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To be blunt, while I enjoyed the story, Wither was a book that I had a hard time connecting with. I loved the premise, a dystopian world in which due to genetic manipulation gone wrong, the younger generations are dying out, with women not living past twenty while the men don't make it past twenty-five. However I struggled to relate to the main character and failed to understand her way of thinking.
The story begins with the kidnapping of 16 year old Rhine Ellery. Sold as a Bride to rich heir, Linden Ashby, Rhine finds herself a captured bird in a golden cage. But she isn't alone. Alongside two 'sister' wives, Rhine is held a prisoner and although her every need and whim is attended too, she is denied the one thing she truly wants. Freedom.
Despite the competition, Rhine quickly raises herself to number 1 wife. Baring an uncanny resemblance to Lindens first love, she quickly captures his heart and sets about plotting her escape. Because no matter how opulent her prison, a cage is still a cage and Rhine is determined to escape, no matter the costs...
As I said, I loved the premise of this book. I think Lauren DeStefano did a great job in presenting a bleak, broken world that had cloaked itself in a veil of thin hope and fake happiness. Her descriptions are amazing and reveal the impact that such a low mortality rate would have on the world. For instance, Women are expected to bear as many children as possible, there are lots of homeless orphans and everyone's Morales seem to have lowered. The effects of genetic manipulations also raised many religious and moral implications, that in turn led to war and rebel out breaks.
The effect these things have had on the characters and their lives is clear to see. Particularly the secondary characters as among them there is no sense of a childhood, and I truly felt for all of them, as each came with a back story and history that had my heart breaking.
However some of the main characters disappointed me. Gabriel for instance is supposedly Rhine's love interest but I felt we hardly saw him, and I certainly didn't know him. For me he was a very non-descript person and I hope in the next book we get to know his personality better.
As for Rhine, she is an interesting protagonist who has suffered more than her fair share of tragedy. However I think she makes some bad decisions and at times I found her too compliant, while in other situations I thought she was fighting for the wrong things.
Otherwise my only other nitpick with this book was its ending. The last few chapters Lauren DeStefano built so much tension and expectation that I felt pretty deflated at the end when nothing happened to Rhine. Yet having said that I'm still interested to see what will happen in the next book.
Also despite the story's dark elements, I think the author keeps a good balance between repulsive and fascinating. Yet for that reason I would recommend this book to the older end of the YA market. However it is a great read for any fans of Dystopian. Sinister, gripping and rich in both plot and intrigue, Wither was an overall good read. 3 stars!
About the book
Wither is the first book in The Chemical Garden Trilogy by Lauren DeStefano. It was published by Harper Voyager on 16th February and the book is 358 pages long.
What if you knew you exactly when you would die?
In our brave new future, DNA engineering has resulted in a terrible genetic flaw. Women die at the age of 20, men at 25. Young girls are being abducted and forced to breed in a desperate attempt to keep humanity ahead of the disease that threatens to eradicate it.
16-year-old Rhine Ellery is kidnapped and sold as a bride to Linden, a rich young man with a dying wife. Even though he is kind to her, Rhine is desper-ate to escape her gilded cage - and Linden's cruel father. With the help of Gabriel, a servant she is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in what little time she has left.
What I thought
I have to admit straight off that I pretty much only wanted this book because of the insanely gorgeous cover. I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover but with one like this, how could you not want it immediately, even without knowing what it is about. Still, I did read the synopsis on the back and it
(thankfully) sounded like something I would love anyway.
Wither starts off extremely strong with protagonist Rhine being taken away by men in grey coats. Taken to an unknown place, Rhine is locked up with many other girls in a dark, damp place awaiting her fate. That fate is being sold off into a polygamous marriage to Linden, a wealthy but broken man. The opening of this book is quite shocking because of how Rhine is taken away, where she is taken and then what she is forced to do. Although she doesn't want to die, she also doesn't want to be forced to marry someone she doesn't know and think that she will be turned into a baby making machine.
Rhine is a strong character and while she does go along with this horrible future picked for her, she really doesn't have much other choice. She has already been kidnapped and taken away from her brother so what else can she do. While living at the mansion where Linden lives, Rhine reverts into her a shell a little bit. She doesn't want to give too much away about herself, she doesn't want to know Linden and she sure as hell doesn't want to be a proper wife to him. At the same time as showing strength and bravery, Rhine is also able to show compassion and friendship to Linden's first wife, Rose.
When Rhine is forced to live at the mansion, she knows she is not the only wife bought for Linden. Along with Rhine, two others, Jenna and Cecily are also made to be wives, making all three of them sisters. Next to Rhine, Jenna and Cecily are completely different girls. Jenna is 19, Cecily is only 13 and they were all picked for Linden for completely different reasons. Although Rhine is obviously the main character of this books, the two other girls feature a lot due to them being in quite a confined space for most of the time. The way that these three girls are forced together made their interaction and friendship really interesting because at times, it was unsure what one felt towards the other while at other times, this was so clear.
For many YA books, romance is the main point. Not in this book, even though the synopsis makes it sound as though it will be. Although Linden is technically Rhine's husband, she doesn't want him to be so this is not a story of instant love or romance. Linden is not the hero of the book and at times I really didn't even like him very much. That being said though, he was a great and well written character with a lot of depth. I loved getting to know Linden more over the course of the story and having my opinion changed about him many times.
The real hero is Gabriel, a servant. Rhine and Gabriel become friends quite quickly because of her not wanting to be a 'real' wife to Linden. The two characters have a lot in common because of how they came to be in the mansion and their experiences as they grew up. Gabriel was wonderful but I wish he had been in the story a lot more. The main plotline of Rhine wanting to escape and the time spent with her sisters takes up a lot of page space and this doesn't leave too much room for Rhine and Gabriel. I would have liked to have seen their friendship develop
Wither's villain was truly scary. Housemaster Vaughn is Linden's father but also a scientist/ doctor trying to find a cure for the deadly virus that is killing off the newer generation. Instead of going about this in a normal, civilised way, Housemaster Vaughn seems to have no morals at all. He isn't against killing or dissecting etc. to find his cure and it really seems as though he will go to any length to reach his end goal. Due to this, he comes across as creepy and devious throughout the whole book. I never really trusted him from the beginning but DeStefano makes you question what he is actually doing, putting doubts in your head.
As you can see from Housemaster Vaughn's antics, this book isn't light reading at some point. In fact, many of the themes and issues addressed are dark but real at the same time. Not only is the cure for the virus a big issue but also is child trafficking, prostitution, teen pregnancy - and that is only a few things. While these topics should bring the tone of the book to being something depressing and hard to read, it doesn't. Each aspect only adds intensity to the story and each is written so well that it makes the story better. These things made me open my eyes a little bit to the way that the world works, the one we are in now and also got me thinking about what the world could be like one day.
The majority of this book is either set in the mansion, over the space of one floor or the grounds surrounding it. I thought that because of this, the pacing would be extremely slow but it wasn't. A lot happens during Rhine's time here with all of the characters involved and there was always something going on, whether it be exciting or interesting. As this is the first book in the trilogy, it explains a lot about the world in which it is set and the things that have happened previously and what is happening now. The whole main idea for this book was great and something I have never seen done before, not even anything close to this.
Something that I really liked about this book was the ending. While it does leave the story on somewhat of a cliff-hanger due to this being a trilogy, it is also concluded quite well. Although there are obvious questions left in the air, it would be possible to finish this book and be satisfied that the end really is the end, if you didn't want to carry on with the series. There aren't many series/ trilogies that can pull this off but DeStefano does extremely well. Now, I am not saying don't carry on with this one, because I will be for sure!
I'm desperate to get my hands on the second book, Fever, now.
What if you knew exactly when you would die?
Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb -- males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.
When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden's genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape -- to find her twin brother and go home.
But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden's eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limited time she has left.
This is the way the world ends not with a bang but a whimper
Wither is the first book in The Chemical Garden Trilogy by Lauren DeStefano and really this book has received a huge amount of attention and hype, for both the story and the beautiful cover art. However, for me Wither was a bit of an anti-climax, I was expecting greatness and what I read left me feeling slightly confused and really wandering why all the fuss had been made. One thing that I will happily admit that Wither really has going for it, is cover appeal - the cover is gorgeous and really stands out from what is on the YA shelves at the moment. However, that is simply not enough for me.
One of the things that really threw me in this book was that the science that Lauren DeStefano spouts is just plain wrong and unbelievable. Please before you shout at me - 'it's just fiction', I know that. But if she has created a world that has been destroyed by science I expect something plausible, even if it is only loosely plausible with many 'ifs' and 'maybes' thrown in. It is impossible for the polar ice-caps to melt and leave America safe while wiping out the rest of the world - impossible! America would be as devastated as the rest of the world and especially the coastal areas where the story was set would be well under water, in a very similar situation to France, which in Wither's world lies under the ocean. It also ever so slightly annoys me that America is the only place to survive.
I also have issues with the age ranges - Why 20 for women and 25 for males and why so precise? It would have been more realistic if she had chosen a rough time - early 20s. However, I am willing to forgive this because of the people that do die in the book one was well before 20 and the other was several months after, but none of this is really explained and a lot of things are just skipped over.
Where is the law? In Wither we are either introduced to the poverty stricken children that no-one seems to care about or the fabulously opulent wealthy who can basically do what they want. Such as kidnap, rape, torture and sell women into prostitution. Linden is an architect and he builds homes that seemed quite middle class in nature, so there must be more to Wither's society than simply uber wealthy or extremely poor and there were whole cities filled with party goers and limo drivers, etc, etc. Therefore, why doesn't all it take is one 'bride' - torture captured victim to tell someone, who then calls the police and rescues them? There didn't really seem any explanation?
I think that most of my negative points are all related to the same thing, while Wither may actually be an interesting story I hated the world building. The world that Wither is set in really in my opinion hasn't been done successfully and I found the inconsistencies, errors and things that just didn't quite make sense keep me from enjoying what was great writing and some interesting characters.
I really wanted to like this book, and I just didn't. However, I might still pick up the next one in the series - FEVER, just out of curiosity about where the story is going to go and see if some of the faults with Wither have been ironed out. Although this review has been mostly negatives, I do want to point out that Lauren DeStefano is a beautiful writer and she has some interesting ideas.
I would certainly hesitate to recommend Wither but that doesn't mean that it won't be for you. Having read some other reviews, I do believe that I am in the minority for not liking it. I have certainly read far more positive reviews than I have negative, maybe this is simply another 'marmite' book - you either love it or hate it.
Wither has been classified as a YA novel, but personally I think it might be more of an adult novel, or certainly one for older teens, as it does deal with some adult themes.
Overall - In my opinion not the best book I've read.
Genre -YA?, Dystopian
Published by HarperVoage (Hardback Aug 2011 - Paperback Jan 2011)
Wither - 358 pages (£9.99 - £7.99)
I received a copy of Wither by Lauren DeStefano in exchange for an honest review.