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Veronica Roth

REVIEW 2:  Insurgent by Veronica Roth

REVIEW 2: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Note to readers: The following review of Insurgent contains major spoilers for Divergent, the prequel to the book, and more minor spoilers for Insurgent itself.

Dear Ms. Roth,

Many readers have fallen in love with your Divergent series. This YA series is set in a dystopian society divided into five factions by personality: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. The first book chronicled Tris Prior’s transfer from Abnegation to Dauntless and was a riveting read.
Insurgent

I myself adored Divergent, at least the first 80% of it, so much so that I gave the book a B+/A- grade. Unfortunately, I felt the sequel, Insurgent, was a different kettle of halibut. Since I’m pressed for time, I’ll borrow the plot summary from Jia’s B review, which offers a more enthusiastic perspective than my own.

Insurgent picks up immediately after the events of Divergent. The balance of power between the five factions has shifted with two, Erudite and Dauntless, forming an alliance to attack Abnegation. Tris, Four, and their companions have fled, seeking safety from the two remaining factions — first Amity, and then Candor.

Safety, unfortunately, is difficult to find. Though Tris and Four are part of Dauntless, they are known to be Divergents: people who exhibit traits from more than one faction. This makes them walking targets because Erudite would want nothing more than to get their hands on them. After all, it’s a problem when your mind control drugs fail to work on a growing segment of the population. If Erudite can perfect the drugs’ effect on a Divergent mind, then their control will be absolute.

Left with no other choice, Tris and her friends must ally themselves with people from Four’s past. But the repercussions of those newly forged relationships may have consequences that are far more reaching that anyone could have expected.

My response to Insurgent seems to have been different from that of the majority of its readers. I was disappointed to find that toughness and competitiveness, two of the traits I liked best in Tris when I read Divergent, were largely absent from her portrayal in Insurgent.

Tris is struggling with having killed her friend Will at the end of the previous book, which is understandable and commendable, but her inability to even hold a gun rendered her more vulnerable here than she’d been in the earlier book. Vulnerable heroines are a dime a dozen, and it was Tris’s edge that made her so fascinating to me, so I wished she hadn’t been softened quite so much. (I was also disappointed that even by the end of the book, Tris did not express her regrets personally and privately to Will’s loved ones.)

Since she’d spent much of Divergent learning to get tougher during her initiation into the Dauntless faction, it also felt like her character was regressing, rather than continuing to grow, and that sense of backsliding was frustrating.

Also frustrating was the discord between Tris and Four/Tobias, because it felt contrived. I understood why guilt and shame led Tris to keep the fact that she’d killed her friend Will a secret from Tobias, but I thought this went on a little too long. When Tris finally revealed the truth, Tobias was pretty self-absorbed and insensitive which seemed out of character with the way he’d been portrayed in Divergent.

Then that conflict was abruptly dropped and the bone of contention between Tris and Tobias morphed from her failure to trust him to her (according to Tobias) recklessly and needlessly risking her life.

With the exception of one major act of self-sacrifice on Tris’s behalf, which seemed senseless, I could not see Tobias’s point of view. Yes, Tris risked her life repeatedly, but that was almost always for a purpose and except in the one case I mentioned, which came after Tobias’s complaints of her recklessness, her behavior didn’t seem reckless to me.

Maybe because I couldn’t buy into these conflicts, I also noticed some ridiculous implausibilities in the plot. Here are a few examples:

Dauntless is supposed to be the faction that guards everyone else in this society, but they get totally taken by surprise during an attack on a tall building they occupy and guard. Wouldn’t they think to post sentries?

During that attack, Tris forgets that she has a knife in her pocket. After she killed Will in self-defense and therefore now can’t even hold a gun, I’m intended to believe that she doesn’t think about whether or not to defend herself with that knife? If anything, the knife should be burning a hole in her pocket, but instead, she suddenly remembers she has it after forgetting its existence.

In a later scene, it’s mentioned that Erudite doesn’t have access to the truth serum Candor uses. It is stated that the reason is that the Erudite don’t know how to make it. Erudite doesn’t know how to make truth serum? Did Candor develop it without their help? When Erudite has all the knowledge in the society and when it’s specifically mentioned that Erudite developed Dauntless’s simulation serum?

Then there’s the continuity error with Tris’s gun. In the scenes leading to the book’s climactic moments, Tris’s gun changes from a stunner to a gun and back and forth again. Tris also crosses from one building to another and points that same gun at someone in a washroom — only to realize in the next scene that she doesn’t have a gun, because she left it at the previous building (before the washroom scene).

There were some good things about Insurgent. I appreciated the fast pace as well as the simple, direct style of narration, and I thought that there were some nice emotional moments. I liked the guilt Tris felt with regard to Will’s death and the way that impacted her actions. I liked Tris seeing a familiar face under a simulation, a betrayal from an unexpected source, and a surprising rescue. I also liked the moment when Tris realized that despite her losses and her guilt, she wanted to live.

On the whole though, Insurgent was a frustrating book for me. I really wanted to share the enthusiasm so many others have for it, but I have to give it a C- grade.

Sincerely,

Janine

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What Janine is Reading: June 2012

What Janine is Reading: June 2012

My June reading was a mixture of the good and the disappointing. Here’s what I read:

A Gentleman Undone by Cecelia GrantA Gentleman Undone by Cecilia Grant

I loved Grant’s debut, A Lady Awakened. This is the follow up, about the brother of the heroine from the earlier book, an officer in the Napoleonic Wars who sold his commission and finds it hard to reintegrate into society.

At a gaming club, Will meets Lydia Slaughter, card sharp and another man’s mistress. When he confronts her about her having cheated him of his winnings, he gets more than he bargained for, including lessons in gambling, and a gaming partnership meant to win Lydia her freedom and Will a much-needed redemption. From there on things proceed to a romantic relationship, though not in the usual ways.

I love the intelligence in this author’s voice, the specificity of her word choices and the freshness of her characterizations. I do feel that A Lady Awakened was a fuller (for lack of a better word) novel, with a greater range of emotional tones and a stronger sense of place. A Gentleman Undone had a moodier atmosphere, but there was so much I enjoyed in it, including that Grant does not shy away from showing the heroine not only engaging in but also enjoying sex with her “protector.” B+.

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Magic Bites Ilona AndrewsMagic Bites by Ilona Andrews
Having enjoyed reading all three of the books in Andrews’ Edge series with my husband, I suggested to him that we try Magic Bites, the first book in Andrews’ Kate Daniels series. I’ve had this book TBR for quite a while.

Unfortunately neither of us enjoyed this one anywhere near as much as the Edge books. The humor, charm, romance, and the fascinating contrast between two worlds that makes those books so much fun is missing from Magic Bites.

The heroine/narrator of the book, Kate, doesn’t show the same kind of wit I’ve found in Andrews’ other heroines, at least in this book. Both she and Curran, her eventual love interest, make some downright boneheaded decisions, and it was hard for me to care about either of them.

I’ve heard that the series gets better in later books, but if not for that, we might have stopped reading midway. We discussed quitting and came pretty close to doing so. There’s some snappy narration and a Buffyesque feel, so I can see that Magic Bites might have felt fresher when it first came out in 2007, but even so, it’s hard to understand how it made such a splash. Jane’s A- review can be found here. C-.

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About Last Night Ruthie KnoxAbout Last Night by Ruthie Knox

What a charming book this was, humorous, romantic and emotional. Nev and Cath, both Londoners, see each other on the train they take from home to work, and while running in the park. But they don’t converse until Nev finds a drunk Cath in a tough spot and takes her home.

The next morning, Cath wonders if they had sex. Although though they didn’t, they do soon enough, and it’s the best sex either of them have had. But Cath is recovering from youthful mistakes and doesn’t want Nev to be another in a long series of them. Will Nev convince her that he could be much more?

I loved the characters in this one. They felt real to me. Cath is a transplant from America who works at an art museum and wears tattoos chronicling each lapse of judgment in her past. I didn’t judge her as she did herself, but I could see why she did, and I wanted her to forgive herself.

Nev is a sweetheart and an artist trapped in his job at his family’s bank. He does everything possible to get past Cath’s defenses and tries to prove himself to her, but he makes human mistakes along the way. Nev’s family could be horrible, but even so his parents felt believable to me. His brother was less so.

There is a huge grand gesture at the end of the book . I was doubtful that something like that could be pulled off in reality, but somehow it still melted my heart. It’s very rare for me to enjoy a straight contemporary this much, and I’m now looking forward to Knox’s Ride with Me. Jane’s review of About Last Night can be found here. B+.

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Insurgent by Veronica RothInsurgent by Veronica Roth

I loved Divergent, but was disappointed with its sequel. While I still liked Tris, I felt that with much of her toughness and all of her competitiveness stripped from her, her characterization became less compelling in Insurgent than it had been in the prequel. Meanwhile, the characterization of Tris’s boyfriend, Tobias, was marred by contrived conflicts with Tris.

I also noticed a lot of other contrivances and inconsistencies in the story, such as, for example, members of the Dauntless faction apparently not thinking to post sentries at a tall building they were guarding, since they did not see an attack coming, or member of Erudite not knowing how to manufacture Candor’s truth serum, which led me to wonder, who invented it for Candor?

When I’m distracted enough to wonder about such things, it’s a sign I’m not absorbed in the story. Jia reviewed this one (she liked it much better than I did), and I have a review in the works as well. Grade: C-.

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Can't Buy Me Love Molly O'KeefeCan’t Buy Me Love by Molly O’Keefe

After enjoying About Last Night so much, I was in the mood for another straight contemporary (gasp) so I picked up Can’t Buy Me Love which has been strongly recommended by Janet/Robin. The enthusiasm in the comments was so great that I was hopeful I would enjoy it even though I rarely enjoy the sports trope, don’t love Texas as a setting for books, and as a vegan, can’t get excited about the leather clothing the heroine designs.

I ended up feeling torn about this book. On the one hand, I appreciated that O’Keefe tackled flawed characters and portrayed them with honesty. We need more of that in the romance genre. As Robin points out, the reality of sports injuries wasn’t sugarcoated, and that was another thing I appreciated. I also liked the heroine, Tara Jean, for her courage and pluck. I kept reading to see how her happy ending would come about.

On the other hand, the hockey-playing hero, Luc, did not jell equally well for me. He started out so angry and misogynistic toward Tara Jean that I had a hard time fully buying his sweetness toward her and his worry for her later on. I kept waiting for the guy with the anger management issues to make another appearance in their relationship, and I also didn’t understand how he maintained such calm control on the ice.

The characterization in this book reminded me of SEP’s pre-Avon writing and of other books I read in the late eighties, American romantic sagas whose characters were larger than life but still messed up and flawed. I am glad to see that kind of character development being brought back, but because I read a fair number of books with characterization in this vein as a kid, it didn’t feel as fresh to me as it might to some other readers.

I also found myself wishing the characters had not been based in stereotypes – the competitive athlete, the trashy girl from the trailer park, the spoiled socialite, the taciturn cowboy, the poised former model. While I appreciated that the main characters were full enough to be more than these stereotypes, and that in particular, Tara Jean’s growth was lovely and convincing, I was also hungry to encounter a character who wasn’t based in a type at all.

Between that and my issues with Luc, as well as some hiccups in the prose, I admired the thoughtfulness that went into this novel more than I enjoyed reading it. It’s hard to know what to grade a book I feel that way about, but maybe a C+/B-?

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What about you guys? How was your June reading-wise? Have you read any of the books I mentioned above, and if so, what did you think of them?