Now that I know just how retcontastic these books are, sticking strictly to publication order seems like the only option. It’ll probably still be a mess, but maybe it’ll be possible to plot the overall trajectory at least.
And so, we dive into The Transfer, another ebook. This one is at a bit more meaty than most of these things we’ve seen.
We start off with Tobias having just finished a simulation. Tori is there, and unlike most character reuse this actually works – we know she’s trying to find divergents, so her volunteering with Tris was not a one-time thing.
We then take something interesting about the first book and stomp it into the ground: the reason Tobias got Abnegation is because his dad told him the simulation choices and which to pick. (“Why does his dad do this?” is not an interesting question. His dad is a controlling asshole. And I’ve had a sinking feeling for a while that it’s going to turn out that his dad was just trying to protect him from being divergent, so the less we engage that plotline the better.) Tobias either did a bad job of pretending to actually be picking or it’s just people don’t usually jump immediately to the correct answer, because Tori is pretty sure he was lucid. He does an even worse job of being pleased with his result.
It’s really unclear why he’s upset he got Abnegation. If he was hoping he was secretly something else, then nothing stopped him from going through the simulation properly – the lucid thing doesn’t even matter since it’s just a series of yes/no questions. Tris only fucked up because she either wasn’t lucid enough or she was an idiot, given it was refusing to do the question at all that screwed up her results.
To recap, Tris refuses the cheese or knife, so the dog appears that she’s supposed to kill and she’s weaponless, so she tries another way of dealing with it that’s knowledge based and gets Erudite. But, if she’d had a weapon she would’ve tried to fight back and gotten a perfect Dauntless score, since those are the only two things you need to do for Dauntless.
I knew that after I made those choices, the test would end and I would receive Abnegation as a result. And I don’t know that I would have made different choices if my father hadn’t coached me, hadn’t controlled every part of my aptitude test from afar. So what was I expecting? What faction did I want?
Any of them. Any of them but Abnegation.
This just appears to be wangst for wangst’s sake. We’re told over and over that the kids can choose regardless of the outcome, so it’s not like what he’s about to do is unthinkable. He doesn’t even need to worry about his dad finding out if he got it wrong, because test results are confidential and so only known to your tester and some/most/all of Erudite. Point is, he could get any score and just tell his dad he got Abnegation, or, if he’s thinking getting a different score would mean his dad lets him go, he could get Abnegation and then say he got Dauntless. The test does not matter.
Tori gives him a pep talk about how he can choose what he wants and that’s what’s important. It seems like this is the last thing you should use to motivate Abnegation kids. Just look at how tangled up Tris was about how she should pick the one she didn’t want because other people wanted it. Why not tell them that joining a faction they aren’t happy with will just drag the faction down or something?
My father doesn’t permit me to come to most community events. He claims that I’ll cause a disruption, that I’ll do something to hurt his reputation.
Come to think of it, the fact his dad has apparently been trying to beat the divergence out of him makes even less sense now that we know that divergents were the intended outcome. Plus, Tris’ mom said that more Abnegation kids get inconclusive results than the other factions, so there are plenty of fellow divergent kids.
Tobias apparently doesn’t want to go to events anyway, because Abnegation suck, except for how he liked Tris for being Abnegation, and also he likes being alone, which is why he was so happy surrounded by factionless.
The Erudite table is covered in reading material, but they aren’t all studying—they’re just making a show of it, trading conversation instead of ideas, their eyes snapping back to the words every time they think someone’s watching them. The Candor are talking loudly, as always. The Amity are laughing, smiling, pulling food from their pockets and passing it around. The Dauntless are raucous and loud, slung over the tables and chairs, leaning on one another and poking one another and teasing.
It started so well. I thought it was going to be about how the kids in a faction are just trying to follow norms, but then it’s only Erudite that’s singled out.
I wanted any other faction. Any other faction but mine, where everyone has already decided that I am not worth their attention.
I realize that feelings aren’t rational, but you just said you’re happy to avoid yours.
At every faction meeting, our leaders, usually speaking through my father, urge us not to be afraid of the factionless, to treat them like human beings instead of broken, lost creatures. But it never occurred to me to be afraid of them.
So Marcus is at the center of absolutely everything. Also, this really seems a jumble – it’s the lost broken non-people you don’t have to be afraid of, the human beings are going to be pretty mad about their mistreatment.
Tobias tells us that he likes to go into the empty buildings and gives us more detail than Tris did.
When most of the city’s residents left —as they must have, since our current population doesn’t fill every building—they must not have left in a hurry, because the spaces they occupied are so clean. Nothing of interest remains.
Which would be interesting except we were just told that actually this is a social experiment and that’s why the exodus was orderly.
He stumbles upon a factionless den and realizes that wait, shockingly the people must actually live in groups!
This is everything that’s wrong with the ebook thing.
In the main series, we get Tris being special for being divergent, we get the mystery of the missing people of the city and the eventual solution, we get the discovery that the factionless are organized. Then we have this story that’s still teasng a solved mystery, has Tobias being even more divergent, and now we’re getting a repeat of Insurgent’s discovery that the factionless have community. It wasn’t even particularly good the first time around, and now we’re hearing it a second time?
He finds a factionless, who recognizes him and then acts suspicious about knowing his mom. Yay, even more baiting of mysteries already solved.
“Your Choosing must be coming up tomorrow, for you to look so worried,” the man says. “What faction did you get?”
“I’m not supposed to tell anyone,” I say automatically.
“I’m not anyone,” he says. “I’m nobody. That’s what being factionless is.”
I still don’t say anything. The prohibition against sharing my aptitude test result, or any of my other secrets, is set firmly in the mold that makes me and remakes me daily. It’s impossible to change now.
“Ah, a rule follower,” he says, like he’s disappointed. “Your mother said to me once that she felt like inertia had carried her to Abnegation. It was the path of least resistance.” He shrugs. “Trust me when I tell you, Eaton boy, that resisting is worth doing.”
I feel a rush of anger. He shouldn’t be telling me about my mother like she belongs to him and not to me, shouldn’t be making me question everything I remember about her just because she may or may not have served him food once. He shouldn’t be telling me anything at all—he’s nobody, factionless, separate, nothing.
“Yeah?” I say. “Look where resisting got you. Living out of cans in broken-down buildings. Doesn’t sound so great to me.” I start toward the doorway the man emerged from. I know I’ll find an alley door somewhere back there; I don’t care where as long as I can get out of here quickly.
I pick a path across the floor, careful not to step on any of the blankets. When I reach the hallway, the man says, “I’d rather eat out of a can than be strangled by a faction.”
I also feel like the series can’t decide what the factionless are. In the first book, they’re people who failed initation, in the second, we start meeting all these people who just decided they didn’t like their faction, and now we’re getting contentious objectors. What are they?
The bit about Abnegation doesn’t even mean anything – Tris spent the opening chapters of the book establishing that staying at Abnegation was the safe choice. Plus, it’s been obvious for a while that generally staying with your birth faction is easier, since it’s the society you’ve been raised in as well as where your family and friends are. The only exception is the Dauntless due to their insane initiation, and even then, if you can make it through initiation you shouldn’t have any trouble with your faction again.
He heads home, which is your generic controlling abusive father scene.
Before the sun goes down, I snatch food from the cupboards and the refrigerator: two dinner rolls and raw carrots with the greens still attached, a hunk of cheese and an apple, leftover chicken without any seasoning on it.
As if the chicken ever has seasoning. Honestly, Tobias, carrots, cheese and apple is better than anything we’ve heard Abnegation eat so far.
Tris’ dad appears and he tells us that the family is a perfect Abnegation unit because Tobias is so unselfaware that yes, he does tell us first that the dad of course has no idea how terrible his dad is and then immediately afterward that he’s totally sure the surface appearance of another family is 100% accurate.
Then for some reason we have a bit about how Abnegation is the safe and comfortable choice that appears to be mislaid from Tris’ opening chapters, followed by him reminding the author that no that’s stupid, then for some reason the author just kept going instead of editing.
We learn that Marcus may be controlling but is an idiot, because his mom bought him a giant locked trunk that he keeps stuff in and Marcus only today thinks to look inside.
Inside the unlocked trunk was a blue sculpture. It looked like falling water, but it was really glass, perfectly clear, polished, flawless.
Since then I have filled the trunk with objects that others would call useless: old spectacles without glass in them, fragments of discarded motherboards, spark plugs, stripped wires, the broken neck of a green bottle, a rusted knife blade. I don’t know if my mother would have called them beautiful, or even if I would, but each of them struck me the same way that sculpture did, as secret things
Of course, we know the sculpture makes it out fine because it’s still there later, so Marcus only finds the rest of them, which means his rage makes no sense.
“This is rank with self-indulgence!” he shouts, and he shoves the trunk off the edge of the bed so its contents scatter all over the floor. “It poisons this house with selfishness!”
Marcus also keeps insisting he can tell when Tobias lies, so maybe he’s former Candor? It’s a standard abusive parent thing, but in this world caring about lying and being taught to notice it is the province of a particular faction. Tobias convinces him to only hit him where there it won’t show by reminding him the ceremony is coming up. You know, Tobias should have some hefty scars by now, do they not do physicals? Then his dad destroys all the objects with stomping, which somehow works out well on all the rusty metal involved.
I can’t overemphasize how all of this is paint by numbers abusive dad. The fact that Tobias has a guaranteed way out isn’t even mentioned, nothing about why their society is set up so he and his mom couldn’t tell anyone what was happening, not even the question of why his dad can act like this in Abnegation.
He covers the top of my ear with one hand as he drags the clippers over the side of my head. Today he’s trying to protect my ear from getting nicked by clippers, and yesterday he took a belt to me. The thought feels like poison working through me. It’s almost funny. I almost want to laugh.
Except not, because yesterday he beat you rather than punched you because he doesn’t want you to look obviously bad, so it’s totally consistent. The book starts going on about how his dad is now all nice and it’s like he keeps the two things separate but seriously, this is covered fine by the idea he wants to keep up appearances. Then he suddenly realizes he’s got to leave. That’s right, no actual reasoning, just suddenly the plot has to move to the next checkpoint so it happens.
I’m not even sure why his dad is so set on him being Abnegation when he thinks Tobias is such a mess he can’t interact with them even with his dad’s oversight. Yeah, Tobias leaving will look weird, but Tobias staying to be weird will probably look worse at this point.
the council representative from Dauntless moves to the podium. Max is his name. He wraps his fingers around the edge of the podium, and I can see, even from here, that his knuckles are bruised. Do they learn to fight in Dauntless? They must.
But really, just, what is with this book? Tobias has no character. Sometimes he’s extrodinarily insightful, when what the author wants to say is something that requires it. Other times he’s just now figuring out that the fighty faction who fights apparently fight, probably.
But anyway, let’s find out what the Dauntless viewpoint is.
“Welcome to the Choosing Ceremony,”
“Today you will choose your factions. Until this point you have followed your parents’ paths, your parents’ rules. Today you will find your own path, make your own rules.”
I can almost see my father pressing his lips together with disdain at such a typical Dauntless speech.
So Dauntless are free choice, except for how they want people to obey orders to jump off buildings. I guess you could say this is before the rot really sets in, but it’s only two years, it can’t have changed that fast.
“A long time ago our ancestors realized that each of us, each individual, was responsible for the evil
that exists in the world. But they didn’t agree on exactly what that evil was,” Max says. “Some said that it was dishonesty. . . .”
I think of the lies I have told, year after year, about this bruise or that cut, the lies of omission I told when I kept Marcus’s secrets.
“Some said that it was ignorance, some aggression. . . .”
I think of the peace of the Amity orchards, the freedom I would find there from violence and cruelty.
“Some said selfishness was the cause.”
This is for your own good is what Marcus said before the first blow fell. As if hitting me was an act of self-sacrifice. As if it hurt him to do it. Well, I didn’t see him limping around the kitchen this morning.
“And the last group said that it was cowardice that was to blame.”
A few hoots rise up from the Dauntless section, and the rest of the Dauntless laugh. I think of the fear swallowing me last night until I couldn’t feel, until I couldn’t breathe. I think of the years that have ground me into dust beneath my father’s heel.
“That is how we came by our factions: Candor, Erudite, Amity, Abnegation, and Dauntless.” Max smiles. “In them we find administrators and teachers and counselors and leaders and protectors.
So I still really like the idea that the world ended and the survivors didn’t even know why and went nuts and decided on factions. It just fits so well. Also hey look, Tobias just skipped Erudite entirely. Also, apparently Candor is adminstrators and Abnegation are leaders, because that makes sense.
Tobias begins to consider his options.
Amity seems like the obvious choice for a haven, with its peaceful life, its sweet-smelling orchards, its smiling community. In Amity I would find the kind of acceptance I’ve craved my entire life, and maybe, over time, it would teach me to feel steady in myself, comfortable with who I am.
But as I look at the people sitting in that section, in their reds and yellows, I see only whole, healed people, capable of cheering one another, capable of supporting one another. They are too perfect, too kind, for someone like me to be driven into their arms by rage and fear.
This is terrible reasoning that’s only necessary because the author removed all Tobias’ character in the first place. If Tobias has temper issues already, he wouldn’t want to go to Amity, and also, Amity are counselors so they obviously are in charge of handling non-perfect people.
I know what happens in Candor’s initiation. I heard whispers about it in school one day. There, I would have to expose every secret, dig it out with my fingernails. I would have to flay myself alive to join Candor. No, I can’t do that.
Totally reasonable, except for the part where Book One Tobias wanted to be all things.
I learn easily enough for Erudite, but I know myself well enough to understand that I am too volatile, too emotional, for a place like that. It would strangle me, and what I want is to be free, not to be shuffled into yet another prison.
That’s just straight up nonsense, and only worsened by the fact the author has totally failed to portray him as being emotional or interesting in general.
It takes no time at all for the name of the Abnegation girl beside me to be called. “Erasmus, Anne.”
Anne—another one who never found more than a few words to speak to me—stumbles forward and walks the aisle to Max’s podium. She accepts her knife with shaking hands and cuts her palm and holds her hand over the Abnegation bowl. It’s easy for her. She doesn’t have anything to run from, just a welcoming, kind community to rejoin.
Well, okay, he has one interesting trait, his insistence that his family looking perfect on the outside is the one exception and no one else could possibly hide secrets, so this stumbling girl with shaking hands (who barely talked, just like him) obviously has no issues with her choice whatsoever.
The truth is, I want my choice to drive a knife right through my father’s heart, to pierce him with as much pain and embarrassment and disappointment as possible.
There is only one choice that can do that.
Despite the fact last book under truth serum this was not the truth of his choice! God, could this fuck up more?
I smirk a little. I did it, I put that expression on his face. I am not the perfect Abnegation child, doomed to be swallowed whole by the system and dissolved into obscurity. Instead, I am the first Abnegation-Dauntless transfer in more than a decade.
And that’s another way the “genetic faction” thing is particularly stupid. Abnegation hates Dauntless and tries to bias their kids away from it. That does nothing to change genes.
suddenly I am unsure of this choice I’ve made, of these people I’ve claimed. They are so loud and so wild. Can I possibly make a place for myself among them? I don’t know.
I guess I don’t have a choice.
This is very much like the Tobias knife scene, where all it does is ruin all that I thought I liked. Nothing about Tobias is Dauntless now. He’s there because he had no other choice and it was the best way to hurt his dad,
Tori meets him and says she just knows he’s awesome.
But I’m unprepared for the turning of the train, and I stumble, smacking my face against the metal wall. I grab my aching nose.
“Smooth,” one of the Dauntless inside says. He’s younger than Tori, with dark skin and an easy smile.
“Finesse is for Erudite show-offs,” Tori says.
Because when you think about nerds vs jocks, it’s the nerds who are the showoffs.
It never occurred to me before that I could refuse to give my name, or that I could give a false one, construct a new identity for myself. I’m free here, free to snap at people and free to refuse them and free even to lie.
Assuming Tobias has a working understanding of how Abnegation runs things, I believe this is confirmation that they don’t keep records of people and it’s all up to memory.
“Welcome to Dauntless!” Amar shouts. “Where you either face your fears and try not to die in the
process, or you leave a coward. We’ve got a record low of faction transfers this year, unsurprisingly.”
We’ve got a record low of faction transfers this year, unsurprisingly.”
Okay, so the only way these two things can be true is if something just happened that would reduce the number of transfers. My guess is they just instituted the ten people only rule, and Tobias doesn’t know because he doesn’t pay attention to other factions since he only realized he could choose a faction at the choosing ceremony this very day. Boostering my theory, there’s only one Erudite kid there, presumably future AntagEric.
The cluster of young Dauntless near the roof exchange looks. Standing off to the side are the Erudite boy from before, an Amity girl, two Candor boys, and a Candor girl. There are only six of us.
To annoy me, we are not told how many Dauntless-born there are. There are also no clues how we got from this to twelve kids trying out.
Tobias manages to topple off the edge of the roof and thus pass the third test.
“My name is Amar,” he says. “I’m your initiation instructor. I grew up here, and three years ago, I passed initiation with flying colors, which means I get to be in charge of the newcomers for as long as I want.
So: Tori is there right now. Tori joins Dauntless after her brother joins and dies. We were told in Four Ruins The Knife Scene that Amar is also divergent. Therefore, Tori’s brother must have been killed no more than two years ago, meaning Tori gets to be in charge of testing at seventeen after a mere year with her faction, and also Dauntless must keep no records at all because while plotting her brother’s murder no one even remembers that a year ago some other guy also did suspiciously great with the simulations.
We’re then told that the setup Tris gets is standard and that they just felt like fear landscaping this batch to
see if knowing your fears before you begin training will better prepare you for the rest of initiation which, persumably not since they didn’t keep doing that. Or maybe it did and that’s why they stopped, since it seems like practicing this while lucid would’ve really helped them do better than chunking them straight into nightmare sims.
“How is that possible?” the Erudite boy says. “You don’t know our worst fears.”
“Eric, right?” Amar says. “You’re correct, I don’t know your worst fears, but the serum I am going to inject you with will stimulate the parts of your brain that process fear, and you will come up with the simulation obstacles yourself, so to speak.
“Your faction invented this. I guess that’s why you picked Dauntless, huh?”
Meanwhile, I will be in this room, controlling the simulation, and I get to tell the program embedded in the simulation serum to move on to the next obstacle once your heart rate reaches a particular level—once you calm down, in other words, or face your fear in a significant way.
So not only was Tris able to wake up using fear landscape rules in other simulations, but also fear landscape doesn’t have those rules at all and you only wake up when someone pushes a button. We’re almost done, but let’s see if there’s any more of the few bits of setting info we know for this to screw up.
His movements are slow and deliberate—designed, I suspect, to irritate Amar as much as possible. Eric approaches Amar, who sticks the needle almost savagely into the side of Eric’s neck.
But Amar just said Eric only wakes up when Amar feels like he earned it. Why would you risk fucking up your test just to get a rise out of someone?
Anyway Eric evilly keeps his breathing under control and is therefore evil and also scary.
I notice that the Dauntless-borns, usually so quick to comment on everything, are silent. That must mean that what I’m feeling is correct—that Eric is someone to watch out for.
I fucking hate this series.
I stand up, wiping dust from my cheek, and wait for the next obstacle. I have no idea what it will be. I haven’t taken much time to consider my fears, or even what it would mean to be free from fear, to conquer it. It occurs to me that without fear, I might be strong, powerful, unstoppable.
You know what I will say for this book? Its intense desire to strip the protagonist of agency and the ability to make any decisions in advance is something I more often see with the female characters, and it’s nice to see it’s equal opportunity about bad writing decisions seriously why couldn’t this have been Tobias’ motivation why?
The wall against my back here is the same as the one in my memory, from when I was young, shut in the darkness in the upstairs hallway as punishment. I was never sure when it would end, how many hours I would be stuck there with imaginary monsters creeping up on me in the dark, with the sound of my mother’s sobs leaking through the walls.
So Tobias was already getting abused before his mom left despite what she explicitly said in Insurgent. Good job, book, we’re almost done but you still manage to pack failure upon failure.
I slam my hands against the wall in front of me, again and again, then claw at it, though the splinters stab the skin under my fingernails. I put up my forearms and hit the box with the full weight of my body, again and again, closing my eyes so I can pretend I’m not in here, I’m not in here. Let me out let me out let me out let me out.
“Think it through, Stiff!” a voice shouts, and I go still. I remember that this is a simulation.
It’s nice of presumably Amar to care, but it’s dumb that the only people we’ve now seen panic in a fear landscape are the people who are supposed to be the exta lucid ones.
Then we get an explanation of Tobias’ woman scene.
I am afraid of what I will be asked to do in Dauntless, of what I will want to do.
Afraid of some kind of hidden violence inside of me, wrought by my father and by the years of silence my faction forced on me.
Not that we have any idea of what that is because we still have no idea why neither of them could tell people Marcus was abusive and supposedly Tobias had to lie to those same people to hide it as if they did not actually know and would’ve done something if they did.
But yeah, instead of Tobias being in Dauntless to channel the violence, he’s all shit now I’m going to be violent that was a bad idea.
He gets through his dad scene by pretending it isn’t there, which does kind of fit how he’ll deal with actual Marcus later.
Amar is all super impressed while Tobias thinks about how much he sucks.
“Hey, Tori,” Amar calls over his shoulder. “You ever hear of anyone having only four fears in their fear landscape?”
“Last I heard, the record was seven or eight. Why?” Tori calls back.
They keep no records. It’s all “I remember…” or “I heard…” which fits with how it’s just a “record low” of kids, not the lowest since X point. Just the first time anybody remembers there being that many kids! This also fits with the way Dauntless seems the most mutable faction, because “I remember” tops out at forty years before they throw you off a train and your experiences stop counting for “the record” discussions.
None of the kids were paying enough attention to remember his name at the choosing ceremony, Tobias snaps at them when they ask and says he’s Four, and so that’s how Tobias became Four. Thank god this book explained that in exacting detail because it was so confusing.
Why are you voting for these books what did I ever do to you.