Review: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Insurgent
Veronica Roth

HarperTeen (2012)
525 pages
YA / Dystopian / Action

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One choice can transform you--or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves--and herself--while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.

Tris's initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable--and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.

I went into Insurgent with somewhat low expectations because I was not exactly impressed with Divergent. It felt very generic and, despite the interesting qualities implied in the world building, I never really could submerge myself into the story completely. I saw all the twists from far away and didn’t really get caught up in the story until the very end when the action really kicked in. Despite that, I know it isn’t a bad book. Mostly I continued reading it because I became very fond of Four, despite his mystery not being that mysterious. I still believe my opinion was colored by having read a book I absolutely loved a million times over right before, but even so, Divergent didn’t leave me on pins and needles to see what happened in its sequel.

This is the point where I feel compelled to begin cursing. Upon finishing Insurgent, I reread the last two pages five times, closed the book, shock it really hard to prevent myself from throwing it across the room, and silently cursed Veronica Roth for what can only be called crimes against my sanity. Insurgent slapped me across the face, demanded that I not sleep until I finished it, and then left me unstable and with the extreme urge to beat my head against the wall. In a good way.

Unlike its predecessor, Insurgent doesn’t have many slow moments. From one set piece to the next, action ties everything together. It starts without hesitation, which left me a little confused about who the secondary characters all were as I’d forgotten most everyone’s names. It didn’t matter though since I eventually could identify everyone based on conversations. Unlike the previous book, the main characters spend a fair amount of time with each of the five factions in different capacities – either as refugees, prisoners or cautious allies. It gives a better picture of how this world of five factions used to fit together and how, by taking their individual faction ideals to extremes, the whole system has begun to fall apart.

Tris’ head was a more interesting place to live in this time around as well. Her inner conflict is elevated between the guilt of her parents’ deaths and her obligation to her faction and friends. It leads to many moments of self-sacrifice that some would probably see as pretty dumb, but actually made a lot of sense when it came to the character Roth had developed so far. Surprisingly Four seemed to be the one who was slightly less well-defined. Some of his actions seemed erratic, possibly because we don’t get to hear his thought processes or because certain conversations take place “off screen”.

People die in Insurgent, though perhaps not as many we’ve spent time with as would be expected in a book that is essentially about a guerilla war (thus the title). Some people make surprising choices and there’s one point where I thought Tris was going to wake up only to find that the past few days had been part of a simulation. I’m very glad Roth didn’t go that route because it would have been a bit cheap, but still it made for an interesting reading situation, me constantly holding my breath waiting for the “This is all a dream” moment.

The idea of being Divergent – those who the computer believes could easily belong in multiple factions – is also fleshed out much more beyond Tris. New and old characters are introduced as divergent and the special skills and personality qualities that come from that fact are well incorporated into the main story arc of a war between factions. It gives depth to what could otherwise be a fairly common story and provides Tris more people who she can relate to and with whom the reader can compare her. Her choices become framed in a larger context, and the idea of divergence really pays off in those final pages.

And those final pages… man, if the first 500 pages left me unable to go to bed at a decent hour on a work night (and they did), those final 30 pages or so knocked me upside down. How dare Roth make me wait a whole other year to find the outcome of her conclusion! Whereas the end of Divergent set up its sequel, it didn’t really feel like the big game changer it was meant to be. Yes, the societal dynamics were severely changed, but it was still fairly predictable and common. While I might have gotten a slight impression of what was finally confirmed at the end of Insurgent (vague because of spoilers, of course), it still felt like a huge, giant game changer that will completely change the dynamics of not only the story being told, but essentially every single characters’ interaction with their environment and with the world as a whole.

A week later I’m still freaking out a little. Insurgent fulfills the potential that was hiding behind the otherwise predictable plotting and mostly generic characterization of Divergent. Characters grew and the world expanded exponentially, leaving me in desperate need of the next (final?) book in the series much sooner than 2013.