What happens to teenage heroes after the bad guy is defeated and they have to grow up? This is the question posed by “Chosen Ones,” the adult fiction debut of bestselling Young Adult author, Veronica Roth. At once paying homage to and critiquing classic fantasy stories, “Chosen Ones” is a brilliant and inventive deconstruction of archetypal chosen one narratives tackling issues of fame and celebrity, power and privilege, and trauma. It is also wildly entertaining.
“Chosen Ones” begins in Chicago a decade after five teenagers — Sloane, Matt, Ines, Albie, and Esther — defeated a murderous sorcerer known as the Dark One. Singled out by their prophetic destiny to save the world, the five Chosen Ones were brought together as children by a clandestine government agency. Ten years later, the Chosen Ones are celebrities, hounded by paparazzi even as the rest of the world seems ready to forget the trauma they endured. Sloane in particular is haunted by the past, suffering from debilitating PTSD and unable to contemplate the future. As the anniversary of the Dark One’s defeat approaches, the Chosen Ones discover that his evil reign may not be over.
Roth’s publishing debut was the blockbuster “Divergent” trilogy, a YA dystopian series about a teenage girl singled out to save her world. It is therefore fascinating to see Roth write from the perspective of Sloane, an adult woman looking back on her adolescent adventures. My heart beats for messy, flawed female characters who are unrepentant in pursuit of their goals, and Sloane is a compelling antiheroine — furious, jaded, and deeply scarred by the events she experienced as a girl. Her distinctive voice propels “Chosen One’s” twisty, non-linear narrative, and injects mordant humor into an oftentimes heavy story.
There is a seething undercurrent of feminist rage present throughout “Chosen Ones.” Roth’s depiction of how Sloane is portrayed in media coverage and perceived by the public provides an incisive metacommentary on the “unlikable female character” in both pop culture and real life. As a conventionally beautiful woman, Sloane is constantly objectified and her behavior is constantly scrutinized. She is expected to make herself emotionally and romantically available to men and is socially punished for her refusal to do so, subsequently labeled “cold” and “bitchy”. A reporter profiling Sloane writes “I don’t like Sloane Andrews. But I might want to sleep with her,” a line that perfectly encapsulates our collective cultural reaction to a certain type of woman.
It is possible to see parallels between the experience of the five chosen ones and America’s treatment of military veterans, who are at once lauded as heroes by the public and denied the opportunity to honestly discuss the trauma they endured, or the violent acts they committed. In an interview with Time Magazine, Roth said that one of “Chosen Ones’” central issues is how its characters cope with “not just taking down a dark lord and being the triumphant hero of the day, but also, killing someone and being famous for it. That’s a complicated thing.”
Although “Chosen Ones” is filled with metacommentary, it is nonetheless an epic, enjoyable fantasy adventure story in its own right that should still be compelling for those who are not familiar with genre conventions or Roth’s other novels. Through a combination of news articles, government documents, journal entries, essays, poems, and Sloane’s own third person narrations, Roth constructs an elaborate fantasy world with a unique magic system. Although the chosen ones’ world is often dark and dreary, Roth never loses sight of the element of wish-fulfillment and imaginativeness which is key to fantasy stories. Magic is described by characters as “the desire for impossible things,” and this desire is manifested by different characters in a variety of ways — some creative, some awe-inspiring, some horrific.
At its core, “Chosen Ones” is the story of a woman coming into her power, learning to embrace her desires, reject the limits placed upon her by her society, and change the world, all while healing herself in the process. It is by turns fun and furious, heart-breaking and hopeful, and consistently unputdownable.