Allegiant

So, I think I was right about the direction the trilogy was headed in. This third book introduced a bunch of new characters who I could care less about. They don’t have a lot of depth or complexity, and we don’t spend enough time with them to get to know them.

The new setting is fairly boring, as it offers a lot less moving around and war-zone type action than in the previous two books. And the entire time it feels like Tris and Four and the others just came in halfway through someone else’s battle, and they take it up because there isn’t anything else left to fight for, and they were groomed to fight by their past experiences in the city.

In this one we see a greater disintegration of the relationship between Tris and Four, as well, one that was pretty good in books one and two. Now it feels played out and repetitive.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t think people should read these books. Or watch the movies. The first movie is actually pretty great, though the second one felt to me like it was dropping the ball majorly. I wouldn’t count these books as a waste of time, more like frustrated hopes. There was so much potential, and to watch it leach away as the trilogy progressed was just–disappointing.

I think I’d still love to read other work by Roth, though. Her writing is good, I just want to see her with a story that doesn’t peter out.

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Insurgent

I see it so, so often in trilogies nowadays. I think I first noticed it when I was reading the Chaos Walking trilogy. Book one is fantastic. Fast-paced, intriguing world, exciting characters. Then book two is kind of a journey, obviously a bridge to get to the finale, but already things are getting sort of bogged down and complicated. And by the time book three comes out, you hardly care anymore, because everything is convoluted and just too much. I was super bummed to feel Justin Cronin’s The Passage trilogy going in that direction—enough so that I’m so hesitant to read the third book now that it’s out, even though I think his sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph writing is superb.

Insurgent feels like the bridge to an epic finale that I’m not going to care about because everything has gotten way too complicated. When everyone’s in the city, just fighting one particular enemy with a very clearly defined end-goal, it’s great. Throw in more politics, more locations, more types of people, new characters, new enemies…and you’ve pretty much lost my interest.

I think the problem might be in that writers often lose their protagonists while they’re trying to make the world stuff work. All I want is more Tris, and instead I get convoluted busy-ness. And a sneaking suspicion that Roth likes Tobias more than Tris. Which was a total bummer for me, because I like Tris so much more. Even Four is better than Tobias, if that distinction makes sense.

One thing Roth really does well, though, is action scenes. They’re snappy and have a great back-and-forth balancing act that keeps the suspense up. She writes them really well, and that was basically what kept me reading. The action scenes and wanting to know what happens to Tris. These books are quick reads, and it definitely isn’t a waste of time to read them. I just got that sinking feeling during this one that I was entering more convoluted, confusing territories, and that Tris was edging away from center stage.

Divergent

There’s good and bad parts of this trilogy, and a large portion of the good ones happen in the first book. Which isn’t to say that people shouldn’t read them all—but the first book is the best, in my opinion.

I know the story well by now, having read the first book a couple times and having enjoyed the movie. It’s pretty fantastic, the world that Roth created. I love the idea of the factions, even though it all seems to be a bit flawed in practice. I like to think I would be Dauntless, but then, bravery is a most desirable quality, if we consider the number of Harry Potter fans who want to be Gryffindors (whether they actually would be or not). Tris is great, too, as far as protagonists go. She’s strong and smart and very brave. Almost too smart, though.

Roth’s writing takes a little getting used to. Her sentences are short and to the point, which keeps the pace up. It’s similar to Hunger Games, but not quite as good at keeping me 100% invested in every detail.

Following in the wake of the Hunger Games craze, I’d say Insurgent isn’t quite as good. But then, Suzanne Collins is hard to beat. Anyone looking for a brave female protagonist who drives a lot of action sequences and fulfills the “chosen one” role will probably like Divergent. There’s some romance thrown in for flair, and I actually really like Four in this book. He’s dark and still mysterious, something that we lose in books two and three. Dystopic YA sort of blew up after Hunger Games made it big, and there’s a lot of not-so-great stories out there. Divergent is solidly in the you-should-read-this-even-though-it-isn’t-quite-The-Hunger-Games camp.

A Meeting at Corvallis

As the third book in the first trilogy, you expect the stakes to be raised. War, definitely. Probably some of the characters we know and love dying. Political intrigue, more fun weapons and farming hacks from these people still adapting to a changed world.

I was a little disappointed at first when everything seemed to jump around a bit. There are a lot of storylines here that all have to converge together, and thankfully Stirling does a pretty good job juggling them. It’s a far cry from the first book, which made you fall in love with Mike and with Juney. But all the players in this third book are important, and the different plot lines converge in an epic climax.

There is a nice sort of interlude at times, when we’re following Rudi Mackenzie. His scenes are less action-packed—three or four characters at once instead of everyone on a battlefield fighting a war. It makes sense, having read the next trilogy, that Stirling would want to take time to develop Rudi and get readers interested in him. He’s a fun character, and I like him while he’s still a kid in this first trilogy, full of a pure, childlike wisdom that makes him intriguing.

A Meeting at Corvallis is an epic finish to the Mike/Juney storylines, so if they are the only reason you’re reading the books you probably don’t want to move on to read The Sunrise Lands. If, however, you love Rudi Mackenzie and want to see a lot more of him, you should read what they dub the Emberverse II books (sort of a sequel series to the initial trilogy). If you like Stirling’s writing, it’s worth it to keep reading the books. And if you’re Pagan, it’s even more worth it. Rudi lives his Paganism in a way that Juniper Mackenzie could only dream of, since Rudi was born into a world where Paganism was one of the major religions, except an eccentric oddball religion that many people considered cult-like.

The Protector’s War

This book takes place eight years after the events of Dies the Fire. We get more Juney and Mike, with all the supporting cast of characters that you grow to love during the first book. In addition, we get some awesome British characters thrown into the mix, which widens the scope of things.

There’s war brewing between the Mackenzies & Bearkillers and the Portland Protective Association. Which puts our characters in danger, and makes for some fun sweeping battle scenes. You get to know a little more about the characters in this one, but don’t have the same prolonged exposure to single characters that you did in the first book. Though, it’s pretty hard not to fall for young Rudi Mackenzie. He’s eight years old, and precocious as anything.

This book is mostly a bridge between books one and three, but not at all boring. You get nice escalations of characterization, plot, and world building. The apocalypse problems of “oh shit the world has changed and everyone is killing each other” shift to problems of organizing groups of people for protection and farming. You get to see some more of Astrid and Eilir, too, which is great, because I love them.

If you liked Dies the Fire, you’ll like The Protector’s War. And it’s infinitely worth reading so that you can get to A Meeting at Corvallis for the big finish.

Dies the Fire

Post-apocalyptic fiction is a big deal for me. I’ve always thought that raising the stakes is the best way to see who a character truly is. On a small scale you could say that’s why I prefer YA over adult fiction so often—because for teenagers things are often perceived as life or death, even if “death” is only social suicide. Why do I prefer speculative fiction over realism? Same thing. Stakes are usually higher. Characters facing magic or new frontiers or intergalactic wars—bigger scale, higher stakes. Frodo can bring down this great force of evil if he just manages to walk to Mordor and throw a trinket into a volcano. One character, making all the difference.

So apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction is great, because it rips away everything a character knows and loves, and we get to see what’s left. What they can make of themselves, when they have nothing.

Dies the Fire follows two strong protagonists who become leaders in a world Changed. Gunpowder doesn’t explode anymore. The laws of physics have changed. No electricity. No electronics, period.

I like Mike because he’s a bit of a hardass, and gets shit done while protecting his people. Juniper is great because she’s strong but yielding enough to be really likable. And, she’s Pagan. How cool is that? S M Stirling gets the details right, too, which really helps. No mis-representation of Paganism for the sake of Hollywood thrills here.

This first novel of the first trilogy of the novels of the Change (say that ten times fast) starts right at the Change itself, which is cool to witness through both our protagonists’ eyes. And for this particular apocalypse scenario, it’s better that we can watch the characters face the Change head on, rather than joining them years after the fact. Still, the novels could all be considered post-apocalyptic because they really deal more with the fallout of the Change than with the Change itself. Empires are built back up and go to war, that sort of thing.

I like Stirling’s writing style, too. He’s got plenty of details in there, writes good dialogue, and knows how to get us invested in these characters by showing us their flaws right alongside their strengths. I’ve read this first trilogy a few times now, and it’s definitely worth it. An excellent read for the post-apocalyptic novel fan, the avid reader who happens to be Pagan, and the speculative fiction reader who enjoys adult fiction with strong characterization and semi-epic storylines (seeing as the second trilogy follows the second generation).

The Key Trilogy

Nora Roberts generally has a sort of pattern to her trilogies. The first woman is fighting for her self-respect, the second generally has some sort of specialization to round her out, like knowledge or fitness or a business, and the third is courageous and stubborn, fighting against all the odds.

The Key Trilogy is one of my favorites of the Nora Roberts trilogies, competing for first place with The Three Sisters Island Trilogy. In these three books, resourceful Malory, Dana, and Zoe have to work to find three mythical keys that will unlock a box of souls to save three trapped demigoddesses. Their mystical quest is mirrored by one in the physical world, as they work together to open a combined bookstore/cafe/art gallery/salon. They conveniently all fall in love with wealthy men, who have been friends since childhood.

When I first started grad school, I was embarrassed to say that I read Nora Roberts. Her plots are formulaic, predictable, and she uses more adverbs and flowery prose than I’d like. And yet—there’s something there, in these books. A heart, a soulful center that exhibits the author’s deep-held belief that women are badass, that they will triumph. Sure, it’s steeped in love stories, in always finding a man and marriage at the end of the line. And that doesn’t ring very authentic for the world we live in today. There’s also never any gay relationships, which is frankly disappointing.

There’s a comfort in knowing what is to come, though. These books are steady, reliable. They aren’t the worst thing for a young girl to read, even if they aren’t the best, either. As an adult, I enjoy the steamy sex scenes, the fast pace of the effective, if flowery, prose. There’s emotion in it, and plenty of strength and steel in the women to relate or aspire to. And aside from most other adult fiction, romance novels often have a pleasing emphasis on love, or should I say, a distinct lack of emphasis on the practical side of things, like money, sickness, age, etc.

It’s funny that the women tend to be in their sensible late twenties when they’re finally finding the right men in these books, and interesting to see how Nora Roberts’ writing evolves from her early books to these. I think the Key Trilogy comes from what I like to view as her magical milieu of trilogies and stand-alones. Before that were the Ireland stories, and after came the romance novels with clear horror elements that got too difficult for me to read, sometimes.

I’ve read this trilogy a few times, and sought it out recently when I no longer had copies of my own because they it is a comforting, “guilty pleasure” read that restores my faith in interesting stories after tiring slogs like A Song of Ice and Fire. Romance novels and Young Adult novels can always be counted on for that sort of thing.

I suppose I would recommend this trilogy mostly to Nora Roberts fans. If you haven’t read a romance novel, these are as good a place to start as any, and if you like adding a bit of magic to our mundane world, you’ll like the way that Roberts weaves in mythology and the fantastic to her tales. They’re not classics, to be sure, but I’m definitely glad to have read them as a kid, and to be able to read them again now.