Chosen Ones, by Veronica Roth
I remember starting and then dropping Veronica Roth’s Divergent YA novel years ago. My abandonment of it had very little to do with the writing, and a lot to do with a feeling oversaturated by the dystopian-coming-of-age-via-conflict media onslaught, and I’ve always felt guilty about not really giving her a fair chance. Now she has just released a new adult novel, Chosen Ones – and it’s made me think about going back and trying her Divergent series again.
Chosen Ones is about teenaged superheroes who have saved the world – but only in the context of that having happened in the past. Ten years later and a secure world has moved on. The five teenagers who had fulfilled the prophecy in destroying the nefarious Dark Lord are now in their mid-twenties, and each one is dealing with their past (and the celebrity that comes with it) with varying degrees of success.
Sloane Andrews just wants the world to leave her alone – which is as impractical as it is unrealistic. She’s always been labeled as the Chosen One with an attitude problem; mostly justified, but she also remains haunted by the trauma of what happened to her and by the festering secrets she holds. When a new threat arises that suggests the Dark One may not have been erased after all, Sloane is not sure she still has what it takes to be a hero again. But despite her misgivings, she knows she will have to fight – not for duty or honor, but because it’s so damn personal.
Sloane is a complex character, often unlikeable but for reasons we understand. Her chafing against her public persona (despite her prickly nature, she is, after all, beautiful and in a relationship with the golden-boy heartthrob leader of the Chosen Ones team) is not a “me against the world” shtick, but rather the friction of her sense of personal failure grating against the team’s obvious success, and her important – and devastating – role in that success. Yet rather than immobilizing her into a self-pitying stance, this friction goads her into action – sometimes ill-considered action, but action nonetheless.
Veronica Roth certainly knows how to write in the superhero fantasy genre, and is skillful enough to move beyond the trope into something deeper, darker and more solid while refusing to succumb to the lure of making her tale sordid. It becomes, in a word, mature.
And timely. The world Roth crafts (in an exquisitely reproduced Chicago) indeed has fantasy genre aspects to it, but it also evidences issues such as mental illness, addiction, toxic masculinity, vapid celebrity mongering, and (in some very disturbing scenes) white supremacy aligned with those who would welcome the Dark Lord’s return. Roth doesn’t need to add grit and grime to make her world dark – we recognize the reflection from our own world. And yet, as with our world, there is also beauty, and goodness, and those who are willing to make a stand against the evils that plague the world, regardless of how or where they manifest – even if the motives for doing so are not so clear, are not so pure.
Chosen Ones is indeed a wonderful read. I highly, highly recommend it.