Divergent Trilogy #3: Allegient by Veronica Roth

Read: 6 September, 2014

The series began as The Breakfast Club in a post-apocalyptic world. In the third and final installment, Roth seems to have been going for a graduation from that high school prejudice into the prejudices of the adult (or “outside”) world – racism. Except not racism, of course, but “genetically damaged” versus “genetically pure.” But yeah, racism. Reading the book, as I am, so soon after Ferguson, I feel like it should resonate more than it does.

The “twist” fails, I think, because we’ve been peeling back the layers of the onion only to discover that it was actually an apple after all, and that just doesn’t work in the third book in a trilogy. The idea of an outside world was set up early on, but the image we get of it as the big reveal at the end of the second book is shown to be a near-complete falsehood just a few chapters into the next book. As a result, if feels much more like a lack of planning than an actual twist.

There’s also a rather significant stylistic change. Rather than all being in Tris’s voice, the third book suddenly adds Four as a secondary POV character. Changing narrative styles so late in the game should be done with caution, and I fdon’t feel that it worked here.

The characters seem addicted to revolution. It was one thing to fight against the Jeanine and perhaps the current fraction structure, that was set up early on and it made sense within the context of the book. I could even sort of understand a realization that the revolution didn’t really improve things, and that the oppressed are often quite happy to become oppressors when given the chance. That would have made sense and would have made for a perfectly good moral lesson to tie the series together. What happens in the third book, however, is that Tris & co. first join the Allegiants to fight against Jeanine and the Factionless, then join the Genetically Damaged to fight against the Genetically Pure. They’re so addicted to the process of revolution that they couldn’t even stick with one for the entire length of the book.

SPOILERS: The big sacrifice ending was silly. No one was in danger of dying, so Tris’s big sacrifice was to keep people from having their memories erased, because she believed that erasing people’s memories is a morally bad thing. Yet her sacrifice occurs while erasing people’s memories. That’s right, she believes that X is bad, so she sacrifices herself to do X. It’s absurd.

Overall, I felt that the book felt rushed, and suffered from an apparent lack of planning throughout the writing process of the series. Through the other books, I was content with the peeling of onion layers. But in this one, knowing what the core looks like, really revealed the series’s flaws.

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    Wheel of Time #2: The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan

    Read: 4 September, 2014

    In The Great Hunt, our band of heroes separate, meet up again, then separate, then meet up while finding the Horn of Valere, then losing it, then finding it again.

    I mentioned in my review of Eye of the World that the book showed a rather strong Tolkien influence. If any of that remained in Great Hunt, I didn’t notice it. Perhaps Jordan intentionally started with a Tolkien base, or perhaps it took him a book to gain the confidence he needed to go in his own direction. Either way, I’m glad the issue corrected itself so early on in the series.

    Another big difference from the first book is that the characters are no longer on the run. There’s still danger, of course, but they’ve mostly turned around to face it now (some of the characters even spending part of the book as the pursuers). Changing so fundamentally the type of story helps, I think, it differentiating the second book from the first, and helps make it clear that it won’t all be more of the same through fourteen books.

    I’ve mentioned in my reviews of both Eye of the World and New Spring that I really appreciate the number of female characters and their relationships with each other. They have their own goals and they have their own friendships that have nothing to do with Rand. And while it’s a little over done for multiple female characters to fawn over the male lead (because he just has that special fictional je ne sais quoi), they resolve their competition by prioritizing and reinforcing their friendship rather than drawing out the same tired old love triangle/competition.

    I’ve seen some complaints that all the women are carbon copies of each other – all brow-beating and nagging, all stubborn and able to admit fault. I can see where the complaint comes from, and I do agree that it would have been nice to see a little more variety (like how George R.R. Martin included everything from Sansa the tower maid waiting for a savior, Brienne the woman who styles herself a Britomart, and Catelyn the medieval wife who is both femme and a capable leader, not to mention all the other variations of those three archetypes). That said, I don’t think that the criticism is entirely fair, as there is certainly a fair bit of individuality. Egwene, in particular, stood out for me in this book as far as her character development went.

    That’s not to say that there isn’t some cardboarding going on. Siuan’s fish-themed linguistic choices could have used some toning down, for example. It could just be my faulty memory talking, but I feel like she was far spoke far more plausibly in New Spring. There are other examples of over-reliance on certain phrases (men constantly finger their weapons, Nynaeve has some sort of plait-tugging fetish, etc).

    Still, I really enjoyed this book, as well as the series so far.

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      John Dies At The End by David Wong

      Read: 26 August, 2014

      After taking a hit of Soy Sauce, John and David start to see things, scary things, horrible things. Next thing they know, they’re trying to save the world.

      John Dies is rather haphazard. It’s very funny (you know, penis and poop jokes funny) and reasonably scary (i had one night where I briefly considered leaving the hall light on), but it’s all over the place.

      It was a fun read, and the titular John was absolutely hilarious (gotta love the puns), but it just never seemed to go anywhere. the final portion of the book, where the author tries to give an explanation for all the weird stuff, feels very forced. It’s rather clear that he hadn’t really thought through where the story was going until he got there, and no amount of world-destroying dog diarrhea can cover that up.

      It’s brain candy – no nutrition, but enjoyable enough in moderation.

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        Malcolm’s Wine by Hugh Gilmore

        Read: 22 August, 2014

        A series of coincidences bind together a petty criminal and two bookshop workers. In the course of an evening, Brian’s friend is murdered and a bottle of wine – bought for his now-deceased son – has been stolen.

        I received this book from the author via his wife – a friend of my mother’s who stitched together a beautiful baby blanket for my son. An odd connection given the theme of the book, but I suspect it had more to do with my mother’s need to tell everyone she meets that her daughter is “into books.”

        The plot of Malcolm’s Wine hinges on an incestuously small cast of characters. If something happens anywhere in Ann Arbor (and surrounding area), it seems that at least two of our three characters will be involved. While the story was still being set up, it was rather too much of a stretch and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep reading.

        Once the stage was set, however, it was no longer an issue. The characters behaved predictably and with consistent rationale as the plot played itself out. This is where the many loops and ties between the characters added to my enjoyment of the book, providing a measure of absurdist humour.

        There are two really bad characters in the book, Klaus and Claudell (I’m guessing the naming was intentional). We don’t really see inside Claudell’s head, but we do see in Klaus’s, and the vision of the psychopath was – I found – very well done. He is disconnected from reality, but in a way that has internal logic. He was simultaneously pathetic and believable (though pathetic with a gun, which is absolutely terrifying – particularly when read so soon after the Isla Vista killings). Both Claudell and Klaus reminded me of bullies – unpredictable, riding a high or a delusion that gives their victims no way out. It made their scenes rather difficult to read through, though I appreciate the realism of their handling (not to mention their ends).

        Unfortunately, I think the book would have benefited a great deal from a having had a strong editor. The narrative is a little rough around the edges – female characters, in particular, are a little cardboard and there’s some cringe-y assumptions of sexual dimorphism, particularly earlier on, that deserved some red pen striking – but the good ideas and reader handling shine through. My edition also suffered from a number of unfortunate typos, including one right on the back cover. There are enough of them to be noticed, though they don’t ruin the book.

        Overall, I found it a very interesting read – a one-off mystery with believable characters that made me care about the outcome.

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          And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole

          Roy and Silo aren’t like the other penguins at the New York Central Park zoo. When all the other boy penguins pair up with girl penguins, Roy and Silo just seem to want to spend time together. When their keeper notices that they are displaying parenting behaviour with a rock, he finds them an egg that needs caring for. Roy and Silo are delighted! Finally, the egg hatches and little Tango makes three.

          This is a really sweet book about families and caring for babies, with the added bonus that the parents are two male penguins. My son found the illustrations interesting (and baby Tango’s big grin had him cooing over how cute baby penguins are), and the text is just the right length on each page. It’s a solidly good book, with the benefit of being a great conversation starter about different kinds of families.

          I really can’t recommend it enough!

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