Author: Lauren DeStefano
Series: The Chemical Garden #1
Book Depository | Goodreads
By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. She can thank
modern science for this genetic time bomb. A botched effort to create a
perfect race has left all males with a lifespan of 25 years, and females
with a lifespan of 20 years. Geneticists are seeking a miracle antidote
to restore the human race, desperate orphans crowd the population,
crime and poverty have skyrocketed, and young girls are being kidnapped
and sold as polygamous brides to bear more children.
When Rhine is
kidnapped and sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape. Her
husband, Linden, is hopelessly in love with her, and Rhine can’t bring
herself to hate him as much as she’d like to. He opens her to a magical
world of wealth and illusion she never thought existed, and it almost
makes it possible to ignore the clock ticking away her short life. But
Rhine quickly learns that not everything in her new husband’s strange
world is what it seems. Her father-in-law, an eccentric doctor bent on
finding the antidote, is hoarding corpses in the basement. Her fellow
sister wives are to be trusted one day and feared the next, and Rhine is
desperate to communicate to her twin brother that she is safe and
alive. Will Rhine be able to escape--before her time runs out?
I'm not sure what it is about the YA dystopian trend right now, but I love reading all the novels I can find, no matter the content. Good or bad, I try to get my hands on them. The great ones (such as The Hunger Games, which is what everyone is aiming for right) know how to create a terrifying, if believable, future, and how to make us connect to the characters as they navigate their worlds. The bad ones focus on boring romances and love triangles and shoehorn the plot in. Then there are the novels like Wither, which fall somewhere in between.
I will forgive a novel or TV show a lot if the world building is fantastic. There's nothing I love more than a new world to explore. I love reading how things got the way they did, I love experiencing new societies. I love maps. Holy crap, do I love maps. But I digress. I'll also forgive a novel a lot if the characterization is great, or I'm drawn into a world despite it all.
Wither's world building falls apart if you think about it too hard. This great review on Goodreads highlights everything I found wrong with it -- from the gene therapy to the class discrepancies, the details don't make sense when you add them up, and if it weren't for the writing and character work, I would have abandoned this after a hundred pages in.
Thankfully, Lauren DeStefano's writing cloaks you in our heroine Rhine's world the way the rest of the world is cloaked from those living in the house of her new polyamorous husband. Seeing everything through her captive eyes and her heart makes the book bearable, even makes it good, because DeStefano has a beautiful way with words. Rhine is fully believable, from her unwillingness to fall for her new life to the occasional bouts of sympathy she may have for Linden, her husband. Her longing for the twin brother she misses and her new attachments to her sister-wives -- the quiet, older Jenna and the eager Cecily -- are written well. And, for once, I didn't mind the inevitable love triangle. It's treated as more like a building friendship, which makes me roll about in glee. So many dystopian romances are built on the boy simply being wrong for the girl, and while Gabriel, one of the house servants, is taboo for Rhine, he's a friend first.
Wither is a breath of fresh air in a crowded genre, and I'm looking forward to the second book.