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Courtesy of HMH Books

May 26, 2020

‘Chosen Ones’ by Veronica Roth: Beginning at the End

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What happens after the denouement, after the villain has been defeated and the hero looks up in triumph? What happens to the Chosen Ones when they are no longer needed?

Veronica Roth’s first adult novel, Chosen Ones, provides an answer. The author of the best-selling Divergent series and the Carve the Mark duology is known for her young adult science fiction and fantasy novels, and her foray into the adult genre with Chosen Ones feels like a natural extension of her previous work. Chosen Ones is the story of what happens after Katniss fires the arrow and Voldemort falls; it begins at the end, launching into woefully underexplored territory.

Ten years after their defeat of the Dark One, Sloane and her fellow Chosen Ones, Matt, Ines, Albie and Esther, are still recovering from the traumas they suffered at his hands. Selected as teenagers, defeating the Dark One is the only path they have ever known how to follow, and in the ten years since they saved the world, some are handling it ‘better’ than others but none have escaped the psychological trauma. Roth does not shy away from handling such harsh realities, showcasing the variety of expected responses, from PTSD and night terrors to booby trapping one’s own apartment. Defeating the Dark One has not solved all of these characters’ or their world’s problems, and the afterglow of victory does not linger long.

Like Roth’s other novels, Chosen Ones shines in its attention to world-building, crafting the streets of Chicago with native familiarity and drawing out the architecture’s innate magic. At times, this familiarity borders on the overly specific, relying perhaps too heavily on an intimate knowledge of the city. The magic system of the novel mixes both old and new, tying myth into science. Roth’s world pays homage to the basic tropes of the YA adventure genre, pitting stock good against stock evil, ripping her Dark One straight from his most popular image: Cloaked in black, devouring worlds.

This may be seen as a problem in the YA market of today, where unique twists on old themes are prized and praised; yet Roth’s handling of these seemingly basic elements is intentional, using them as a backdrop for the far more interesting struggles the characters fight now. The reader already knows what Sloane and her friends have faced; we’ve read that novel before, and Sloane’s experiences do not need to be explicated or ‘unique’ for us to understand her. Instead, Roth springboards off these familiar tropes, creating them anew through their very extension. Sloane and her friends become more than the tropes they initially represent, growing beyond and outside of their definitions of themselves as their story stretches beyond the traditional ‘end’ mark.

This reliance on tropes to fill the gaps of the characters’ pasts, however, can also lead to some confusion in the novel, unaided by Roth’s choice to root the exposition primarily in governmental reports, newspaper articles and academic papers. This incorporation of documents into the narrative does add a deeper sense of the world, including not just the characters’ version of events but the general public and government’s perspectives as well, but it also jumbles the specifics of Sloane and her fellow Chosen Ones’ pasts. Their transformative campaign against the Dark One is relatively glossed over. Although those years in battle ostensibly changed them into the people we encounter at the beginning of the novel, its impact is most felt in its absence from the novel, leaving the reader to piece the characters’ history together through his or her own knowledge of what usually happens in chosen one narratives. Even ten years distant, the impact of the battle against the Dark One that claimed their teenage years is felt strongly with the characters, but this impact mostly comes from what the characters say rather than what the reader is shown, forcing the reader to merely accept the characters’ histories rather than fully understand.

On the whole, however, Veronica Roth’s Chosen Ones explores a considerably underdeveloped aspect of the typical chosen one narrative. Sloane is a wonderfully complex character to follow, and while I wish some aspects of her and her friends’ pasts had been explored more, that only leaves room for further exploration in the sequel. If you have enjoyed Roth’s other works, Chosen Ones fits perfectly at home.

 

Jessica Lussier is a junior in the college of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at JLL335@cornell.edu