A couple of years ago I dubiously picked up the first book in Kristen Simmons’ Article 5 series. I was feeling a little skeptical thanks to a mild case of dystopian fatigue, but I was quickly won over and have become a big fan and advocate for this series. The third and final book in the series, Three, offered up the same excitement, engaging characters, and thoughtful world-building that I enjoyed so much in the previous books. For my money, the Article 5 series is one of the most solid, consistent, and overall fulfilling dystopian series in recent memory.
If you’re not familiar with the series, I’ll give a reasonably non-spoilery recap: The main character, Ember, lives in a not-so-distant dystopian future where the US government has evolved to rule by morale codes – the “articles” – that keep citizens repressed and afraid. Ember’s mother is arrested and killed for an Article 5 violation (having a child out of wedlock), and Ember is sent to a rather terrifying “rehabilitation” center. When Ember escapes and reunites with her childhood crush, Chase (a treasonous former officer of the so-called “moral militia,” the enforcers of the government statutes), the two become targets. The books follow their attempt to stay alive and, eventually, aid the resistance in fighting against the corrupt government.
What I love about this series is that even though there is a grander issue at play, there is not this feeling of “How on earth are they going to do anything to fix this?” So often when I read a dystopian series, things are so messed up, you can’t imagine the author ever effectively offering any kind of real satisfaction at the end. There’s just too much to deal with. But throughout the Article 5 series, Simmons manages to tackle the big issue – the corrupt government – through a series of smaller stories. Ember’s survival story is always central, but you also understand how that plays into the big picture. There was a sense of hope and resolution that is often lacking in these types of series.
There are some other attributes I loved about the first two books that were carried into Three, including the page-turning plot. And again, Simmons strikes a delicate balance here. There’s almost constantly some sense of danger or suspense, but it never becomes overbearing to the point where I felt burdened by reading it. I also really appreciated how the core characters in the story – Ember, Chase, Sean, Rebecca, and a few others – are believably flawed, but also have so much integrity. These characters struggle with what’s going on around them and some of the things they need to do to survive, but they stay true to who they are.
I loved how Simmons captured the ambiguity of her characters. Sometimes they had to make difficult choices, and they struggled with that. No one was inherently good or bad; it was always a gray area – which I found to be much more realistic than a story with a clear hero, martyr, or evil dictator. I did occasionally feel like this concept was also being used to manipulate the story a bit – there were a lot minor plot twists or revelations that were tied to this idea of someone being good or bad, or more good or more bad than you thought. I did occasionally feel like Simmons was attempting to add intrigue to the plot this way, by manipulating readers into the plot twists, rather than creating them on her own. But since these were less significant twists overall, it was more of a minor annoyance than any kind of real detriment.
It’s also nice to read a series of this kind without any sort of love triangle. I think it’s probably challenging for an author to stretch a reader’s interest in the core relationship over three books, but Simmons does a nice job of keeping things interesting without introducing a second love interest for Ember. Instead, she explores the challenges of Ember and Chase putting their relationship on the backburner to focus on more immediate issues, as well as the complexities of trying to get to know someone again after having been close to them in the past, in a different state of mind. There’s enough to this part of the story to keep it relevant and fresh.
Finishing a series is no small task, and many authors have gotten less-than-stellar reception for their series finales. It’s hard to meet the standards of fans who have really invested themselves in the outcome of the story, and it seems like more often than not the last book is a bit of a letdown, if only because it means an end to a beloved series. But in the case of Three, the ending really felt right. There was a nice balance of resolution and ambiguity. It was a satisfying ending without wrapping things up too neatly. I really enjoyed the time I spent with the Article 5 series, and ultimately Three gives it a proper send-off. I really encourage fans of YA dystopia to check this series out if you haven’t already. It may not have the hype of other similar series, but it’s an incredibly satisfying read.