I have rather mixed feelings about this book. I loved loved LOVED Divergent and pretty wholeheartedly enjoyed Insurgent, but there were bits about Allegiant that just didn’t do it for me. Indeed, I stopped midway through it and didn’t pick it up again for ages.
The previous book ended with Jeanine Matthews, the major antagonist for the first two books, being killed, and in this book her successor, the leader of the rebellion, proves to be just as bad. This was something I liked about the book, because so often these types of series end with a violent rebellion, and the new leader (if one appears) is either implied to be or blatantly is just as bad as the old one. I think this is often done to show that it’s the vehemence with which beliefs are promoted rather than the underlying ideology that is most harmful, but in practice it often seems to just paint a rather grim picture of human nature and, if the initial ideology was bad enough, can serve to minimise how harmful those underlying beliefs are. I liked that Roth did that midway through the series instead, showing that the real problem with the faction system is not the factions themselves, but that people are, effectively, forced to be a part of one. At the end of Allegiant, both the group that overthrew the faction system and the one wishing to reinstate it agree to allow the people of Chicago to choose how they are governed, rather than trying to force either the factions or a lack thereof upon them.
Chicago, however, is not alone in the world. Tris and her friends (and some not-friends) leave the city near the start of the novel and find the Bureau of Genetic Welfare, who are closely monitoring the people of Chicago. Members of the Bureau tell Tris et al. about some genetic experimentation that was done in their country’s past. These attempts to remove traits like agression and selfishness failed, supposedly causing people to become violent, so people volunteered to have their genes ‘fixed’ and to live in an isolated society to see if those genes could heal. People who are Divergent, like Tris, are considered genetically healed, or pure (often referred to as GP, which makes me think of doctors). No one questions the fact that this is probably the stupidest way ever to fix artificial mutations, because it involves people reproducing with people who possess the same mutations. Upon fixing the mutations in an individual’s genes, the sensible solution would be for them to mix with the rest of society, so that GPs and GDs (genetically damaged) would reproduce together and more quickly heal the genetic damage.
Nor does anyone question the legality or morality of experimenting upon people without their consent. Tris’s brother, Caleb, finds some of the contracts, and sees that there’s a line stating that the person gives consent, not just for him/herself, but for his/her descendants. He comments that this is odd, but likens it to giving consent for an underage child. It is only when the main characters find that the Bureau, and the government of which it is a part, have been hiding evidence of violence well before the genetic experimentation began that they realise there is something wrong with this experiment.
While I liked the fact that Roth did engage with the question of where the factions came from and what’s outside the city boundaries, I thought many of the main characters were far too trusting of the Bureau and it wasn’t until they found out that the Bureau had supplied Jeanine with the serum that caused the Dauntless to massacre the Abnegation in Divergent that they decided the Bureau needed to be stopped. This is what made me stop reading the book for the longest time, because it felt like the narrative was endorsing the experiments. Usually I like it in dystopias where characters initially buy into the way their lives are being manipulated, but that’s generally because it’s how they’ve been brought up, as in the way Tris does not question the factions in Divergent. To find that your brothers, sisters, parents, friends, not to mention probably yourself, are looked down upon as inferior and acceptable experimentation fodder should not be something you simply accept.
And now for the part of the book that everyone on the internet is talking about: Tris’s death. I can see why Roth did this. One of the themes in the series is that we are a product of our upbringing. Tobias easily accepts that he’s GD because his father, who was Divergent (and therefore GP), abused him and made him believe there was something wrong with him. Christina easily offends because she was brought up in Candor and so tells the brutal truth. And Tris sacrifices herself to save the brother she loves, because she grew up in Abnegation. Of course, the obvious flipside to this is that Caleb himself was going to go on the suicide mission, not out of self-sacrifice, but because of the guilt he felt over colluding in Tris’s near-execution in the previous book. I think that, however, is what made Tris’s mind up to risk her life instead; it made her realise that her brother still loved her and she loved him.
Even though I cried buckets at Tris’s death, I can appreciate why it happened. However, from a stylistic perspective, I don’t like how Roth handled it. The first two books were told entirely from Tris’s perspective, in first-person narration. Allegiant, presumably in preparation for Tris’s death, alternates between Tris’s narration and Tobias’s. This bothered me the entire book; do you know how many times I read things like “I looked at Tris” and briefly wondered why Tris was talking about herself in the third person before realising it was a Tobias chapter? 😛 Multiple first-person narratives can work, but the voices should be very different. I also prefer it when it’s something the author does right from the start; doing it in the third book just reads to me like the author doesn’t want to deal with the restrictions of the narrative choices they’ve made. I think I would have preferred it if she’d either written Divergent in deep third-person entirely from Tris’s perspective, continued this in Insurgent with a few chapters from Tobias’s, and finally alternated deep third-person between Tris and Tobias in Allegiant, or else written the entire series from Tris’s perspective in the first-person and then written a deep third-person epilogue from Tobias’s.
Speaking of the epilogue, overall I did like it, because it not only deals with the fallout of Tris’s death for the surviving characters but also with the wider societal implications of the events of the book. However, I think it should have stood alone after Tris’s death (possibly with the one chapter from Tobias’s perspective that ties up some plot details), rather than the handful of intervening chapters of Tobias grieving. Those could have been referred to in his reflection in the epilogue, but in an overall abridged form so there’s not pages and pages to read through after the protagonist has died because, really, who cares at this point? I was ready for the book to be done the minute Tris’s heart stopped.
The book started well, had a shaky segment around a quarter to a third of the way through, then was (mostly) strong up until the ending fatigue. I enjoyed it overall, but the narrative felt messy at times and I kind of got the impression that Roth was writing to a deadline and it wasn’t edited as comprehensively as it might have been. Overall, it’s certainly worth reading for fans of the initial books in the trilogy, and it answers many of the questions those books raised, but its telling is, in my opinion, more fundamentally flawed.