The Story: Insurgent, the second novel in the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth, picks up exactly where its preceding novel left off as Tris and her Dauntless comrades-in-arms dare to defy the social system that has governed them and kept their Factions in check for years, finally pitting them against each other. But when uneasy alliances are made, enemies rise from within and Tris finds her Divergent nature on the cusp of exposure. Yet revealing who she is and, hence, risking her life just might mean she can save those she loves.
My Take: While Divergent, the first novel in the dystopian YA trilogy of the same name, was a surprisingly fun read for me, I didn’t have so much fun reading Insurgent though it wasn’t disastrous nor lacking all sense of enjoyment. But where Divergent is rather fast-paced, Insurgent seems to ride with the brakes on at times and felt repetitive in terms of its overall plot.
But first the good stuff because there are a few things I really liked about Insurgent, albeit it’s slim pickings and is chiefly confined to the development of Tris, the trilogy’s chief protagonist.
Tris manages to stay a classy, strong YA heroine as she is a mixture between a torn soul (as she has been forced to kill and fight, two things her former life in the Abnegation Faction never prepared her for) and a lion-hearted lass. While Tris doesn’t stick in my mind the way Katniss Everdeen does from The Hunger Games trilogy, she is still an admirable character who tries to do the right thing but isn’t perfect, which makes her human and relatable. Actually, my opinion of Tris skyrocketed towards the latter portions of the novel when she makes a selfless decision that could mean her demise. What makes her actions particularly noble is that, all the while, Tris asserts she is selfish when these scenes clearly prove she’s not. While part of this might be attributed to her Dauntless training and Divergent nature, the other part is that, despite her flaws, Tris is an admirable, humble young woman who would rather sacrifice herself than see those she cares about come to harm.
Elsewhere, a face is finally formally given to the Factionless, the undesirable caste seen as the bottom rungs of society comprised of persons found to be without a Faction or rejected by their new Faction of choice during initiation. While the Factionless got a few mentions in Divergent, Tris comes face-to-face with them here and it adds a good deal of conflict that benefits the story as well as Tris’ and even Tobias’ development. Since both novels thus far are related from Tris’ point of view, we assume her perspective on the Factionless – they are the unwanted societal rejects, the neer-do-wells. However, nothing can be further from the truth as they’re really more of a band of rebel fighters than a congregation of misfits. I also liked watching Tris interact with the various Factionless as she’s forced to shatter ideas and stereotypes she’s held on to in the past, so as she slowly changes her mind about who the Factionless really are, so do we.
Lastly, Tobias’ backstory is explored a little more in Insurgent than in the previous novel. While I can’t say that Tobias is a favorite character of mine, or assert he’s even memorable, I do think he works for the world and cast he’s been placed in and made a part of. His past is riddled with black marks and those elements have certainly shaped him as a person, as well as his self-perception, but he’s not entirely hardened. He shows what it means to let courage triumph over fear and he assumes a position of leadership for the sake of wanting to lead and do what’s right, not to lord over others or as a mere exercise of power. Likewise, his relationship with and growing attachment to Tris, while sometimes a tad too mushy for my liking, is, at least, noble and chaste and he doesn’t see Tris as merely a conquest but a real person with a brain and a heart.
Honestly, other than these high points, I had a hard time coming up with anything else to gush about and I caught myself, more times than not, skimming pages.
This is one of those cases where I simply liked a book, no more, no less: I didn’t love Insurgent but I didn’t want to shelve it as unread or heave it across the room either.
One primary issue for me was that the pacing in Insurgent seems slower than what I encountered in Divergent and I sense that is because much of the focus here is on simulations and serum (as opposed to simulations and simulacra but maybe that fits, too?). Insurgent possesses the very flaw I thought Divergent might have before I read it: how can a whole story be based on training, war games, and simulations? But where Divergent managed to hold my interest in these regards, and maybe because these were brand new elements to me regarding the story’s world, in Insurgent they became repetitive and dry.
Likewise, some of the plot devices and world-building continued to puzzle me. As stated in my review for Divergent, I’m not entirely certain why Divergents are seen as a threat: granted, they supposedly can’t be controlled, but wouldn’t a society want to have multi-talented folks around? In my mind, a social structure based on everyone exercising a single skill seems doomed to a swift collapse (but this is fiction, so I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt to a point). And, of course, there is still the issue of how the young people in this world can change Factions, which seems to imply that the ability to possess more than one defining trait is more common than not, thus further implying that Divergence isn’t all that rare. Much like Divergent, I’m unable to come to terms with exactly how this system works, which, especially for a second novel, is slightly disconcerting.
But more importantly, if being Divergent is supposed to be so hush-hush, Tris and a few other characters sure seem eager to spill the beans about it in this book. Granted, if a character has a deep, dark secret, it usually comes to light in time, and it’s this secret that helps add dramatic tension and conflict to the story. But Tris and some other characters seem quick to spout off the fact that they’re Divergent even though all this time we’ve been told that revealing this means an automatic death sentence or at least life-long fugitive status.
So isn’t proudly proclaiming your Divergence to the world kind of like sitting a picnic basket down in front of a grizzly bear and waving your hands, shouting…
Well, perhaps not – but that was another segment of the world-building that came across as a bit loosely constructed to me.
Lastly, Peter’s actions in parts seemed too off-the-cuff and out of character for me, and I wondered if it wasn’t an attempt to redeem a despicable character. Up until this time, Peter is the proverbial thorn in Tris’ side, yet near the end of this book he steps up to become a quasi-heroic figure. His line of reasoning for doing the right thing is that he hated to be in someone’s debt but his logic doesn’t seem to mesh with his other actions and behaviors in the first book and for much of this installment, too. Likewise, Tori’s sudden turning on Tris seem haphazardly planned. I can understand that Tori has a vendetta against the people who killed a close family member – that makes perfect sense – but to all but pronounce Tris as the enemy seemed a bit off-the-mark when Tori, in the past, never treated or talked to Tris that way. As a whole, these were minor points but they were blatant enough that I was puzzled by how they fit in with the overall story and character dynamics as set up in Divergent and carried over here.
In the end, Insurgent was a bit of a let down and only had a few good scenes and chapters for me, particularly towards the end, and the formal introduction to the Factionless. Other than that, this novel probably could have been half its current length and still work where it needed to though its pacing and cyclical story fell slightly into a rut.
Language – Minimal, with only a few sporadic PG-level profanities.
Violence – Much of the violence in this novel (at least that which doesn’t occur as part of a simulation) involves hand-to-hand combat, including with guns, though nothing turns graphic in terms of blood and gore. While violent acts don’t occur on every page and most of the good guys and gals attack in self-defense or in the protection of others, I feel comfortable saying that this trilogy is probably better suited for teens and adults and no one younger. Likewise, much like in Divergent but with more attention here, serums are used to cause sometimes traumatic physical effects and simulations either reenact or invent fear-filled scenarios (albeit these are suspenseful or perilous rather than horrific or scary).
Sexual Content – Tris and Tobias get more smooching, flirting, and hugging time in this novel than in the previous book. While nothing crosses the boundary of good taste, I did grow tired of the incessant flirting, mainly because it came across as very juvenile (though, to be fair, I’m not in the target age group for this book so I’m seeing all of this through an adult lens).
Overall, Insurgent was just an okay read as it started to become cyclical after a while, but it does have some exciting and worthwhile moments that keep it from being an utter flop. But in the end, I sense this installment will probably best be appreciated by the trilogy’s already established fans and less so by casual or curious readers.