The Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth

The Chosen Ones book cover
Rating 8.0/10
A fresh and mature twist on some familiar hero tropes, taking aim at difficult themes without sacrificing its tendency toward mystery and adventure.

"Nobody ever prepared me for what came after. They just assumed I would never find out."

The Chosen Ones is Veronica Roth’s first novel that targets an adult audience, as it digs deep into themes that her Divergent series of novels casually explored. It is a Chicago-based urban portal fantasy novel, with a neat twist on the ‘chosen ones versus the Dark One’ trope. The story begins ten years after a group of five teenagers defeated the murdering and destructive Dark One. For better or for worse (it’s the latter) they are now world-famous celebrities with non-existent private lives, which makes it even more difficult for these ex-heroes to cope with the devastating traumas they endured. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed by The Dark One before these Chosen Ones were able to defeat him, not to mention the personal horrors each teenager had to endure along the way. Some long-term effects of physical and mental abuse are examined through the narrative of Sloan, one of the Chosen Ones who serves as the reader’s single point-of-view throughout the story.

Roth steadily unwraps the history behind why she and her friends became The Chosen Ones, and how they obtained magical abilities that were used to defeat their enemy. All the while, the Dark One summons Drains, which are magic-fueled natural disasters that appear without warning and kill off tens of thousands of bystanders at once. Sloan and her team attempt to stem these violent events at ground zero, and memories of the terrors they endured are relived through nightmares and visions. The narrative of Sloan’s past is intercut with the ten-year anniversary of the Dark One’s defeat in present day, and her disgust at celebrity, fake selfie smiles, and utter loneliness has reached a breaking point. But then, a major event occurs that might force her to reconcile her past and face an even more horrifying challenge ahead.

“You can’t force someone to want something,” he said. “And knowing what you want—not just vaguely but really specifically what you want—is a big part of magic. You don’t pick the act and then force the desire. You know the desire—the exact shade of it—and then choose the act accordingly.”

The book features an excellent balance of character exploration, world-building, and a twisty plot that maintains a high level of engagement throughout the story. There are some major plot reveals that pave the way for many new exciting themes to explore, but spoilers prevent further discussion. One standout feature is Roth’s development of the world's soft magic system. Magic is influenced by desire and intent, and its level of access is deeply tied into the mental acuity of its caster. There’s an extensive and well-developed set of ideas that support this magic system, and Roth ensures that its impact in society is reflected in its culture, architecture, history, and means of communication. Roth deftly ties these ideas into the greater themes of responsibility and post-traumatic recovery. When factoring in Sloan’s sharp determination and hard-edged personality with a fast-moving series of world-changing events, it all results in an engrossing story that offers plenty of rich areas to traverse.

There were a few aspects to the story that fell a bit short. While the world-building in the first third of the book is fascinating, the plot took a while to establish its direction. Some of the bigger reveals were projected far in advance, and some of the symbolism were more overt than subtle. Although it poses a fantastic set up for the next book in the series, the conclusion felt somewhat rushed after such a long buildup. But none of these complaints detracted from the enjoyment of the novel, and the thrill of what’s to come next.

The Chosen Ones is a fresh and mature twist on some familiar hero tropes, taking aim at difficult themes without sacrificing its tendency toward mystery and adventure. It is an easy recommendation for fans of Roth, offering an impressive introduction into an ambitious and exciting new universe.

ARC via Edelweiss. On sale April 7, 2020.

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