Review: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

By Rebekah Fitzsimmons

 “Insurgent,” he says.  “Noun.  A person who acts in opposition to the established authority, who is not necessarily regarded as a belligerent.”

“Do you need to give everything a name?” says Cara . . . “We’re just doing something and it happens to be in a group.  No need for a new title.” . . .

“I like it,” I say. “Insurgent.  It’s perfect”

Insurgent is the newly released sequel to Veronica Roth’s best selling novel Divergent. Overall, the narrative maintains the dramatic pace, suspenseful action and political intrigues of the original novel, while adding new, larger mysteries and expanding the scope of the dystopian world created in first novel.  Similar themes echo through the second book in new and explosive ways while new struggles, both internal and external, continue to rock the characters, specifically Tris and Four. However, the novel also suffers from second-in-a-trilogy disease, feeling at times exposition heavy, occasionally feeling like events are rushed or delayed in order to wrap up the dramatic ending of Divergent while setting up a larger scale for the next book.

((SPOILERS AHEAD FOR DIVERGENT)) 

Tris spends a majority of Insurgent dealing with the emotional fallout of the attack on her original faction, Abnegation.  The deaths of both of her parents hits her particularly hard, especially since they both sacrificed their lives so that she might succeed in her mission to stop the attack, coordinated by Erudite and executed by the simulation-controlled Dauntless.  Also, she is wracked by guilt over killing her friend Will, who was under the simulation and about to shoot her, and is unable to tell any of her friends about it.  All of these events played out in the last quarter of Divergent, but they continue to resonate throughout the second book: this repetition at moments starts to feel repetitive, but also feels very true to life.

The amount of time that passes in Insurgent seems to be 4 to 6 weeks from the day of the attack, and one would imagine that realistically, the brutal murder of one’s parents, friends and former faction members (who are basically the equivalent of extended family in this dystopia) by one’s new friends and faction members under mind control would cause severe emotional trauma that would take a long time to recover from.  Like the bullet wound that also plagues Tris for the duration of Insurgent, the book actually appears to be allowing Tris time to feel pain, shock, betrayal, fear and grief along a realistic timeline.  She appears to be suffering from various forms of post-traumatic stress (seeing flashbacks when she hears gunshots, an inability to grasp or use a gun, rapid emotion changes, inability to trust those around her).  Her symptoms and reactions to events feels extremely realistic and honest, and the reader often empathizes with her.  Which is good, because Insurgent needs to be grounded by these honest emotions: the majority of the action of the book revolves around various forms of futuristic technology, mind control, spies, betrayal, mind altering substances and schemes of world domination.

The book also needs grounding because there are A LOT of characters.  There are A LOT of people to know and recognize.  I had to stop halfway through the first chapter of Insurgent and go back to the first book for a refresher: Insurgent begins with Tris running with four guys, one of who was her boyfriend (who btw, has two names), her boyfriend’s estranged father, a reluctant ally and her brother, and the reader is not given enough clues/reminders at the outset as to which is which.  A quick re-read of the last 100 pages of Divergent set me straight, but heaven help you dare to read the sequel weeks or months after returning your copy of Divergent to the library.

With 5 factions, some of which are split, there are a lot of political entities to keep track of, though we do get to spend more time with the factions we haven’t really seen before: Candor, Amity and parts of Erudite (the really scary, torture-porn, researchers gone wrong part) get a decent amount of page-time and the differences between the factions becomes clearer.  Tris and Four also spend time with the factionless, who have kind of turned into their own faction of homeless, disgruntled, dirty individuals.  However, I felt more than once that a glossary of characters and their allegiances would be helpful, though those allegiances shift like sand, making it even harder to keep up with who Tris is fighting with/against at any given moment.

These shifting allegiances are important because loyalty is also a huge motif throughout both books.  The very concept of faction transfers is portrayed throughout the first novel as one of the deepest forms of betrayal possible: Tris notes that faction transfers rarely see their families again because of the strength of the betrayal.  Once Tris enters the initiate class at Dauntless, she is betrayed by Al and Peter, who attempt to kill her.  To make a choice to go against your faction, or to value another faction above your own means you are a traitor, and being a traitor is enough to have you executed.  This is part of what makes Tris and Four’s Divergence so dangerous: even if they can see something from the point of view of a different faction, they must choose their own faction or risk being exiled to the factionless or executed as a traitor.

((SPOILERS AHEAD FOR INSURGENT))

However, at the start of Insurgent, these loyalties are confused and fractured.  Parts of Dauntless willingly participate in the slaughter of the unarmed, unprepared Abnegation in collusion with the Erudite who were trying to seize political power from that faction (see- LOTS of groups to remember).  The remaining Dauntless, who only took part in the genocide because of the mind-controlling simulation, feel betrayed; they wake up to realize they have unwillingly committed murders against innocents and their leaders were the ones who made it happen.  Dauntless fractures into two groups, and the “traitor-Dauntless” begin to wear blue bands on their jacket sleeves to make it clear that they are allied with the Erudite. Members of Erudite who disagree with the Erudite-leader, Jeanine, flee, as do remaining members of Abnegation and are taken in to the headquarters of Amity: the peace-loving farmers are depicted as communist hippies, who make all their decisions as a group and who ultimately decide to remain neutral as the factions divide.

Tris and Four flee to join the loyal Dauntless who have abandoned their home and joined with the Candor.  However, when Tris and Four arrive, they are arrested for “Crimes against humanity” because Candor has obtained video footage of Four running the simulation and Tris trying to stop him, them fighting, then seeming to work together to complete the simulation.  It is only under the influence of truth serum (Candor values honesty above all else) that Four admits that he is Divergent, was not under the influence of the first simulation, but was given a second form of the simulation drug by Jeanine which worked until Tris saved him.  Tris is also put under truth serums, but realizes that she does not have to tell the truth, that her Divergence allows her to withhold parts of the truth.  She confirms Four’s story and when asked what she regrets, she voluntarily confesses to killing Will, even though she knows the truth will fracture her relationship with Four and her remaining friends.  The confession, however hurtful, does help her to begin to heal.

It is at this stage in the book where the role of Divergence begins to change.  Prior to Four’s public interrogation under truth serum, very few people knew and understood what it was to be Divergent and even then, fear and secrecy were key to living as a Divergent.  It becomes clear that Erudite’s policy of executing Divergent people was a part of Jeanine’s master plan to place all of the inhabitants of the city under mind control, which Divergence makes tricky.  The high concentration of Divergent individuals among the Abnegation and the factionless made them natural enemies for the control minded Erudite leader.  However, characters express prejudices and fears against the Divergent and Erudite/Dauntless missions concentrate on weeding out and eliminating the Divergent among the different groups.  It is still dangerous to be Divergent, but the leaders of the Dauntless begin to value the edge it gives them, especially Tris, when it comes to planning against the Erudite.

The relationship between Four and Tris is difficult to follow at times.  They are understandably stressed and under a lot of pressure.  Four is forced to reunite and work with his abusive father, Marcus, who attempts to manipulate and bully him whenever possible.  Four also reunites with his mother, who Tris believed was dead.  Four believed that Evelyn had left Abnegation due to an affair, but Evelyn attempts to persuade them that Marcus forced her to leave and would not allow her to take Four with her to the factionless.  Evelyn appears as a defacto leader of the factionless and negotiates an alliance between the loyal Dauntless and the factionless in exchange for an equal part in the Post-Erudite ruling government.  Tris’s relationship is repeatedly tested with Four, especially when it comes to his family.  Four regularly asks for Tris’s help, acknowledging that her greater Divergence allows her to read people better or see the larger picture clearer, but he often disregards her opinion when it does not fit into his plans.  This disagreement between leaders would be interesting to watch, but the romantic aspect makes their disagreements at times extremely and realistically dramatic and at others, the stuff of teen melodrama.

And then there is some scary developments with long-term simulation-inducing injections.  And then some simulation-induced suicides, as a threat to Tris and the other Divergents.  Then Tris and Four turn themselves in to the Erudite.  The depiction of Jeanine as an academic who merely wants to figure out how to overcome the problem of Divergence, even if that means experimenting painfully on a 16 year old girl is truly chilling.  But the torture-porn section of the book seems a little long and drawn out and in the end, somewhat pointless, since it comes to little effect in the overall plot of the book: Tris is SO special that her brain breaks Jeanine and apparently there is no way to control a truly Divergent personality through bio-mechanical manipulation.  So, due to some more shifting loyalties, Tris and Four escape and return to their friends.

The drama in the book eventually builds to a larger question that will obviously be addressed in the final book.  Marcus tells Tris that the reason Jeanine chose to attack the Abnegation was that the political leaders of that faction had information they felt important to release to the public: this information concerned what exists outside of the fence around the city.  Looking back, Roth has been weaving the mystery into the books from the very beginning: as she introduces the Dauntless to the audience, Tris says: “Their primary purpose is to guard the fence that surrounds our city.  From what, I don’t know” (7).  However, the final reveal at the end of Insurgent, about what lies outside of the fence and what Divergence really means, is obviously intended to be shocking.  However, perhaps Roth has provided too many bread crumbs along the way, or perhaps I have been reading too many dystopian teen novels of late, but I found my reaction to be shoulder-shrugging.  “Oh.  Ok.  So that is what is really going on here.  Meh.”

After all the build up and mystery surrounding the scary concept of “what is outside of the fence” and the number of people who die in search of the information (the information that Jeanine slaughtered nearly all of a faction to steal, which then took a book’s worth of fighting and killing to reveal) doesn’t seem that good/bad/ugly.  Perhaps I will write a much more coherent blog post about my issues with the end of the novel once more people are likely to have read it, so I don’t risk giving too much away.  Or perhaps the next book in the series will lay to rest a number of my concerns and issues.  Or perhaps not.

Finally, in a novel that emphasizes thinking for yourself, despite how your chosen kin-group patterns its thoughts, in a book about a war that is searching for the truth against a power-hungry leader in possession of knowledge that others think should be made public, I felt the politically-potent title of Insurgent was buried here.  If (as I plan to argue in my class in the fall), teen dystopian fiction is designed to critique the social/political systems in place now and suggest ways in which those systems might change, either for the better or the worse.  The word “insurgent” has lately been used as a description of terrorists in a foreign land, attacking Americans and all we stand for, whereas the definition given as the epigraph for this post implies something completely different.  Perhaps I should remain patient and hope that the power of Insurgent lies in the conclusion of the trilogy too.

Rebekah is a PhD student.

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