Divergent by Veronica Roth

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Plot Summary:

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue–Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is–she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are–and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

I’m just going to come right out and say it: I really did not like this book. This is a truly interesting world presented with a clear voice within the writing – the writing was good enough that I could not put the book down (even though I really, really wanted to). But it is almost completely devoid of compelling characters. Four is amazing, Tris’ parents were both very interesting, but Tris herself was a whiny neutral mask sort of character who only ever succeeded in pissing me off. On top of that, there was not much depth presented within the factions of the world. The following review will contain slight spoilers for the entire series (but I keep away from major events).

“Becoming fearless isn’t the point. That’s impossible. It’s learning how to control your fear, and how to be free from it.”  

See? Good writing!

Tris has a tendency to whine about how difficult her situation is in this book. She acts as if she’s surprised that succeeding in Dauntless is difficult and the characters around her are painted with disdain when they try to tell her she’s be unreasonable. While I understand that this is a natural thing that many people go through, it’s not something that I can entirely stomach reading. It kind of cemented this as a YA novel, giving us a protagonist that was such a stereotype of a teenager that it forgot to remind us that not all teens are dumb. I don’t want this to seem scathing, but Tris, as a character, was weak. She was presented as this strong woman, and there were very real times where she could not be strong, and that was nice. There were very real times where she had to be selfish, where she had the right to be a little annoying. And there were times when she was being ridiculous and no one was willing to call her on it. It very well could just be me and my perception of her, but most of the time Tris made me want to throw my book across the room. And Four, arguably the strongest and most compelling character in this book, was not strong enough to redeem the entire book. As, for me, a book is only as strong as its characters.

On top of that, the book is filled with unnecessary deaths. Not unnecessary in the frame of war, unnecessary in a literary and practical sense. As in, someone gets shot in the face where they could have easily been shot in the knee and knocked out. And then the author framing said senseless murder as justified and in self defense, even though there was no reason for that person to be shot in the face. And Then, Tris’ reaction to these deaths vary to the point where she goes between 100% understandable to 100% robot in the space of only a couple of chapters. Which can also be understandable, but it doesn’t make sense in the way that the story and the character were framed.

 

I did consider reading the rest of the series, but I was so upset by Tris that I wasn’t sure. So I read ahead, talked to many who had read the books, and decided that I did not need to see more of this world. Why? Because the villains of this world come in one shade, and that seemed to be Erudite. There is not a single Erudite character within this series that is not a completely asshole. And, so you don’t have to check back up there if you don’t already know, Erudite is made up of the intelligent. It is the faction that was created under the belief that ignorance is the root of all evil. As a Ravenclaw, I do take her treatment of this faction a bit personally. They were all robots, which I understand. But they were also all selfish and generally framed as the bad guys. Not one of them stepped forward to say what their faction was doing was wrong. And, if that happened, there isn’t a single die-hard fan I’ve talked to who can remember it. In this world, Erudite is treated like Slytherin. And I have a problem with both. Roth’s treatment of Erudite completely undermines the main idea of the series – that people can’t be categorized like that. Her argument seems to be that people can’t be categorized like that unless they are logical thinkers – those guys are the worst. I can’t get behind that.

Overall, I did not like this book. It was definitely an interesting read, and I do (sort of) understand how so many people can love it. If any of the points discussed above bother you, you probably won’t like it. However, if you’re a fan of The Hunger Games or Twilight, you might really enjoy this.

As a final thought, I don’t want it to seem like I think people are wrong for enjoy this book or the other books listed above. To each his own. I’m only saying that I didn’t get much from it, and ‘I’ has never been synonymous with ‘everyone’.

Good day.

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Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

51ZwSFC2vpL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Plot Summary:

Doro is an entity who changes bodies like clothes, killing his hosts by reflex or design. He fears no one until he meets Anyanwu. Anyanwu is a shapeshifter who can absorb bullets and heal with a kiss and savage anyone who threatens her. She fears no one until she meets Doro. Together they weave a pattern of destiny unimaginable to mortals.

Genre: Science Fiction, Speculative fiction

Publication date: 1980

This is a truly unique book. Unlike the majority of the science fiction genre, Wild Seed deals with the biological. On top of that, it takes place in the past; between about 1740 and 1840. While the majority of the story takes place in America, the opening of the story takes place in Africa – the homeland of both Doro and Anyanwu. It deals with themes of control, gender roles and connects heavily to the ideas of Natural Selection and Evolution.

“When her enemies came to kill her, she knew more about surviving than they did about killing.”

When I first read the plot summary of this book, I was intrigued. I have always been a fan of speculative fiction and biological science fiction (Children of Men is one of my favorite movies), and this is extremely reflective in my own writing. I haven’t been able to much much biological science fiction out there (Peeps or Parasite Positive by Scott Westerfeld is a good one), but this one is definitely a gem. The writing style is simplistic; Butler is not attempting to bury her themes under piles of words. Rather, the events and the dialogue within the story are chosen carefully to get across her point. The result is a beautifully crafted story about many, many things.

The characters also have a wonderful interplay with each other and in the eyes of the readers. Doro, the oldest of the characters (he is more than four thousand years old) is too old and too powerful to be considered human anymore. He is generally viewed as the ‘bad guy’, but I look at him as more of a representation of control. He is certainly not a good person, but he is also a very complex kind of of character. The catalyst of the story is when Doro find Anyanmu. At more than 300 years old, she has had many children and many husbands and has had to watch all of them die. She has very high morals. Often viewed as the hero of the story, I view Anyanwu as a representation of nature, Doro being the force trying to control her. Coming between these two characters is Doro’s mortal son, Isaac. A good man, he loves both Doro and Anyanwu. And though they are both many times older than he, he serves as the humanizing center and the voice of reason between the two. He is the force that balances them. Together, they can be viewed to make many statements about control and colonial life.

As a whole, the book was wonderful. If you like biology or Toni Morrison (or both), you will probably really enjoy this book.

Chaos Walking

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For those of you who aren’t hip to the 30 Day Challenge, this is Day 3. And this is my favorite books series. Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness. It’s a really interesting take on science fiction, in that it doesn’t really seem like it’s a science fiction. At the start, it seems a lot like a coming of age story about a boy and his dog. But, like most books I love, it’s so much more than that. Here’s the premise of the first book, The Knife of Never Letting Go:

Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him — something so awful Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears too. With hostile men from the town in pursuit, the two stumble upon a strange and eerily silent creature: a girl. Who is she? Why wasn’t she killed by the germ like all the females on New World? Propelled by Todd’s gritty narration, readers are in for a white-knuckle journey in which a boy on the cusp of manhood must unlearn everything he knows in order to figure out who he truly is.

The whole story takes place on a planet called New World, a planet 80 years from ‘Old World’ with years that are 13 months long. And the story begins in a small town called ‘Prentisstown’. Possibly the last human settlement left on New World after the war with the Spackle (the indigenous reigning species of the planet) which unleashed the Noise on all the men and killed all of the women. So it’s a dying colony. As the story goes on, we get to explore New World as layers of conspiracy are peeled back and a new great war is starting.

I cannot stress enough how great this trilogy is.

Aside from everything, one thing I really love about this series is the continuity. The title of everyone book has meaning. The title of the series has meaning. The title of the series is referenced early on in the first book. The title of the first book is heavily alluded to in the first book, but comes back full circle in the third book. The title of the second book is revealed in the second book. The title of the third book is originally discussed in the first book. Stuff that happens in the first book comes back and proves to be vitally important for the rest of the series. It’s amazing.

Another talking point is the relationship Todd has with the girl he finds. Viola. It’s a bit strained at first, in that they are both on the run, he’s never seen a girl in real life so he’s understandably put off, and she won’t say anything. They don’t know what’s going in and things are just weird. But as they story evolves and time goes by they form this really great bond of friendship that’s kind of more than friendship and it’s a lot a bit beautiful.

The characters are so real it literally hurts. This includes Manchee, Todd’s dog. And the Spackle when they really become prominent in the story. And Todd’s dads, Cillian and Ben. Especially Ben. And Davey. Oh, ouch, there my thoughts go again. Even the freaking bad guy is real and almost sympathetic in how absolutely and unforgivably insane he is. I mean, two of the books take plays in the middle of this cluster-fuck war. The whole thing is just painful. Just, wow. Right in the feels.

But it’s also wonderful. So wonderful that everyone should go read it immediately. The Knife of Never Letting Go  is a wonderful opening. It establishes the characters, the major conflict, and some prominent themes and motifs and stuff. The Ask and the Answer adds more stress to the conflict as people are broken and loyalties are really put to the test. Monsters of Men is the epic conclusion which is perhaps more heart wrenching and more heart warming than anything else ever.

You’d being doing yourself a favor to put it on your reading list.