October 21, 2013 at 04:00 AM EDT

Veronica Roth is no George R.R. Martin — but in the final installment of her Divergent trilogy, she shows a similar merciless streak. Barely six chapters in, Roth brutally offs a character who’s been around since the first book. The message: In this dystopian universe, nobody is safe.

Of course, Roth is merely following in the footsteps of giants like J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins, both of whom wrapped their own sagas after racking up the body counts. Their influence can be felt throughout Allegiant, as can that of The Truman Show, M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, and every superhero story centered on a Christ figure. (So, every superhero story.) And the plot, which finds Roth’s characters venturing beyond their city’s walls only to discover a new network of conspiracies, is straight out of the sci-fi handbook, clumsy racism allegory and all.

None of this will matter to Roth’s fans, who thrill to the heart-pounding immediacy of her writing and swoon over Tobias, the damaged dreamboat who co-narrates Allegiant with his true love, Tris. If you’ve already been sucked into Roth’s world, you’ll appreciate the book’s twisty plot — which provides needed context for the series’ prefabricated society — and its chastely torrid Tris/Tobias love scenes (”I am like the blade, and he is like the whetstone”). Others may not get what the fuss is about until they reach the novel’s shocking ending. Perhaps Roth is more dauntless than her role models after all. B+

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