In this final volume of the Uglies trilogy, Tally has been transformed into an elite, ultra-powerful Special. She is now one of the class of secret police who run the city behind the scenes, keeping the uglies and pretties in line and clueless. Life is thrilling like it never was before, and she’s satisfied…mostly. But she misses her former boyfriend, Zane. So she hatches a plot to get Zane inducted into the Specials ranks too — and then she discovers that the freedom-loving rebels have started their own new city, and life starts to get way more complicated.
The brilliance of this series is, I think, two-fold. First, Westerfield depicts his futuristic society from the inside out. We get to see this world of uglies, pretties, and Specials from the perspective of each group as Tally joins and then departs their ranks. We see what they are like from the inside. This piece of excellent worldbuilding is compounded by the fact that the mentally-altered groups, pretties and Specials, are both characterized by basic human desires which are familiar to every reader — self-centeredness combined with the desire for responsibility-free pleasure, and disdainful arrogance combined with the desire for controlling power. Though both are portrayed as misguided in the end, Westerfield allows us to see, through Tally’s eyes, the allure of each, and the difficulty in breaking free of the resultant mindsets.
Over the course of this book, we see Tally learning to face up to the consequences of her own often-selfish actions and thereby gaining in maturity. She even comes to realize that her obsession with Zane is mostly selfish (though she does genuinely care about him on some level), which I thought was pretty good for a teen novel with romance elements. (Note: some spoilers ahead. I can’t help it.) However, I was not nearly as impressed by the book’s “solution” to the problem set up in the first two books, that is: giving freedom to human beings will always result in their abusing it by doing things hurtful to themselves, others, and their environment; however, oppressive government designed to restrain people from such actions is dehumanizing, removing their ability to choose and their responsibility for their actions. So which is better? There is, of course, no real answer to this quandary without a Christian understanding of flawed human nature. Westerfield, however, avoids any spiritual explanation of this dilemma; and the solution that he does offer (in the last two pages of the book, alas) is no solution at all. Though he comes down solidly on the side of freedom as opposed to tyrannical mind-rule, he posits a pointedly humanist solution to the issue which, in the end, appears not greatly different from that offered by his book’s villains. Throughout the books Tally has demonstrated an ability to resist the brain surgery designed to make her first a Pretty, then a Special. In the end, then, she ‘fixes’ her own brain, then takes on a vigilante sort of role in order to prevent abuse of the citizens’ new-found freedom, essentially becoming her own savior and the self-appointed protector of the rest of the world. Though Tally did mature somewhat over the course of the series, I was not at all confident in her ability to avoid abusing this self-allotted responsibility. It’s too easy to imagine her becoming just like the tyranny she helped to overthrow (she’s sixteen, for crying out loud! And human!). I suppose I shouldn’t have expected words of wisdom from the author on this complex philosophical topic, but the ending felt both morally flawed and artistically simplistic — unless he actually meant it to be ambiguous, which I doubt.