Warning: spoilers if you’ve not read Insurgent!
The idea behind Divergent is that when you turn sixteen, you are tested to decide which faction you belong to: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless and Erudite. Tris, the main character, tests as Divergent – she does not belong to any faction. But she cannot reveal this information to anyone. So she chooses a faction, and keeps her true traits to herself.
The use of first person present is fairly fundamental in establishing the pressurised atmosphere of the novels. It begins with Tris’ test and keeps building as she joins other initiates in her new faction. As a reader you are on edge, and this reflects Tris’ feelings. She is determined to fit in, but is scared of what might happen if her Divergent skills are spotted.
The character of Four is an interesting one. He arrives to train the new initiates, and his entrance screams “potential love interest”. I was expecting Tris to follow the stereotype of becoming reliant on him, and being less able to act for herself. But she doesn’t – much like Katniss, as I mentioned in my review of The Hunger Games. And with Tris, her determination to do what she thinks she should, regardless of the consequences, heightens with Four’s presence. Another female character thinking for herself! Yay! But Four’s story arc very much engages your curiosity, and moves nicely into the plot of Insurgent.
As an outsider, Tris is a bullying target for her fellow initiates. Her family were Abnegation, which preaches selflessness – the opposite of her new faction, where you look out for yourself first of all. This is where Tris develops even more as a character; she refuses to be beaten by the bullies and so works harder and harder at topping the rankings and proving herself better than them. And people she makes enemies with in this initial phase are brought back cleverly in Insurgent. The continuity between books is great – rather than feeling like a second book, Insurgent picks up precisely where Divergent left off.
In many ways Insurgent sets up for the final book in the trilogy (due this autumn), but the repercussions of events in Divergent permeate it and tie the two tighter. Tris is dealing with the personal consequences of having killed another person, yet has chosen a faction where she must be fearless. Roth manages scenes where Tris needs a weapon but feels so completely unable to use it very well, and the impact of this on her relationship with Four (or rather, Tobias) plays out nicely. Now the faction lines are blurring, Tris and Tobias’ characters are less constrained. The two are determined to do things their own way and aren’t always honest with each other as a result. This not only makes them both more interesting characters (one might say unnecessarily ‘tortured’ when they’re at their most melodramatic) but much more flawed. As readers we are not being treated to the gospel according to Tris and Tobias, which is excellent.
Insurgent is full of unexpected surprises and twists, making what could otherwise be little more than a set-up for Allegiant a gripping story. The Hunger Games may have all the headlines, but I’d pick Divergent ahead of it. If you’re a fan of the genre and haven’t yet read this series, I’d definitely recommend a read.