In her debut adult novel, “Chosen Ones,” Veronica Roth takes the well-worn idea of a group of “chosen ones” saving the world and turns it on its head. Well, maybe more on its side.
The story follows Sloane, one of the five chosen ones prophesied to save the world from the menacing yet dully-named Dark One. In a twist on expected plot lines, however, Roth’s novel takes place not during the Dark One’s reign of terror, but 10 years afterward, on the decennial of the chosen ones’ victory over their dreaded nemesis. The story finds Sloane and her four magical brethren still reeling from the psychological effects of their time fighting the Dark One, as the trauma that they experienced by his hands refused to disappear along with its creator. While her time fighting supernatural evils has ended, Sloane still has to deal with the daily pressure of being a global savior and all the expectations the role brings. This relative peace is soon broken, though, as the chosen ones soon get sucked out of their world and into a parallel, magical world called Genetrix, where Sloane and her compatriots are tasked with fighting another being of pure evil haunting the world, forcing the group to relive the same traumatic war they thought they had won 10 years ago.
Roth’s first dip into adult literature displays the skills she honed while writing her hit Young Adult series, “Divergent.” I like to imagine that “Chosen Ones” is not a story that was simply written by Roth in some room somewhere, but rather a tale plucked from another reality. The world of Genetrix is fleshed out so well that it feels like it could truly exist. Most of the action takes place in an alternate version of Chicago, with a timeline that split from Earth in the year 1969 when a missile launched into the Mariana Trench. As magic flowed out of the trench, it changed the world of Genetrix in significant ways, altering the course of human progress altogether. Roth’s novel shines in its illustration of those changes, as she consistently grounds the story in a Chicago that is much like the one on Earth, but with some magical differences. Buildings no longer require gravity to support them, drinks can be downed while still on fire, fashion has changed to reflect the existence of magical channeling devices, and politics has been divided between pro- and anti-magic factions. By immersing the reader so deeply into the details of this fantastical world, it leaves Roth’s audience constantly wanting to discover more about Genetrix, adding a level of enticement to the already suspenseful plot.
Roth does a great job of maintaining the reader’s interest throughout the plot by keeping her audience guessing both about what will happen in the future and about what has happened in the past. Since the novel takes place 10 years after the battle between the chosen ones and the Dark One, Roth has a lot of information about that war that she continually hints at throughout the book, keeping the reader wondering about the specifics of names and events. This strategy works quite well with the content of the story, as Sloane is consistently haunted by these past events; the author can bring them up in a way that implies their significance without actually revealing any details. This steady drip of information about the past is well combined with a plot that, for the most part, provides a good amount of suspense and makes the next page worth reading. The mysterious nature with which the chosen ones are dropped into Genetrix creates a lot of unanswered questions right from the beginning of the story, so the reader is encouraged to find the answers to those questions alongside their troubled protagonist. However, while this method works for getting the readers to the end of the novel, the actual reveal of many of the book’s underlying mysteries is a bit rushed and unclear. The end of the story is practically a big information dump that, in theory, ties up all of the loose ends, but doesn’t really provide a good sense of closure on all of those issues. Instead, the reader is left thinking, “Oh, I guess that makes sense?”
While the stunted ending, combined with a cast of characters who are, at best, “meh,” put a bit of a pall over the novel, Roth’s expert worldbuilding and control of information makes this book definitely an enjoyable read. If you’re like me and you love discovering magical worlds through literature, “Chosen Ones” should definitely be on your list. While it doesn’t compare to the likes of, say, “The Name of the Wind” or “Six of Crows,” Roth’s adult debut shows that her skills are not simply relegated to the world of YA fiction. I eagerly await whatever work she publishes next. I’m sure that it will be equally as entertaining as “Chosen Ones” and hopefully a little bit more polished.
Daniel Knopf can be reached by email@example.com.