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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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Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven books. Examples include novels by Shana Abe, Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Cecilia Grant, Judith Ivory, Carolyn Jewel, Laura Kinsale, Julie Anne Long, Alison Richardson, Nalini Singh and Pam Rosenthal. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, "Kiss of Life", appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com. or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

12 Comments

  1. Darlynne
    Jul 13, 2012 @ 13:22:42

    Enthusiasm, I has it. Despite the points you raised–all valid and agreed with–I still really enjoyed this book. Tobias’ unreasonableness about the risks Tris took made no sense to me either and that’s probably the thing I disliked the most. I am most eager, based on the ending of Insurgent to see where we go from here.

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  2. Janine
    Jul 13, 2012 @ 13:29:07

    @Darlynne: Glad you enjoyed it. I loved Tobias in book 1 and was sorry to see his character turn less appealing here. I wasn’t surprised by the big reveal at the end of the book, and found that disappointing too.

    SPOILER
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    I also find it hard to believe that in generations, no one has ever tried to leave the city. They are all content to stay put and not see what’s in the outside world?
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    END OF SPOILER

    Given that I feel that way, I’m skeptical the third book (Emergent is my guess for the title) will win me over.

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  3. Sarah
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 17:19:57

    I’m with you on finding Insurgent disappointing after thoroughly enjoying Divergent. I burned through Divergent in a day and while I found some aspects clumsy (the romance between Tris and Four, for instance, never grabbed me at all), I thought it was a solid world and conflict. I pre-ordered Insurgent and got so excited to read it… and then had to put it away halfway through as a DNF. Such a letdown of all the buildup created by the first book, and usually I can’t stand to not finish books I paid for, especially if they’re part of a series I’d already gotten to know. But it felt like the emotions didn’t carry from one book to the next, and worst of all, I couldn’t care about Tris. That’s the death knell, when I can’t bother to care about the heroine; there’s just no point reading any more after that point.

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  4. Janine
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 18:19:09

    @Sarah:

    it felt like the emotions didn’t carry from one book to the next

    That was how I felt too. I actually loved the romance in Divergent, and that was another thing that didn’t carry IMO. I still cared about Tris, but to a much lesser degree because she no longer seemed like the same tough and smart character she’d been in Divergent.

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  5. DianeN
    Jul 15, 2012 @ 18:20:02

    Insurgent was a DNF for me despite how much I loved Divergent. I’m starting to notice that second books in projected trilogies often don’t measure up–particularly, it seems, when they’re YA. Off the top of my head I can name at least 4 or 5 second books that have disappointed me in recent months. In most cases I’ve slogged through them because I’m still interested enough to want to see if the third books redeem the series for me. I dunno, is it middle child syndrome? Or could it be that writers are being so strongly encouraged to churn out trilogies that they’re forced to stretch story lines to fit three (or more) books when two (or even one) might have sufficed?

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  6. Janine
    Jul 16, 2012 @ 00:14:10

    @DianeN: There’s also the sophomore effort issue, which applies only if the first book in the trilogy was also the author’s debut. The author’s second published book is the first written under contract, and that is a new ball of wax for them. For the first book, they can take all the time they need to perfect it, but with the second, there’s a deadline to contend with, as well as the pressure that comes with expectations.

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  8. Evelyn Ink
    Sep 13, 2012 @ 15:17:15

    All right, I know this is just absurd, but what bothers me the most about this book, IS THE TRAINS! It was annoying in Divergent, but in Insurgent it’s tragically stupid.
    At one point, mid book, Tris and Four jump on a train to make secret negotiations with the factionless leader Evelyn, they talk for maybe ten or fifteen minutes, then jump back off the train (same train) … and they are what? Back at the compound where they got on???
    So… Let me get this straight, huge freight trains, that are always empty and never have any stops, but can be caught at exact times, continually loop around the city, going… nowhere.
    Unless we’re in the matrix, this really isn’t working .

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  9. Janine
    Sep 13, 2012 @ 15:35:32

    Good point, Evelyn. The idea of a loop doesn’t bother me because after all, the city is closed. It makes sense that at least some trains would go in a loop. But for the loop to be completed in 15 minutes (I don’t have the book so I can’t check but am taking your word) is ludicrous. Also, the trains need to be carrying something, unless some compartments are deliberately left open for Dauntless.

    There were so many holes and inconsistencies in this book, and it really is a shame.

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  10. Chelsea
    Aug 17, 2013 @ 16:25:41

    So I’m not the only one who noticed the gun! That was by far the most frustrating part for me in the book (I thought I’d just read a bad copy, like sometimes when you get one with typos, which seemed unlikely…) I can’t believe they didn’t notice that.
    I have OCD, so you can imagine how much that really ruined Insurgent for me…
    Anyway, I see a lot of people complaining about Four’s scolding of Tris, and while I agree that he was selfish in this book, he never seemed otherwise when it came to his emotions in Divergent. That’s just who Four is. Imperfect.
    I wish Tris had overcome her fear of guns by the end of the book, but, oh well.
    As for her being weaker without a gun, while she was certainly at a disadvantage, I don’t agree with that. Here’s why:
    In Divergent, Tris was more Dauntless than anything. It was nice that she found connections between Abnegation, and Dauntless, but we can all agree that she was Dauntless. In Insurgent (I can’t believe no one else noticed this…), I felt Ms. Roth was expressing Tris’ Erudite more than anything.
    You’ll notice she often had to think her way out of situations (largly in part to not having a gun), which I really enjoyed. I know we all love Dauntless Tris (who wouldn’t?), but the fact is that Tris is not JUST Dauntless– she’s Divergent. You can’t just say it, and make it so. Showing her compatibility for Erudite, therefor, was one of my favorite parts of this book.
    As for all the “love drama”, I didn’t really find this all that out of place. It was annoying that they didn’t trust each other, rather, I should say it was annoying that they expected trust without giving it (which wasn’t that out of character, think about it), but that’s really about it.
    Tris even says something about it toward the end of the book. She wasn’t being Tris, the Divergent, she was beind reckless, DAUNTLESS in a way that she never had before. She didn’t want to live, but she couldn’t kill herself, so she continually put herself in danger, not even bothering to think things through (Please remember, she IS Erudite as well). That’s not Tris! That’s any Dauntless with a death wish, and THAT’S why Tobias was pissed. He cares about Tris, and he’s afraid of losing her, so obviously he’s angry when he sees that she is intentionally trying to destroy herself.
    As for me, I liked Four just fine in this book. He’s far from perfect, just like Tris, and this only serves to express their similarities.
    I know everyone’s used to the lifeless(often perfect), male love-interest of strong-female-lead books, but personally, I found this to be a welcome breath of fresh air.
    Tobias is annoying, frustrating, hypocritical, untrusting, insecure, harsh, a coward when it comes to Tris, and all around just not a fluffy bunny– perfect for Tris, who holds many of these bad qualities herself.
    Tris says something likes this when she’s “high”, remember? “Maybe you like me because you’re not very nice, either.”
    Though I often wish that Tobias would comfort Tris at points where he only scolds, I also realize that Tris isn’t the type who needs that. She wants to be weak around him, and he doesn’t let her. I might feel angry, if I didn’t realize how much Tris would actually hate that.
    She likes Tobias because of who he is, now. And in forcing Tris to be strong, Tobias IS her strength. He doesn’t try to do everything for her, because he respects her. He pushes her to be strong, because she IS strong, even when she doesn’t realize it. And THAT’S why Tobias is perfect for her. You’ll notice that Tris does the same for him, often telling him the harsh truth, instead of keeping it to herself (like about not trusting his Mother, etc).
    Anyway, it’s not like he never comforts her. When she is already strong, or when she doesn’t need to be strong, Tobias doesn’t push her. And Visa versa.
    They’re an incredible pair, that’s for sure, but not bad. Just…gray.

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  11. Hibba
    Apr 08, 2014 @ 22:46:06

    I was beyond frustrated while reading this book! Glad it wasn’t just me.

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  12. Janine
    Apr 08, 2014 @ 22:50:11

    @Hibba: No, you’re definitely not the only one.

    ReplyReply

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