When Veronica Roth’s Divergent came out at the height of the Hunger Games–inspired mania for dystopian YA, what made it stand out from the crowd, we think, was its unrelenting action. Tris, Four, and their friends are constantly on the run or in danger, and while there’s political intrigue and romance in the mix, the books often have the addictive pull of a video game, as the characters make their way through a deconstructed Chicago. While you look forward to the release of the movie on March 21, check out three other trilogies that will get your heart pumping while you ponder how our future could go terribly wrong.
Under the Never Sky, By Veronica Rossi
In this trilogy’s version of the future, environmental catastrophe has caused the earth to be ravaged by violent lightning storms. Much of society has moved to indoor pods, where virtual reality Realms keep the people happy. Those on the outside forge primitive existences, but they’re helped by accelerated evolution—some have developed advanced senses of smell, sight, and hearing. Aria finds herself exiled from the pods after a wild prank turns deadly, and where she expected to find savages, she finds an ally in Perry, an Outsider with the gift of powerful sight and smell. What makes this exciting? Aria lives under constant threat from nature (those lightning storms are scary), other Outsiders, and the pods’ autocratic government, and as the story is told by both her and Perry, we see the heroism develop in each character out of their will to survive. Their inevitable (and pretty steamy, by YA standards) romance is an integral part of the story, not a distraction from it.
Legend, By Marie Lu
There’s good reason the action in this trilogy reads like a video game: Lu used to be an art director for games. The novels follow two 15-year-old geniuses: June, the star pupil of the Republic’s military academy, and Day, the country’s most-wanted criminal, renowned for public, Robin Hood–style pranks. Believing him to be responsible for her brother’s murder, June befriends Day undercover, then discovers the truth about how the Republic poisons its citizens and controls its population. Between her military brain and his criminal scheming, they make a hell of a team, that can somehow elude gravity and men with really big guns and bigger vendettas.
Partials, by Dan Wells
Though it’s packed with explosions, chases, and murderous cyborgs, this is the wordiest of the trilogies we’re recommending here. Eleven years after the Partials—synthetically engineered but completely organic soldiers—rebelled against their human creators and wiped out two-thirds of the population with a deadly virus, a small community in Long Island is struggling to keep the human race alive. Medical intern Kira is tired of seeing babies born only to die days later of the virus, and she thinks she has an idea of how to cure it. And yeah, there’s a lot of talk about biomedical research and immunity and other scientific jargon, but in between all that Kira gets out of the lab and into a postapocalyptic New York where, no joke, the panthers and the antelope roam (along with those deadly cyborgs and explosives).
What’s your favorite dystopian book?