Endings are hard. If a writer has successfully created a world that pulls me in, I want the story to resolve and yet want the story to keep going forever. That tension between wanting resolution and wanting to stay in the story increases the longer I read, while the options for how the story can resolve constantly narrow. As long as the story does not end, anything can happen, yet my desire for what can or should happen grows more and more particular.
So, as a reader, I give writers a lot of leeway with their endings because in books that absorb me, I am aware I have grown invested and possessive of the story, but ultimately I have to accept that it is the writer telling me the story, and I am there to listen.
Therefore, in Veronica Roth’s Allegiant, I am okay with the fact that the main character, Tris, dies. I don’t think she has to die to accomplish the growth and change Roth envisioned for her (see http://veronicarothbooks.blogspot.com/2013/10/about-end-of-allegiant-spoilers.html ) because Tris’s decision to sacrifice herself for the right reasons would not have been diminished if she survived that decision — what matters are Tris’s intentions, and her belief that she is sacrificing herself. I would have loved to see the life she made for herself after risking her life for the right reasons and coming out on the other side of the ordeal. And yes, I would have preferred that ending.
However, her death is not the book’s central flaw, the flaw that prevents it from succeeding as a story. The central flaw is the shift in the third book of the trilogy from a single character’s first-person point of view to the alternating first-person point of view between Tris and Tobias. As most writers know from any introduction to creative writing class, point of view is considered to be a contract with the reader. But as most writers also know, all writing rules can be broken. Just because Roth began her trilogy using one point of view and then shifted to another does not mean I stopped reading the book, but it made me wary: Roth was going to need an excellent reason for such a drastic shift. A writer raises the bar high when she breaks such a fundamental rule as consistency of point of view. So much of a story depends on the perspective from which it is told. In the first two books, that perspective is Tris’s; it is her story and her voice. We are learning as she is learning. We see the world through her eyes. She is making choices and processing them. She is the hero of the story. She is the center.
And then in Allegiant, Tobias’s point of view inserts itself. (I should note that I experienced the series as audio books, so the shift in point of view was even more jarring than if I had read it on the page; I loved Emma Galvant’s narration of the Tris sections, but Aaron Stanford’s work in the Tobias sections is mediocre.) As soon as Tobias starts narrating, I wondered why — and the obvious answer was that Tris was going to die and would not be able to finish telling the story. I was left wondering if that outcome is inevitable, distracting me from the story.
But most importantly, to make a sudden shift in the third book of a trilogy is to change intention far too late. It is like Roth did not realize that she was telling Tris’s story. Throwing in Tobias’s point of view, even if Roth decided it was necessary for what she wanted to do with the plot, undercuts Tris’s story. Tris is no longer the sole hero, and her journey to death is actually less meaningful because of that change. Roth built up two books where we cared deeply about the protagonist and then expected us to care just as much about another character— not that I don’t care about Tobias, but I care about him most in relation to Tris.
I don’t know if Roth wrote herself into a corner. I don’t know if she fell in love with Tobias. But she left Tris behind in a more important way than leaving her dead on the floor on the weapons room: she took away her centrality, her perspective. The last chapters without Tris are weak not because of plot. They are weak because they do not have the hero we had invested in so much. The last thing I wanted in this series was for the hero to be silenced.