Veronica Roth Names Her Favorite 'Chosen One' Narratives

Posted by Sharon on April 1, 2020
Veronica Roth's newest book, Chosen Ones, arrives in U.S. stores on April 7. Known for the Divergent trilogy and the Carve the Mark duology, the author has previously written plots centering on teens who shoulder the responsibility of a special history-making destiny. With Chosen Ones, Roth now examines the dark side of that trope, blending sci-fi and urban fantasy in a decidedly adult examination of trauma and loss. Chosen Ones picks up where most other stories end, with a group of 20-something former heroes dealing with unwanted fame, unresolved grief, and learning that they need to save the world. Again. 

In honor of her new book, we asked Roth to recommend a list of her own favorite "Chosen One" narratives, ranging from classic "gifted teenager saves the world" tales to stories that subvert the trope. Be sure to add the books that pique your interest to your Want to Read shelf.

Chosen One stories are a staple of science fiction and fantasy. They feature characters who are special, set apart for a great and terrible purpose that usually involves saving the world. Sometimes there’s a prophecy, sometimes our hero is just uniquely gifted, and sometimes it’s both. There may be just one Chosen One, and there may be many. Often this trope is played straight, and we follow our hero down a familiar and comforting path. But occasionally it’s turned on its head instead.

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I love them all. I love the tension a character feels between desperately wanting to be special and wishing they weren’t. I love the moment the hero chooses to walk the path in front of them, even if they know it’s destined for them anyway. I love their loneliness, their talent, and their courage.

I even wrote about one. In my first book, Divergent, my main character Tris is set apart for being “Divergent”—just what that means, she discovers over the course of the trilogy. Like a classic Chosen One, Tris meets her destiny head-on. But after her story concluded, I found myself wondering about what kind of cost that specialness would have, for someone so young, after their mission is complete.

In my new book, Chosen Ones, I dove into that idea headfirst. Chosen Ones is the story of a group of people who saved the world when they were younger from a being of great evil called, simply, the Dark One. Now, ten years later, they’re the most famous people who have ever existed. Some of them have embraced the fame, using their power for good (or to start a lifestyle brand)…but my main character, Sloane, has not. She’s still dealing with the psychological aftermath of her great triumph. But her story isn’t over. Evil doesn’t stay dead, and victory isn’t permanent.

My life has been full of Chosen One stories, and I want to share a collection of them with you. Each one has fascinated and delighted me, as a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy—and of this trope in particular.

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One of the most significant Chosen One stories of my life, this book is about Paul Atreides, son of a duke, who moves to a desert planet…and then galaxy politics erupt into chaos. Along the way, Paul’s special gifts and instincts lead him to a particular destiny. There’s too much going on here to stuff into a summary, but if you enjoy science fiction and want to read its foundational texts, this is one of them.

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The Animorphs series was my earliest education in Chosen Ones and science fiction. A group of preteens is given special powers by an alien to save humankind from an invasive, mind-controlling species known as Yeerks. It’s a long series, darker and more haunting than you’d expect, and contains my very first literary crush (Tobias, who spends most of it as a hawk—don’t look at me like that, he’s the best).

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In a colorless, controlled dystopian society, Jonas goes to the Ceremony of Twelve to be assigned his vocation…but it doesn’t go according to plan. Set apart for a special purpose, Jonas discovers more about his world than most people in his society ever will. And the revelations don’t go down easy. If this reminds you of more recent dystopian YA novels, that’s only because this one was so important to so many of us. And worth revisiting.

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Binti is the first among her people to attend Oomza Uni, a prestigious school far away from her home, and the journey is more costly than she imagined. But Binti survives it because of the very things that set her apart. And that’s just the start—this is the first in a trilogy of novellas, each giving more depth to this futuristic setting.

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The premise is familiar: A character is plucked from normalcy because of a talent she didn’t know she had and is sent to a special magic school. But “magic” here is dark, costly, and transcendent—and nothing else about this book is like anything you’ve ever read before.

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Sometimes Chosen Ones are embraced because of their special skills, and sometimes they’re feared. In The Bone Witch, there’s a little of both: Tea has the rare ability to raise people from the dead, which is understandably unsettling to the people in her world. But while she spends most of this story learning to hone her skill, the story is framed by interludes with a future Tea, darker and more powerful, that hint at a fascinating journey to come.

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This book was my first encounter with anything “meta.” Every year the fantasy world of Derkholm serves as a playground for people from another dimension—a fake Dark Lord, a fake quest, the whole fake rigmarole. But the costs, to the people who live in that world, are real, and they can’t take it anymore. This is the year the system breaks down.

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The first installment of the Wayward Children series of novellas introduces a school for children who have all been to other worlds—think Alice in Wonderland—and come back to their original dimension with Issues (understandably). It is charming in the extreme.

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A playful Chosen One subversion, in that our two prophesied heroes—one a witch, and the other a scientist—are destined to be more world destroyers than world savers, on opposite sides of a war. But fate—or serendipity?—keeps bringing them together.

What are your favorite Chosen One stories? Let's talk books in the comments!

Check out more recent articles:
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Comments Showing 1-33 of 33 (33 new)

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message 1: by PsycheMe (new)

PsycheMe these are all such interesting books! I can't say I've read any of these, but I definitely plan on to! I love trope subversions.

message 2: by Raymond (new)

Raymond Thompson I loved heroic legends as a child, and later, when I became an academic, studied the Arthurian legend. Leaving aside medieval romances (my favourite is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight), my favourite modern novels are Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff, Arthur Rex by Thomas Berger, and Firelord by Parke Godwin.
Like so many authors, Tolkien borrows from it too, and I have vivid memories of reading Lord of the Rings on a long train ride across the Canadian Prairies.
Uplifting tales, and badly needed when the darkness threatens . . . (Should I mention The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper?) Better stop. The list threatens to grow.

message 3: by Diane (new)

Diane Baker The ultimate "Chosen:" Jesus. There is a TV series by this name, with high production values, unknown actors, and a terrific fresh look at the familiar story. I saw the first ep, and want more! VidangelStudios. com. Check it out!

message 4: by Lady Danita (new)

Lady Danita Very Definitely - The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper.

message 5: by S (new)

S The only chosen one in my heart is definitely the good 'ol Harry Potter. And probably Frodo Baggins.

message 6: by Nuno (new)

Nuno R. Great recommendations. Binti is the only I've read (and loved). My favorite chosen one subversion is actually from film: The Matrix. You do have to watch all three movies, thatś how the big picture is revealed. And it's a stroke of narrative genious.

message 7: by Adger (new)

Adger Williams Frodo Baggins is, I think, the great example, because he's not special. He could be any of us, called to do something difficult in a dreadful time (and fail heroically, like Sir Gawain.). For another "Chosen One", I have to add Bujold's Cazaril (in Curse of Chalion), who's choosing is long, contingent, and wonderfully complex. Megan Whalen Turner's Thief and Jasper FForde's Jennifer Strange (in the Last Dragonslayer) add some variety to this particular meme. Enjoy them, if you haven't already.

message 8: by Adger (new)

Adger Williams Raymond wrote: "I loved heroic legends as a child, and later, when I became an academic, studied the Arthurian legend. Leaving aside medieval romances (my favourite is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight), my favourit..."
Sword at Sunset was a delight!

message 9: by Charlotte (new)

Charlotte Oh, this reminds me of The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness where all the main characters are the normal side characters and The Chosen Ones are the background characters.

message 10: by Crysania (new)

Crysania Dangoor Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger!

message 11: by Nuno (new)

Nuno R. Adger wrote: "Frodo Baggins is, I think, the great example, because he's not special. He could be any of us, called to do something difficult in a dreadful time (and fail heroically, like Sir Gawain.). For anoth..."

That's a great example :)

message 12: by Megan (new)

Megan Pawlak Red Shirts by John Dcalzi where the Chosen Ones are the nobodies on the Star-Trek-like ship. Hunters Unlucky by Abigail Hilton where the Chosen One is the ultimate runt of his species who ends up turning the world upside down and backwards for everyone.

message 13: by Patty (new)

Patty Frodo Baggins of The Lord of the Rings would be my chosen one story, with Harry Potter being a close second. Both start down their chosen one paths unknowingly, and when they find out the magnitude of their respective tasks, both accept it and continue on.

message 14: by Terri (last edited Apr 14, 2020 05:47PM) (new)

Terri Another good trilogy is Memory, Sorrow and Thorn (Book one is The Dragonbone Chair) by Tad Williams

message 15: by Shannon (new)

Shannon Bonnes I will definitely check some of these out but please be aware the the first book Dune is also somewhat of a subversion once you read the sequel. I will not spoil it for you, but definitely read the next 2 books at least.

message 16: by Sara (new)

Sara Carlstead  Brumfield Ender's Game is definitely a classic about a "Chosen One."

message 17: by Marlene Young (new)

Marlene Young Diane wrote: "The ultimate "Chosen:" Jesus. There is a TV series by this name, with high production values, unknown actors, and a terrific fresh look at the familiar story. I saw the first ep, and want more! Vid..."

I agree. It was great!!

message 18: by Cybercrone (new)

Cybercrone Have just read 2 of a trilogy that starts with Year One. I've really enjoyed it so far.

message 19: by Louise (new)

Louise I'd actually read most of the books recommended on here and I like the sound of the concept so will give Chosen Ones a try. It reminds me a bit of The Rest of Us Just Live Here which looked at the side affects of epic quests on those around them rather than the usual "main characters" themselves.

message 20: by Hazel Bee (last edited Apr 29, 2020 06:43AM) (new)

Hazel Bee I've read Binti and Vita Nostra

message 21: by Lucas (new)

Lucas T. Harmond Anyone here ever read Radix?

message 22: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Burns The Wheel of Time has a few Chosen One characters and a few characters that rise up to take a destiny that may not necessarily have been expected.
I'm also a huge fan of the Darker Shades of Magic series, with a girl who would have lived a somewhat "normal" life, had she not traveled to a different London and found she belonged there.

Carissa (Regency Woman) The Lord of the Rings, as always. And Narnia.

message 24: by TMR (new)

TMR I so want to try these.

message 25: by Suzanne (new)

Suzanne Raymond wrote: "I loved heroic legends as a child, and later, when I became an academic, studied the Arthurian legend. Leaving aside medieval romances (my favourite is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight), my favourit..."

I LOVE Sir Gawain :-) Now that I no longer have a mandatory list for ME lit classes I plan to read more medieval romances and such. Care to give me a couple tips to get me started? Always nice to hear from a fellow buff! :)

message 26: by Laura (new)

Laura Yael, Revka, Shirah, and Aziza - The Dovekeepers

message 27: by Pristine (new)

Pristine Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger all the wayyy!!!!

message 28: by Aurora (new)

Aurora I used to love fantasy as a teen ( still remember Dragonlance fondly...) but i dont care much for chosen characters. For me personally, boring and predictable.

message 29: by Eniola (new)

Eniola Fase I would really love to try these

message 30: by Riya (new)

Riya Barnett I’d have to say Cinder from the lunar chronicles who has to shoulder a whole lot of responsibilities in a short period of time. She used to have a normal life and then boom she doesn’t. I also like Harry Potter and the plot that it has.

message 31: by Mikorin (new)

Mikorin love these new narratives on chosen one stories. looking into what happens after the fight is won, and life settles around our heroes is a great concept - the same concept intruged me about wayward son. there, sadly the sequels ending does not give us the same satisfactions as book one did, the story feels unfinished and wihout any resolution. im interested to see how this one compares.

message 32: by Mary (new)

Mary Lady Danita wrote: "Very Definitely - The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper."

Hear hear!

message 33: by Oliver (new)

Oliver It's been my favorite story for years

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