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. But Rhine quickly learns that not everything in her new husband’s strange world is what it seems.
Will Rhine be able to escape–before her time runs out?
Review: Conflicted. That’s my main reaction to Wither, the first book in The Chemical Garden series by Lauren DeStefano. This is mostly good, so I’ll rip off the bandage and get the “bad” part out of the way so I can talk about all the things that worked.
Okay, what didn’t work: the pacing. Because this is the first book in a series, there’s quite a bit of set-up. There’s our main character’s family, their demise, her kidnapping and transformation into a reluctant (that’s an understatement) teenage bride. There are the scientific explanations for what’s going on and the social ramifications (world-building). Add to that the personalities and complexities of the supporting characters, and you’ve got a lot to wade through before you get to the meat of the story.
Now, here’s what did work: the author totally creeped me out. DeStefano builds a world where people resort to barbaric tactics to ensure the survival of the species — Darwin to the extreme. Some of the scenarios made this reader physically shudder. This is a good thing, because it indicates DeStefano’s talent for using words to create such strong feelings and reactions in readers.
One of the premises in particular, and characters’ attitudes toward the premise, is hair-raising, skin-crawling, beat-someone-with-a-stick wrong. (Linden and Cecily, I am so looking at you, you sick puppies.) This forces the reader to re-think attitudes and thank their lucky stars that this hasn’t come to pass. At least, not overtly. Wither has an underlying message that can’t be ignored, and that’s the hallmark of great dystopian fiction.
The book ends on a great set-up for the next installment, and I can’t wait to see where it leads. Since the set-up is complete, it leaves the series open to action, action, action!