I got this book based on the strength of the first book, but my desire to see the story through to the end almost wasn’t enough to entice me to finish it. As it was, I read it so slowly that I had to check it out from the library a second time because it felt like required textbook reading rather than something done for fun.
This book is mostly about the conflict between Tris (who has started to use Beatrice again) and Jeanine Matthews, whom we are told is evil. Jeanine uses the simulations to control people and make them do her will, fighting one another. This is proof that the Erudites are evil, unlike the Dauntless, who kill or beat one another on the flimsiest of justification, but don’t actually control people’s minds. Beatrice/Tris has aptitude for Erudite, which basically means that her not-too-bright decisions seem genius in comparison to her Dauntless companions.
All the characters from the first book are here, except the dead ones, who still get mentioned now and again to torment Tris with her angst. Sometimes the characters engage in playful banter which is supposed to make them endearing but instead just saps the tension. Also, I kind of forgot who most of these people were, because they seem rather interchangeable. Tris gets captured like three times, but Jeanine is as incompetent at carrying out executions as a Bond villain, because Tris manages to escape from every elaborate trap. How does Jeanine manage to capture Tris? Because Tris goes to the Erudite headquarters on several occasions, that’s why. It’s like two rival fraternities having panty raids, except with more shooting and serums and transmitters and no real end goal that made any sense.
Tris seems to have a deathwish, a fact pointed out by some other characters. I think this is one of my main problems with the book. If Tris doesn’t care if she lives or dies, why should I? Also, she becomes obsessed early on with the SUPER TOP SECRET that Marcus tells her about. This SUPER TOP SECRET is apparently the thing that Tris’ mother died trying to find. Four doesn’t care, because, you know, tension. When you get to the end, they eventually reveal the SUPER TOP SECRET, so I’m glad I kept reading to find that out, but it was a tedious slog to get there.
To sum up: you need to read this book if you want to read the series, because of the secret which changes the plot. However, the plots felt confusing and contrived, the characters motivations felt foolish and implausible, and the interactions between familiar characters felt mostly shallow. It was completely par-for-the-course for the screenplay of a made-for-TV movie from the 90s, but I wanted better writing. Major points off or the ridiculous “Tris has to fight a copy of herself” simulation, which (aside from the point that it was already silly when Buffy did it) how does that even work? So many serums and simulations and transmitters and blah blah, I just shrugged and said “magic” and stopped trying to make sense of it.
If you read the first book and are dying for #2, my advice is to find it in the library and skip to the last chapter. You’ll find out what the secret is, but you won’t have to slog through the rest of it.