You guys, I’m so conflicted about this book. I wanted to love it, I really did. But it was kind of a mess? I guess I’ll have to settle for merely “like” and hope book three is back up to the standard that Roth set in Divergent.
Insurgent picks up right where Divergent left off, with the factions of Chicago at war with each other. The Dauntless are scattered and mostly dead, Abnegation has all but been wiped out, Amity is sitting pretty far from the conflict, Candor is neutral at the moment (I think?), and Erudite continues to belligerently attack everyone. Tris, Four, and the other Dauntless/Abnegation refugees wander all over God’s creation trying to find shelter against Erudite, who is hunting them for some reason I can’t really remember (not a good sign . . . I only finished the book three weeks ago).
Meanwhile, Four’s abusive dick of a father, Marcus, knows a secret that the Abnegation died trying to protect, and which Erudite is willing to kill to cover up forever. This is a pretty important plot point, but it’s mostly glossed over in favor of hanging out with a traumatized, PTSD Tris who feels such extreme guilt over her part in killing Will in Divergent that she can barely function. She puts all of her relationships in jeopardy and basically has a death wish for the entire novel. It is exhausting. There’s a couple of big battles, Tris goes batshit and gets herself captured on purpose, and then some other stuff happens that I can’t really remember. Also also, we meet the Factionless, who are headed up by a not-so-secret person from Four’s past, and who play in a big role in the final battle of the war, which surprisingly concludes in this book. Most authors would have dragged it out, but Roth makes the excellent decision to end it with book two and up the conflict in a different direction for book three.
If I had to sum it up (which I don’t, because this is my review and who the heck cares anyway so why am I even typing this, I don’t know), then I would say that Insurgent suffers from classic middle book syndrome. Since the war is over by the end, it’s clear that it wasn’t the focal point of the trilogy, and the big important stuff is still coming. That means that this book and this war served more of a transition function than anything else. Admittedly, it must be really hard to write a middle story (whether it’s a film or a book), but it can be done, as evidenced by The Empire Strikes Back. And I have to say, Roth was almost there in terms of the actual events of the story, but the book is so muddled it’s hard to tell.
The unpleasantness of hanging out with PTSD Tris (however accurate and true to character) is a close second, but my biggest complaint about this book is its complete lack of structure. One of the reasons Divergent was such a fun reading experience was that it was incredibly well-structured. That’s a weird thing to say about a book, and maybe it’s only something other writers really care about, but the net effect is the same: better structure, better book, even if you can’t necessarily put a finger on it as a non-writing layperson. I just felt so lost the entire book, like I never knew what to expect page to page, but in a bad way. Only the most experimental avant-garde authors fuck around with structure, and there’s a reason most people don’t read those assholes anyway. We like structures. We like expectations, even if the only point of expectations in a book is to frustrate them. I felt like Insurgent just flowed along with things happening here and there along the way, and even though it was a fast read, the good stuff wasn’t necessarily emphasized at the right times or in the right ways, and the frustrating stuff was more often than not front and center. Again, it’s hard to put into words and I’d probably have to read it again and take copious notes to figure it out, but it’s not like I’m writing a frickin’ dissertation here so shut it I’m done with my arguments.
Anyways, still excited for book three, and I’m hoping that Roth turns out to be just as good at endings as she was at beginnings.
[3.5 stars, for lingering affection]