If you’re a fan of young adult dystopian novels, you’re probably very familiar with some of Veronica Roth’s work. Her latest offering, Chosen Ones, is pretty different from her previous books, most notably, because it’s aimed at an adult audience – although there’s nothing I’d consider inappropriate for younger readers. It also uses a trope I don’t encounter all that often, though whether or not the novel uses that trope to its full potential is up for debate.
Ten years before our story begins, five teenagers managed to defeat a terrifying entity known as The Dark One. On the outside, these five young people lived average lives. They weren’t known to have special powers or abilities, but a mysterious government agency had reason to believe they could bring down the greatest enemy the world had ever seen. I was initially a bit confused about the government’s reasons for choosing these specific teenagers, but things become clearer as the tale progresses.
The actual story opens shortly before the ten year anniversary of The Dark One’s demise. The five people who brought him down have gathered together to commemorate the anniversary, and it doesn’t take long for the reader to understand that the lives of these saviors are anything but ordinary. Journalists and photographers follow them around, strangers feel entitled to their every thought or opinion, and meaningful relationships are all but impossible due to the trauma they are still attempting to overcome.
Sloane is the novel’s main narrator. At almost thirty, she’s just going through the motions of living. She can’t forget the horrors she endured at The Dark One’s hands, and she’s not sure why the world can’t just forget about her and allow her to heal in peace. She keeps everyone, including her fellow Chosen Ones at arm’s length, unwilling to let anyone know just how much she’s suffering.
When one of their number is found dead, Sloane and her friends are once again thrust into the spotlight, for it seems The Dark One didn’t really die ten years ago. Instead, he’s been biding his time in a parallel universe, slowly building up enough strength to make one last bid for universal domination. Sloane isn’t at all thrilled at the prospect of facing her foe again, but the fate of many worlds rests on her shoulders, and certain extremely powerful people aren’t afraid to play dirty if it means getting Sloane to do as she’s told.
There’s so much more to the story than the brief synopsis I’ve given. The worldbuilding is immersive and the magic system feels fresh and unique. And yet, I can’t say I really enjoyed certain aspects of the novel.
For some reason, the story is told in the third person, mostly from Sloane’s point of view. Normally, I don’t mind this narrative style, but it felt awkward here, keeping the reader at a bit of a distance from Sloane rather than allowing us to engross ourselves in her thoughts. As a result, I never fully connected with her. Some of her behaviors don’t come off as authentic, and I struggled to understand what motivated her in certain pivotal situations.
The other characters were also difficult to engage with, and we’re never given the opportunity to know them as anything other than Sloane’s cohorts. We’re told certain things about each of them, but the story doesn’t elaborate on any of those things, giving everyone a two-dimensional feel that definitely didn’t work for me. I love large, well-developed casts of characters, especially when each person is given a distinct voice and role in the overall story, but these people feel more like cardboard cut-outs than fleshed-out human beings.
There’s a lot of complexity to the overall plot. The author does a great job driving the narrative forward, interspersing the third-person point of view with excerpts from various books, articles, and government documents written before and during the battles with The Dark One. I loved these glimpses into the program responsible for bringing Sloane and the rest of the gang together as they provided a great deal of insight into parts of the plot I initially found confusing.
There are a number of fabulous twists and turns that kept me reading late into the night. Not every scene is action-packed, but I was impressed with the novel’s overall pacing. I was eager to see how things would turn out for Sloane, even though I didn’t feel 100% connected with her. There was just something about the author’s writing that kept me engaged, and that usually doesn’t happen for me when I’m unable to relate to the main character.
Chosen Ones is a book that won’t work for every reader. It’s one I’m pretty conflicted about, even as I write this review. It definitely has its share of flaws, but there’s a certain something that keeps me from totally dismissing it. I can’t guarantee I’ll read the sequel when it’s released, but I can assure you this book will remain with me for a long time to come.