Veronica Roth has gone from getting tons of praise to getting tons of criticism from her fans, and many have moved on already. If you haven't read all three of the books in her Divergent series, and if you are thinking of reading them, this post will contain a major spoiler for the finale of the series in order to write about the topic I'm mulling over in my mind. So, this is the first time I type this on my blog...
Now that I've got that out of the way, let's proceed.
I love long series. I like how they allow you to get to know a character or a group of characters and see how their journeys progress. I loved Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter (though I wasn't pleased with Order of the Phoenix), The Hunger Games, The Wheel of Time, and many others. When I love an author, they generally get all of my money because I need to have all their books in my collection. Even when I don't read them for years, I still rest easy because they are sitting on my shelf waiting for my attention. This is happening currently with The Legend of Drizzt, which I am so excited to read, especially in hard cover.
Now, I was one of those people who heard about this ridiculous best-seller, phenomenal sales, the next Suzanne Collins of the publishing world. There are always a few coming around the corner. Good for them. I'm curious to see what they have to say, so I get the first book in their series and give it a shot. I had to go to three different stores to get a copy of Divergent, because I didn't want to wait a million years for a copy to become available at the local library (I am a member at three in my area. The wait list was at least 100 people long in each location). So, I got a hard-cover copy for cheap at Bullmoose and started reading.
I really liked it. I like dystopian, ever since I checked out Lois Lowry as a child. There's something about seeing what an alternate world is like and thinking about how a dystopian world being presented could become a reality if x things in our own world were to align themselves just so. Divergent gives us the necessary heroine Tris, who we are to follow for three books. We like her a lot, and I certainly did. It looked like this series would have a long life ahead of it, even if it were three books total. Roth already had four short stories available for pre-order on Amazon, so I knew that she was going to try and milk her success for everything it was worth (which, I don't blame her. I would do the same thing!).
But, here's where I put the book down and stopped reading. It was inevitable that the third book in the series would be a disappointment. I looked at The Hunger Games and guessed that roughly half of the readers would be disappointed. But, in the Collins series, Katniss lives out beyond the end of the book, allowing readers to imagine what her life was like after the story ends.
Not so for Divergent. Again, spoiler alert for all of you stubborn folk. Tris dies at the end of the book. Not even at the end of the book - about 3/4 of the way through. You think, no, that can't be it. She'll be resurrected somehow to continue onward, but, alas, she is dead as a doornail.
I am not pleased with this ending both as a reader and as a writer. It was gutsy, as many have pointed out, but what is the point? It was obviously not worth the reading of three books to get to, according to all the reviews I've read. Let me dissect this idea a little of killing off your main character at the end of the series.
Imagine in Return of the King, if after following Frodo and Sam for the entire thousand pages and getting to the point where Sam must save Frodo from death on Mount Doom, that Sam slips and Frodo goes falling into the lava. He's gone, completely. Dead as dead can be. Wouldn't we be angry that we now have to follow Sam back through the rest of Middle Earth to the normal life that Frodo deserved to live out after destroying the Great Ring? Having your hero return using the hero's journey model is essential when creating an epic hero or heroine story. The hero did all the work, gaining our trust, fighting off all the odds to get to the finale. It is cheap to have your character just kick the bucket after all that work and not come back for the reader, especially when you have not introduced any other characters and their viewpoints up to this point in the narrative. It's like killing off Harry Potter and then having us follow Hermione as she grieves with Ron for another fifty pages. This is not the story we signed up for. We don't necessarily want it to be happily ever after, but at least the thought of the character(s) continuing beyond the book makes up for whatever horrors they face in the finale.
Killing off Tris takes away all the wonder of what would happen next if there were another book. There's a reason that people keep asking JK Rowling if there would ever be another book, and that's because they still care about what happens to the characters at the end of the story. Surely there are more stories to tell, and that is true. It's the mark of a great storyteller at the height of their craft. We want to know that the characters are all right. We want to know if they have a family later on, or if they are single and doing some sort of work. With Divergent, there will not be any of this speculation because the character has finished her mortal life. Unless she comes back as a ghost, this is the end of the line. We are forced to follow the wimpy love interest who has become backbone-less in this final installment of the series.
With the writing aside, there is a lot more resting upon this series than just the sale of books. There's the movies to think of, and I have to admit in my movie-theater-employee way that I believe this series will end cinematically after the first film. It isn't at the same level as The Hunger Games. I may be wrong, but judging by the reaction to the trailer (lukewarm to those who haven't read the books) and the reactions by the fans who have read the final book (expressing their feelings of betrayal at how it all ends), this is going to be a tough road to travel for this film series moving forward.
I don't want Frodo or Harry to die. I want them to live. I want the bad guys to die. That's the natural order of things when it comes to storytelling. Unless Darth Vader changes his ways at the end, evil needs to be defeated to some extent, and I need to see my characters I've loved for years come to the end of their trials with the rest of their lives ahead of them.