Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake is a 376-page speculative fiction novel originally published in 2003. I listened to the audiobook, written by Margaret Atwood (who always has really interesting stuff going on), read by Campbell Scott.

18415437Jimmy (also known as Snowman) is the protagonist of this eerie story, which is about Jimmy’s past life experiences with his strange, genius friend named Crake, and the enigma of a woman named Oryx–framed by Snowman’s current existence in a post-apocalyptic world.

In this new world where humanity has been decimated by a plague, Snowman may be the only human left. That is, besides the Crakers (strange human-like beings with glowing eyes and primate-like mating behaviors) and the genetically designed murderous animals. More

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Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Insurgent is the second book in the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth. It is a 496 page YA sci-fi/fantasy romance. Well, it is classified as a romance, but I think I would actually call it a non-romance. Not lacking romance, but having non-romance. This may sound silly, but it will be explained in the review. The review will have some spoilers for the first book, so if you haven’t read it yet, you may want to either wait to read this or just accept that you would have found out the information eventually, anyway.

Insurgent is a direct continuation of Divergent, starting where the previous book leaves off. Tris and Tobias are together and are getting out of Dauntless after the simulation attack. The first stop on their journey is the Amity compound. The Amity value peace above everything else, so in this war-time, they are pressed into some sort of action towards the Erudite/Dauntless/Abnegation conflict. Our heroes visit other places as well, but I won’t give away the entire plot. While Tris and Tobias are trying to solve the faction problems, they also face a rift between them as their secrets start growing and never really stop.

The book jumped back into the action quickly and effectively. After about 75-100 pages, however, things started going downhill for me. I enjoyed learning more about both Tris’s and Tobias’s families, and more characters in other factions, but the inner thoughts of Tris made me quite angry. Although it is through her that I learn about Tobias–and don’t get me wrong, I love his character–it is also through her that I have to listen to constant complaints that he’s keeping secrets, when the book begins with her keeping a huge secret from him. Instead of being open about it, she literally complains for 300 pages about this.

The action in this part is still good, and I still cared about the plot and really wanted to know what was going on with the factionless (those people who did not make it through initiation into a faction) and the Erudite. However, Roth didn’t see fit to give me the information I wanted, but instead made me read through Tris’s inane thoughts for multiple chapters. This is where the non-romance comes in. Rather than furthering their relationship and having the characters become more emotionally mature, they seem to backtrack into childish secret keeping and what seemed to me a version of the “who can keep silent longer” game. This felt extremely non-romantic to me, and didn’t make me desire their union but some sort of resolution that would just get Tris to mentally shut up about Tobias.

The final 20% of the book redeemed it for me; reading the end was a thrill. It felt like Roth remembered that she had to keep people interested for a third novel, so she kicked the action into gear and started doing things about the Erudite attackers and Dauntless traitors. It brought up something bigger than the factions, and a possibility that truly made me want to read the final novel in the trilogy. It is really ONLY this fact that I recommend this novel. The final chapters are good enough for me to forgive the middle of the book. So if you enjoyed the first book, or want to find out what’s going on in a dystopian sense of this world, I do recommend at least reading the first and final 100 pages of Insurgent. Other than that, I would say you’re not missing much and you should just wait for the movie (which I am actually a little excited for).

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent is a 487 page, young adult, dystopian fantasy. It is the first novel in a trilogy, also called Divergent (creative, eh?), and is on the verge of being released as a feature film. A few of my friends really enjoyed this book so I added it to my reading list. As my computer has been out of commission these past few weeks — I lost my power cord in the move and didn’t have the ambition to get another — I decided to get started on it.

Divergent is about a 16 year old girl named Beatrice Prior. Every year, the 16-year-olds are given an aptitude test of sorts that places each person in their most fitting faction. A faction is a sort of society of people who all value a similar basic trait, and there are five such factions: Candor (truth), Erudite (knowledge), Abnegation (selflessness), Amity (peace), and Dauntless (bravery). Each year, all 16-year-olds are given the aptitude test and are allowed to choose the faction they will spend the rest of their lives in.

Our main character, Beatrice, was born into Abnegation, but she has never felt that she was selfless enough to truly fit in. Even her brother Caleb, who is also 16, has always seemed infinitely less selfish than Beatrice feels. When she takes her test, the results are astounding. While most young adults are suggested one faction, Beatrice comes out with three. The tester, a Dauntless female with tattoos, demands that Beatrice never tell anyone that she got an almost impossible result–Divergent. I won’t give away what this means, but I will say that it’s a deadly secret, and creates agony for a 16-year-old on the verge of making her first life changing decision.

While training for her initiation after choosing her faction, Tris (the newly coined Beatrice) meets some new people, including our second main character, Four, and a few malevolent characters as well. From here, the plot of Divergent moves incredibly fast; I finished the book in two sittings. I devoured this story. Even though some of the writing was a little too fresh for me (I believe this was Veronica Roth’s first novel), I enjoyed getting to know about the factions.

However much the factions seemed to make sense in the world Roth created, I thought it odd that everyone showed such essentially good traits. Maybe I’m also just not cut out for Abnegation or maybe the factions seem a little too idealistic. Although the story says it is dystopian, I wonder how long after the fall of what I can only assume is the original government that this book takes place. How long does it take a society to stop being primarily scavengers to figure out an entirely functional (if not completely benevolent) government that works enough to have someone who is Divergent be considered different and dangerous? I really hope this gets hashed out in the following books. Dystopian novels are a thrill for me, as much for the new world as for the destruction of the old.

I loved most of the characterization in this book. Beatrice was, even fresh out of Abnegation, a strong female lead. Four was probably my favorite character — an instructor of the Dauntless — does it get any more dangerously attractive than that? Thanks to the idea that people can learn to hide their original factions, it became interesting to learn whose parents started out in different factions than you might expect. I believe Roth succeeded in building a lot of character intrigue. Although, to be honest, there was some mushy happenings between Tris and her male lead, I believe that was to be expected in a YA novel about 16-year-olds. Even with the cute romance, the dystopian story still shines through.

Overall, while I had some squabbles with the writing, Divergent is a pretty strong debut novel and a good start to an interesting world. After finishing the book, I started Insurgent, the second in the Divergent trilogy. I am eager to learn more about the world Roth created, and maybe see the characters shake things up in their factions. The future of this series is exciting, and it doesn’t hurt that the third book in the series, Allegiant, is due out this October.