC up and opens Word again after reading Allegiant, I think this series could have been far better if it had taken place over say 5 books rather than three and covered a three year period of time. That would have given her enough space for actual plot development instead of what feels like a race to cram Tris's death in before she runs out of pages and may even have allowed Roth to flesh the world out enough that could have come up with an actual story arc that made sense instead of borrowing a hokey sci-fi plot and having to almost completely reinvent her characters to shoehorn them into it.

      Roth isn't the greatest author the world has ever seen and I was actually troubled in a significant way by her obsession with forcing the Christ metaphor, simply because her target audience, teen and pre-teen girls do not in any way need books suggesting that a sacrificial death is something to be welcomed but I genuinely think she was failed badly by her publisher and editors here.

      Stephen King, who has after all sold a few books, once said that the job of an editor is to save authors from themselves. That is what Roth needed here and although I'm sure she would say her blog post explaining why she chose this route is evidence that she knew what she was doing, it actually just serves to highlight that she didn't. At all. One day she may have matured enough as a writer to recognise that fact.

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    2. Dear Andy, I can't believe it's been over a year and I never replied to your reply to my comment! I was a single Mom last year (my husband was deployed) and my brain cells weren't functioning. ;-)
      I totally agree with you. Roth should've taken her time and not rushed to the ending and about the inappropriate theme for her audience.

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    3. For some reason it wouldn't let me write more.
      Anyway, since last year I have read many more dystopian series that I liked much better than Divetgent. The Reached series by Ally Condie (A+), The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau (B+), The Delirium series by Lauren Oliver (B), and The Woodlands by Lauren Taylor (it's unique).
      But I'm tired of dystopian fiction now. Lately I've been reading A LOT. So much that they are running into each other, but I got on a Jane Austen kick a while back. Reading books from different POV on Pride and Prejudice and "what if" stories. Most are not worth mentioning but one series written from Darcy's POV was excellent. An Assemby Such As This by Pamela Aiden was very interesting and written in Austen's style.
      But recently I've been on a fantasy kick, which has surprised me. Never thought I'd like fantasy, but a love story is a love story even if it's got shifters or magic. Just finished The Scribe by Elizabeth Hunter and I loved it. Also, The MacCoinnich Time Travel series by Cathrine Bybee is really good too.
      Anyway, I hope you see this reply and thanks for your reply last year. If you do see this, let me know some of the books you like.

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  17. Excellent points. My thoughts exactly.

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  18. l'm a mother of 2 and l am 38 in New Zealand. THANK YOU for your review Penny like others have said before me l read your review on Amazon then found myself here. For me you hit the nail on the head 100% and l feel better after reading what I wanted to put into words...

    I bought the books because I saw the movie trailer and thought this is up my street settled in for a weekend of escaping to Roth's world only to get to the very end of Allegiant feeling depressed and saddened by the ending yes I read young adult because I like the hope/happy ending factor and all I got at the end of this book was tears...

    I have since burnt the books and I will NEVER read another Roth title because I don't trust her with my emotions... I wish I had never started reading the books not even sure that I'll invest my time going to see the movie...

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    1. "I don't trust her with my emotions..."

      Someone should e-mail her that, make her print it out and stick it on the wall above her computer. She is writing young adult fiction. There is surely no segment of the book-reading population who need to know their emotional trust is in safe hands with an author more than the young adult audience.

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    2. Maree, you said it well. 100% agree. She made us feel it was a safe series, then, bam, ripped the rug out from underneath us and shattered our very expectations. I did not like, and continue to dislike, feeling this way about a piece of fiction. She could either be a genius because readers are still discussing it, or she , well, I don't even know. I feel your pain, time does make it better.

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  19. THIS. Thank you for explaining everything that's WRONG about this book. Just finished reading Allegiant since I only started reading after watching the film two weeks ago. The film made me curious so I started reading and fell in love immediately with Tris and Four. I liked that both of them were strong and independent. But that totally changed in the 3rd book. I felt that as the story progressed, they became more immature. I actually spoiled myself and already knew that Tris was going to die, so as I was reading the last book, I was on edge as to how she's going to die. And the world just ended for me. THE BOOK WAS SO BORING CRAPPY AND DEVASTATING. I'm so disappointed. I'm still at a loss. I don't know if i should feel sorry for Tobias (well actually i cried when I knew that this particular part was their last meeting), or feel mad at Tris for choosing that stupid decision with the Weapons Lab. I regret reading this series since I did not even plan on watching the film. After reading several bad reviews about this book (especially yours), it actually enlightened me. So again, thank you. I know now who to blame and it's none other than the author. I truly understand her decision for killing off Tris, but as you said, it was poorly executed. Not planning on watching the last movie. I just wish that the story ended in the first or second book or the last time that Tris and Four spoke to each other. If only one could unread a book.... but right now i feel betrayed, angry, devastated, lost.....

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  20. I, like others, found you blog post from Amazon. You explain so well why the last book left me feeling the way I do. I also enjoyed all the comments as they have pointed out many other things I didn’t not pick up on. E.I. Uriah having to die so that Tris and Four would be separated.

    I saw the movie and thought the series would be right up my alley. I fell in love with Tris and Four. I don't think I have ever been so disappointed, angry, betrayed & sad with an ending before. I agree that with this type of genres, I expected a certain kind of ending. Heroine survives and overcomes all the obstacles with her friends by her side. And then gets to spend the rest of her life with the man she loves trying to figure out how to live in this “New World” they helped to create and save.

    With the way Roth wrote the story, her death comes off completely unwarranted. It just left me heartbroken. At first it didn’t seem real, and I thought maybe she just passed out from the blood loss and would be saved and walk up later in the hospital with Four by her side. I had to flip through the pages to see if her name appeared as the narrator again to believe she was dead.

    I agree with mtb assessment of David: A guy, who is a Scientist, in wheelchair, probably never held a gun before, defeats someone of Tris’s training level is completely unbelievable. She is Dauntless for crying out loud. She survived trained killers, and the death serum, only to die to that guy.

    I am hoping that they change the ending when they make it into a movie. Maybe it will make me feel better. :/

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  21. Great review. I'm a 60 something male so this was not my typical read but I found the first two books compelling enough, seeing the world (even Roth's flawed vision of one) through the eyes of a 16 yr. old girl (I have 2 daughters in their 20's) was an interesting experience. But all their(Tris and Four's) groping and sighing was kinda gross--it was interesting that they finally did it after resisting for so long, I get it, before she died, she sorta had to, but, given her previous fears it didn't quite make sense. Also, as some others have pointed out the changes in her maturity level in less than a year didn't ring remotely true.

    The dual 1st person narrative was especially jarring--I never particularly liked Tobias, didn't hate him but to have the story done in his voice (yes, poorly done) was a big detraction at least until after Tris died.

    Thanks for explaining why she survived the death serum(supernatural element) only to die stupidly moments later. I didn't mind her having a dying vision of her mother but I'm an atheist and I was looking for non-sociological religious thematic corruption but I missed that one. Having her die at all was an unnecessary bummer. Like I said, she was a a compelling literary character and voice that I will miss.

    On a business note, Tris was such a compelling voice that keeping her alive for further adventures/novels could have made Roth a lot of money. I thought that perhaps Roth was tired of revealing too much of herself through Tris (and maybe that's why she killed her off) and had to switch to a male voice, hence the short stories around Tobias, even though as others have pointed out, he became a girly-man.

    I too hope that the movies will change the ultimate ending so that Tris doesn't die or makes much more satisfying sense (and avoids the messianic message --which could be considered child abuse).

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    1. I too had the feeling Roth of was sick of the story so she killed Tris off to end it, then the publisher could not coax her into writing more books in this series.

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  22. Thank you a lot for this excellent review! I fully agree with all the points you raised.
    I would add that it is a bit “funny” to see that in the end, Tris acts exactly in the same way as both Jeanine and David did: choosing lesser between the two evils. What’s the point? What’s the moral? So all of them were right? Or none of them?
    What’s the point of a “sacrifice” at the age of 16? Would not it be more selfless and brave to continue living in this fragile world despite all the deceptions, betrayals, corruption, power battles, even dictatorships, and help those who need your courage and strength?
    Finally, regarding the “love line”. Tris and Tobias were so busy of “running around” that did not have time to even properly know each other. As it was correctly outlined in your review, Tris’s death (as described in the book) has not brought any added value neither to her story, nor to the events that occurred afterwards in the City. Her death has only impact on Caleb (guilt forever and ever after) and Tobias, who realizing that she died for nothing, would regret that the little time they had together was wasted on non-sense running, fighting, complotting etc, rather than on getting to know each other better.
    Greetings from Europe ;)

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  23. Great review; you basically just summed up everything that went wrong with this book. I do feel cheated and wish I never read or bought the series--I'm glad I read this and now understand why. I personally would not have wanted the main character to die either way, and for her to say she did it for her art is bs, that's possibly the most "selfish" thing she could have done--thinking of herself and how it made her feel versus what her audience wants/feels. Complete bs.

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  25. Very well written. Thanks for pointing all these things out to me. Helped me come to terms with why I was so angry. I knew from the beginning, from small plot holes and stupid decisions, that Roth was not a great writer, but I didn't think she would disappoint me this greatly. I feel that a bunch of the other deaths were as pointless as this. For example, why Marlene? Why couldn't she have killed a stranger? The point of picking her specifically was to cause more drama to Tris' immediate friend group. No other reason. And that's silly.

    Two things you didn't mention about why Tris' death was so absurd: 1. Tris is a smart fighter. You mentioned this a bit with why she wouldn't have left her gun behind, though I give her a little leeway since she was trying to overcome "death serum". However, she is not stupid enough to go for the memory serum panel. She definitely would have found a way to disarm or protect herself from David. Maybe not in the second book, but now, we have established that she doesn't want to die anymore, and it makes no sense for her to reach for a panel when she could have talked to him, distracted him, fought him like Four taught her (She's fast and has the element of surprise.). This goes along with the second point:

    2. Why is David such a good shot? It makes no sense that both of the very first two bullets he shoots would hit Tris. Why does he even have a gun in the first place? It would have made more sense for him to accidentally hit the ceiling when he shot, just as we saw Caleb do. Because of this, Tris definitely could have surprised him with an attack, weaved back and forth to avoid the bullet, even though he shouldn't have good aim, and disarmed him or knocked him unconscious.

    This makes so much more sense than Tris just deciding to reach for the panel, knowing she'll be shot, when she doesn't want to die. The point of my saying this is just to add two more reasons that Tris' death was both unnecessary and unfitting.

    Thanks for writing this. I think you should submit it to the movie producers to make sure the final film comes out better than the book does. I usually like when films are true to the books, but in this case, I hope they tear Roth apart and end the series in a way that is more fitting to Tris' awesomeness. Not the bullshit Roth gave us. I need a better movie ending to write over the crappy storyline that's now stuck in my memory.

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    1. I agree especially with the last paragraph of this comment. I hope this essay gets submitted to the movie producers. Usually "the book is always better than the movie" but in this case, I feel better about the movies so far, and hope for a better telling and more meaning from the ending.

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    2. I agree especially with the last paragraph of this comment. I hope this essay gets submitted to the movie producers. Usually "the book is always better than the movie" but in this case, I feel better about the movies so far, and hope for a better telling and more meaning from the ending.

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    3. I agree especially with the last paragraph of this comment. I hope this essay gets submitted to the movie producers. Usually "the book is always better than the movie" but in this case, I feel better about the movies so far, and hope for a better telling and more meaning from the ending.

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  26. Finished it yesterday and agree with every word you wrote here and on Amazon. I'm not in the target demographic for this series at all (male and no longer a young adult) but I read this trilogy because the premise sounded intriguing.

    I'm no literary snob and can handle a book being more Harry Potter than Hanif Kureishi, in fact I've read the Potter books (I'm British so it's kind of the law) which were a great example of the gennre and also read and enjoyed the Hunger Games trilogy, although I still don't believe that Collins was completely unaware of Battle Royale when she wrote them.

    Collins is a far more mature author than Roth though and boy does it show. Roth got away with a lot in the first two books by keeping the pace high and genuinely makes the reader care about Tris as a character - face it, nobody would be pissed about the third book if they went into it not caring about the character to begin with, so she got a lot right for a rookie.

    Third book just killed it, for all the reasons above. If I was Roth, I'd spend my next few years counting my money, doing the film promos and not publishing anything. Write, hell she should write every free minute she gets, but she shouldn't think about putting another book out to an audience until she genuinely understands why this book got slated.

    I've seen her blog comments and all they show is that she is nowhere near to understanding.

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  27. I am so thankful that I found the review on goole and I want to share something with you, cos I feel sooo traumatised right now and reading the review helped me a lot.
    I am a young female women who saw the first movie "Divergent" first and now I have some free days I decided to read the trilogy as a pleasure, cos I loved the concept and the characters and everything around it so much. I realy love the Tris and Tobias lovestory until...the big disaster... For me it is sooo hard to get along with the facts I now know.

    I realy wished someone would have warned me and told me not to start with it, cos all the feelings I feel now are ...not to put un words.

    It is exactly like so many of you said before. I bought the books cos I had expectations. Otherwise I would not buy it. It is a book for young adaults.. and also very young people!!! I realy dont think an ending like that is written for young people!!! I feel like the message I got is to live for dying hopefully under the best possible circumstances.

    I am a Christian and a modern living women and the bible still means a lot to me, so is the message of sacrifice as well, but the message the bible has can`t never be interpreted in a story like that in a way like that. It`s true that Jesus Christ diet once for all of us and the message he wanted to spread out was pure love and forgiveness and we all know that it changed the world.
    We all.. the readers got nothing out of the sacrifice given by a 16 years old heroin, nothing but deep emotional problems. The sacrifice Tris`s parents gave was so much that I cant never understand why the author destroys these act by letting the reason of the act shoot down..I realy dont think any god in these world is willing everyone to die, althought there might be a selfless way to die. I know that christians believe in a paradise that is given them after death, but that doesn`t mean life isn`t worth living and your highest goal is to find the best way to die.. especially when you are 16 years old.. sorry... no.. The first and strongest message in the christian religion is love!! Love a compassion!! I think the Abnegation are a symbol for the christian philosophy and people, but soooo damn totaly misunderstood!!!!

    I am just stunned what happend in the book and I cant understand noone stoped publishing it. I realy think this book is a contravention of the law for the protection of the youth..

    Thank you for reading my comment.

    Natalie (25 years old) from Germany

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    1. "The sacrifice Tris`s parents gave was so much that I cant never understand why the author destroys these act by letting the reason of the act shoot down.."
      Perfect.
      I live in Germany too. ;-)

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  28. A lot of folks talked about how disappointed and sad they were that Tris died. Not me! When I realized she was going to die, my first reaction was "finally! Good riddance!" I guess that makes me hard-hearted. I lost patience with Tris (and most of the other characters) about 10 pages into this book. They were shallow, whiny and their actions made no sense. Any time something dangerous and life-threatening is being proposed, up pops Tris to volunteer. The girl simply doesn't want to live!
    I simply could not relate to this book. My main fascination with it was "how much of a train wreck is this going to be?" Pretty much.

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  29. Thank you for your eloquent review. I was, indeed, devastated by the ending.

    While I admit to typically wanting a happy, main characters survive ending, I prepared myself for not getting one. The first two were so compelling. I invested a lot in to them. I was extremely distraught after finishing the third and to be honest I was confused as to why.

    Yes I was heartbroken at Tris's death. But it was something more. You helped me realize that I do feel betrayed. To have us 'be' Tris than rip her away was hard, but just gloss over the recovery with no grieving? Making her death feel pointless and to keep feeling the pain through Tobias in the aftermath, was torture. I could barely finish it. Your explanations made me feel better. I don't know if I can watch the Allegiant movies but time will tell I guess.

    To expand on the final scene: I found it completely out of character for Tris to just run straight for the device. In almost every gun scene she mentions running in crazy patterns to make herself less of an easy target. All of a sudden she forgets that? I know others have spoken on similar points on this scene but, to me, that makes me want to scream.

    Question: is 'rebooting' books a thing?

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  30. I'll repeat what others have said. Loved your thorough review. Thank you for taking the time to really dissect what was wrong with the conclusion of the series. To be brief-I too had a HUGE problem with a 16 year old girl feeling the only way to prove her selflessness was through being a matyr. That is Not OK!!

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  31. Lauren, have you considered sending this to, gosh I sound naive, lionsgate directly. It is so spot on. I'm glad you took the time to write it. I started randomly throwing my thoughts on paper to send to Veronica, again, I sound naive, but it certainly wouldn't sound as convincing as your exposition!

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  32. Lauren, have you considered sending this to, gosh I sound naive, lionsgate directly. It is so spot on. I'm glad you took the time to write it. I started randomly throwing my thoughts on paper to send to Veronica, again, I sound naive, but it certainly wouldn't sound as convincing as your exposition!

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  33. I saw the first two movies before reading the books. I enjoyed them, which prompted me to check them out from the library, actually I listened to the audio versions of all three. The first two were very good, and then the third... devastating. I pray that the third movie is very different from the book and that Tris is not killed off. I am not sure if I want to even see the movie, otherwise.

    Ms. Roth's editors failed her totally, just as she failed her readers.

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  34. Superb review, thank you. Apart from the absurdly unrealistic plot contrivances, writing the book in the first-person, who then dies, was incredibly irritating. The narrator is describing her own death! Even for fantasy, that strains credibility. I won't be bothering to read anything else by this author.

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