Serena’s Review: “Chosen Ones”

40944762._sy475_Book: “Chosen Ones” by Veronica Roth

Publishing Info: John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley!

Book Description: A decade ago near Chicago, five teenagers defeated the otherworldly enemy known as the Dark One, whose reign of terror brought widespread destruction and death. The seemingly un-extraordinary teens—Sloane, Matt, Ines, Albie, and Esther—had been brought together by a clandestine government agency because one of them was fated to be the “Chosen One,” prophesized to save the world. With the goal achieved, humankind celebrated the victors and began to mourn their lost loved ones.

Ten years later, though the champions remain celebrities, the world has moved forward and a whole, younger generation doesn’t seem to recall the days of endless fear. But Sloane remembers. It’s impossible for her to forget when the paparazzi haunt her every step just as the Dark One still haunts her dreams. Unlike everyone else, she hasn’t moved on; she’s adrift—no direction, no goals, no purpose. On the eve of the Ten Year Celebration of Peace, a new trauma hits the Chosen: the death of one of their own. And when they gather for the funeral at the enshrined site of their triumph, they discover to their horror that the Dark One’s reign never really ended.

Review: I read the “Insurgent” trilogy like everyone else, seemingly, back when it was published around a decade ago. I didn’t fall in love with it, which worked in my favor in this instance as I wasn’t too broken up by the ending of the last book (most fans of the series were quite displeased). I also had heard that Roth published another duology, but that same indifference to the first trilogy didn’t lead me to getting around to it. But when I saw this book start to pop up, I was very intrigued. There are a million and one stories documenting the adventures of a “chosen one” in their grand battle against an ultimate evil. There aren’t many that tackle what comes after, other than perhaps brief epilogues or small cameo appearances in another “chosen one’s” book/series. This book turned out to be everything I was hoping for and more.

It’s been ten years since Sloan and her friends, the other Chosen Ones, defeated the Dark One, an evil being they had battled throughout their teen years. And in this last decade Sloane has…hid. Not interested in the celebrity status she’s garnered, barely invested in the relationships she’s formed, Sloane’s life is simply going from moment to moment, not caring about much at all. When tragedy shakes her out of this numbness, however, Sloane finds herself caught in circumstances that she won’t survive unless she returns to her life as a soldier and confronts the horrors in her past.

This book was particularly interesting coming off my fairly recent re-read of the “Animorphs” series. That series follows a group of 6 teens, chosen ones, essentially, as they battle a big bad for years on end. The books deal a lot with the realities of a childhood given up to warfare and the life and choices of being a soldier. But after 50+ books, there’s only a small, final book that is dedicated to life after these events. It does a good job for what it is, only a hundred and fifty or so pages dedicated to wrapping up the lives of six characters over the years that follow the end of the war. It’s clear that the story is only scratching the surface of what life would be like for these kids. And this is only one example. We have so many chosen one stories, but so few deal with the aftereffects.

I wasn’t quite sure what we would get from Roth here. I wasn’t a huge fan of her original trilogy, and I also read that she had some ideas for this book based off “The Hurt Locker,” a movie that, while I can see the importance of the topic, I didn’t particularly enjoy. But, man, did I enjoy the heck out of this book. Not only did it tackle many of the tough topics around life after war, the isolation and distancing that many veterans experience, and how “moving on” can look very different to different people, including whether it is possible at all, but it had some amazing characters at its heart and some genuine surprises in the increasingly twisting world-building.

I loved Sloane so much in all of her broken, dark, and even sometimes cruel ways. The characters in this book definitely challenge the reader in that they often barely resemble the golden Chosen Ones we all imagine. Even a few of Sloane’s comrades who more closely mimic the typical hero pastiche often betray signs that they are simply using different coping mechanisms to deal with similarly twisted inner lives. But this is Sloane’s story, and it is Sloane’s darkness and path forward that we explore as we slowly learn more about her time during the war and how she’s been managing (or not) in the ten years since. She has some very unlikeable moments, but for me at least, these simply grounded the story all the more in a what reality would look like for young people whose life was essentially consumed by a prophesy and a seemingly never-ending battle against a more powerful evil force. There are no easy answers or easy fixes here, and even by the end of the book, it’s clear that any “completeness” for Sloane comes at understanding and accepting her entire person.

The world-building was almost the biggest surprise. I didn’t really know what to expect and the book description gives only the barest hints. But wow, I didn’t expect where this book went at all. There’s a huge twist that comes in the first third and when we got to that I thought “Ok, that was a surprise, but now I’m on the right page.” Nope! The twists and turns kept coming one after another from there on out. Even after finishing the book I was having to think back over it and try to piece things together.

I don’t remember a lot about Roth’s particular writing style from the “Insurgent” series other than it felt like a fairly standard YA style ala “Hunger Games.” But I have to think Roth has grown by leaps and bounds to create this. The writing is confident and sure, even as it tackles topics that can be hard to deal with and discusses moments and choices that, if not handled well, could turn readers off from some of our main characters and themes. The same world-building and all of its complexities also speaks to an increased dexterity in juggling many balls at once. There are layers within layers, but the story and character arcs are never consumed by the increasingly complicated world, history, and magic system.

This was a great book. I think Roth’s work has grown by leaps and bounds here, and she deftly tackles a topic that is rarely explored in fantasy works. It looks like on Goodreads it is listed as the first in a series, but to those who were burned by the “Insurgent” trilogy and have long memories and lasting wariness, I think this book reads perfectly as a standalone. If I hadn’t looked, I wouldn’t have known otherwise. This is also published as an adult fantasy novel, but I think it would appeal to YA readers as well. I’m pretty confident this will end up on next year’s Top 10 list for me; it’s that good.

Rating 9: Dark and twisty in all the right ways.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Chosen Ones” is a new title, so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists. But it is on this very informatively-titled list: “2020 – Book Release.”

Find “Chosen Ones” at your library using WorldCat!

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