When I finished Allegiant I really couldn’t decide if it was a brilliant piece of writing or a garbled mess. However, given that I had a major emotional book hangover and couldn’t face picking up another book for several days, I’m going for the “brilliant piece of writing.” For those of you concerned about my mental wellbeing, I was rescued from the emotional depths by Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park, a sweet story of first love, so that in a couple of days I may actually be ready to go back to The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken. So, onto Allegiant. It is difficult, if not impossible, to review Allegiant without spoilers, so please join me after the cut once you have read the book.
What I didn’t like
First of all, let me talk about the issues I had with the book. Allegiant is quite a different book from Insurgent. First, it is written from both Tris’ and Four’s point of view, which differs from the first two books which are only from Tris’ perspective. This is clearly necessary given the shock ending, but the execution wasn’t brilliant. The two were barely distinguishable one from the other. Far too many times I was in Four’s viewpoint and was completely confused when he referred to Tris in the third person – I’d forgotten I wasn’t hearing from Tris. Listening to the audiobook with the two narrators did help somewhat, but again I wasn’t overly impressed with the narration of this series.
At university we learned of the three Unities; time, place and plot. That means that the play or novel takes place within 24 hours, in the same setting and has one main plotline. Generally, I’ve found that YA tends to stick to those in terms of setting and plot, at least. Katniss doesn’t suddenly find herself outside of Panam, Bella stays around Forks, Tessa doesn’t stray far from London and the Institute. In Allegiant, Roth changes setting completely for the final book. The new setting means that the first half of the book involves a great deal of setup to explain the new scenario which slows the pace down considerably.
In terms of plotline too, YA tends to follow one main plot thread. The Hunger Games concentrates on Katniss’ surviving the Games and bringing down the government that allows them. Bella’s main plot is about becoming a vampire to be with her love and Tessa’s goal is to defeat the infernal devices. In Allegiant, the goal of defeating the Erudite is completely turned around and a completely different goal is set, and more importantly, a goal that could not have been inferred from the first two books in the series.
The biggest YA trope that Roth breaks, however, is that the protagonist dies.
This breaking of tropes means that Allegiant is not the book that many readers were expecting, and while that can be a good thing, I can appreciate that it may have left some readers with a negative feeling about the book.
What I liked
Other than the issues with perspective I’ve already mentioned, the writing in Allegiant is beautiful. That last scene with the zip gliding is simply and evocatively written – a real heart wrenching moment.
Harry Potter. The two series share the same themes – that it is your choices that matter, not your genetic makeup or your upbringing. I could see the Bureau as having a similar viewpoint to the Ministry for Magic with regard to those not genetically pure, but perhaps at an earlier stage. The line that made the most impression on me, and which encapsulates perfectly the threat of the Bureau and the theme of the series is the one in which a Bureau employee explains that the death penalty is not imposed on those who are not genetically pure – “we can’t have the same behavioural expectations for those with damaged genes as we do for those with pure genes, after all.” Rowling has mentioned that she thought of the Nazi attitude to Jewish blood when she was writing Harry Potter, and I can see the same thing in Allegiant. It’s not that far a leap from “they can’t be held accountable because of their genes” to “their blood makes them less than human” to “we need to kill them all because they are incapable of rational thought and that makes them dangerous.” Nicely done, Roth, nicely done.
Another Harry Potter throwback I noticed was Tris’ mother’s spirit appearing to her as she lay dying to give her comfort and bring her home. That reminded me a lot of one of the most moving scenes in Harry Potter; when Harry is taking his final walk to his death through the Forbidden Forest and the ghosts of his parents and the Marauders appear to him to lend him strength and comfort.
Choices. The theme of choices mattering is explored through many of the characters. I found it very interesting that it was revealed that Four is not genetically pure, which in the viewpoint of Allegiant could potentially impact his choices. This led to some very interesting character development as this revelation leads him to doubt himself and his actions. As well as Four’s doubting himself, the reader is also asked to question the characters’ motives – how much of their actions was impacted by their genetics and how much by their choices. A very interesting exploration of this is through the character of Peter, a character who has done some despicable things in earlier books. He is given a chance to start again, with a clean slate and no memories. The reader is left to speculate how he will act in the future; this leads the reader to question his/her own thoughts on nature vs nurture.
I also loved that Tris made the conscious choice to remain in a relationship with Four even though at that point she felt he’d betrayed her and she didn’t particularly like him. I appreciated that she had the maturity to realise that in the longer term she and Four were better people together than apart and that they would work to get over this hurdle in the relationship. All too often in YA the feeling of “being in love” is held up as being the goal for the female protagonist ignoring that a real relationship takes hard work and commitment.
One choice I didn’t find believable though was Evelyn’s choice to give up everything she’d worked for to bring down the faction system for a chance at a relationship with her son. I’d read Evelyn’s character as being more that the cause was everything.
Sacrifice. Roth has said in interviews that part of Tris’ journey is to learn when and where to make the ultimate sacrifice. While I didn’t understand Tris’s choice to risk herself instead of Caleb – she seems to believe that Caleb’s sacrifice is worthless because he doesn’t really love her – I can accept that she believes it. The difference between this and her attempt at sacrifice in Insurgent when she gives herself up to Erudite rather than risk more Dauntless deaths is noticeable. In Insurgent she was acting more out of a sense of guilt, and was fully expecting to die. It was also clear that this would have been a worthless sacrifice – Erudite was not going to stop killing people just because Tris turned herself in. In Allegiant, she hopes that she may survive and her sacrifice would have a long lasting effect by resetting the Bureau.
All in all I felt the strengths of Allegiant far outweighed the issues and gave it five stars out of five.