Series: Matched #3
Now members of the Rising, Cassia, Ky, and Xander wait for the final push against the Society to begin. They do not know when or how it will occur, but their trust in the Pilot keeps them blindly following orders. Then Plague strikes and even the Rising does not have the capability to combat it. Love has carried the three this far, but can it triumph over death?
The Matched trilogy previously left me feeling conflicted. Although its identity as a dystopian series implies a desire to comment on government, authority and choice, its focus always remained on the love life of Cassia Reyes. The novels never convincingly demonstrated that Cassia fully understood the magnitude of the atrocities committed by the Society or decided to rebel against it for reasons other than a desire to make out with a man not chosen for her by someone else. Sometimes, like Xander, I wondered if Cassia even really loved Ky, or simply wanted him because he was forbidden.
I was able to take Reached more seriously as a dystopian novel because it broadens its focus from the personal journey of Cassia to encompass not only the journeys of Ky and Xander but also the fate of the Society as a whole. Previously Condie expected me to believe that stealing kisses in the forest was a noble act of rebellion and not simply teenage hormones. Now she illustrates the infrastructure of the Society crumbling under the pressure of plague and civil unrest. Even though the tactics of the Rising never made real sense to me, I found watching them attempt to take power much more interesting than watching Cassia moon over her crush.
Despite the broadened focus, however, the other characters continue to attach undue importance to the actions of Cassia and her love interests. While reading Matched, I found myself baffled by the willingness of Cassia’s family and friends to risk their lives in order to allow her to continue meeting her crush in secret; everyone seemed honestly convinced that conducting a forbidden love affair was the first step in taking down the government. While reading Reached, I found myself baffled by the interest of the Pilot in Cassia and her friends. Even though, as the leader of an uprising, he must have men and women under him who can look into suspect activities, he chooses to investigate Cassia personally. He then chooses Cassia and her friends for a top secret mission (on which the whole fate of the Rising happens to hinge) even though one would assume that, of all the people who follow him, there must exist some more qualified for this sort of thing than three teenagers.
Reached also fails to fulfill promises to explore more in depth the nature of government, authority, and rebellion. Condie has hinted before in the trilogy that the Rising might not be what it appears. Events in Reached suggest that, indeed, the Rising possesses elements of corruption. Events furthermore suggest the dangers of idolizing any one figure or movement. The characters, however, seem unfazed by these revelations, never really questioning their involvement in the Rising or learning any lessons about placing complete trust in people they barely know. I suppose it is to their credit that they continue to believe in the inherent goodness of people and to hope for a better future, but Condie obliquely acknowledges their danger of repeating past mistakes and erecting a new Society instead of staging a true revolution.
Reached proves a fast-paced novel filled with enough action and danger to make it the most exciting book in the trilogy. Fans will find their eyes glued to the pages as they follow Cassia, Xander, and Ky through a new adventure and see how the three grow in maturity as they are forced to go their separate ways. An exciting plot and good character development cannot, however, completely obscure the flaws in the trilogy, and I find myself wondering what the books could have been like had they been more fleshed out and made more sense.
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Goodreads: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Series: The Forest of Hands and Teeth #1
Mary’s village lies in the middle of a forest encircled by a fence through which no one ever leaves. Outside, the Unconsecrated prowl, hungering for human flesh. Only the wisdom of the Sisterhood and the vigilance of the Guardians keeps the village safe. Most people believe things have always been this way. Mary’s mother, however, has told her stories of the ocean, stories of a world that used to be free. Mary wants to find that world, but the Sisterhood harbors secrets and they will do just about anything to keep those secrets safe.
The Forest of Hands and Teeth sounds like a zombie dystopia story. Mary lives in a village cut off from the rest of the world by a gate that also keeps the people safe from the undead whose bites and scratches will infect them, turning them into more zombies to wreak destruction upon their friends and family. An organization named the Sisterhood rules over the village, controlling the history, religion, and social mores they learn. The Sisterhood, however, knows more than they tell. Everything about the plot seems calculated to provide action, excitement, and suspense. Except it doesn’t.
Though the page count lies just about 300, The Forest of Hands and Teeth does not read like a full-length novel, but rather the introduction to one. Very little happens in terms of plot. As expected, Mary starts to question the values of the Sisterhood and discovers that they sometimes lie. As expected, (I really don’t consider this a spoiler), she finds her way out of the village. Not as expected, that’s it. The rest of the book is all Mary’s longings for the oceans and her love affair (highly physical) with a boy betrothed to another woman. Not just another woman. (This is a real spoiler. Highlight after the parentheses to read.) Her best friend.
I think I was supposed to find this forbidden affair not only romantic, but also noble and brave, an attempt to fight back against the village’s strict rules governing the place of everyone in society. (Men and women are expected to marry to raise families, not because they feel passion for one another.) Ryan inserts a lot of dialogue about the importance of love versus the expectation of commitment (as if love somehow is opposed to commitment and does not entail it). She also portrays duty as something ugly and twisted. The other characters’ dedication to doing what is good for the village rather than what they personally desire (an understandable sentiment in light of their belief that they are the last remnants of humanity about to be overrrun by zombies) makes them seem like zealots devoid of all emotion. In fact, when people talk about this duty, their personalities even change. People who seem sweet, caring, and maybe even admirable suddenly turn into psychotic terrors when they talk about duty. Perhaps Ryan wants to show that constantly denying one’s feelings is unhealthy, but she goes too far.
Despite the heavy-handed messages delivered by the book, however, I was not remotely enchanted by this love affair. By making out with a man engaged to another woman, Mary was deluding herself, hurting the other woman, and driving a wedge into that couple’s future marriage. She talks about love, but what she was doing seems a lot like lust. She is physically attracted to the guy, so they make out. She later admits that she does not even know much about him–what he likes and dislikes, his hopes and his fears. She was just using his body to make herself feel better when she felt rejected by the rest of the village.
Mary’s own hopes and dreams are also apparently supposed to make her likable, but they too make her seem selfish. All she ever does is think about the ocean. She’s obsessed. She thinks it exists and she wants to go there, no matter what it costs. She is willing to leave friends and family behind if she has to. She is willing to sacrifice them to the Unconsecrated if she has to. This all seems very unreasonable. Unlike in other dystopias where the government is hiding something, the Sisterhood so far seems fairly innocuous. Yes, they have secret rooms and stuff and have not revealed their whole history to the village, but the fact remains that the outside world is actually overrun by zombies who will relentlessly pursue you to feast on your flesh. The Sisterhood has not lied about that. So why Mary thinks that the ocean is still a zombie-free paradise that she can skip on over to if she can just get past the fence remains a mystery.
Frankly, I do not understand why this book became a bestseller. The promises the plot makes about zombies and secrets all fall through. The romance is not romantic and the protagonist is not likable. The other characters are likable on occasion, but their personalities tend to change to fit the necessities of the plot. If I read the second book at all, it will only be to find out if the Sisterhood actually did have some deep, horrible secret and why the zombie apocalypse started in the first place.
Series: Pure #2
Published: February 1, 2013
We want our son returned. This girl is proof that we can save you all. If you ignore our plea, we will kill our hostages one at a time.
To be a Pure is to be perfect, untouched by Detonations that scarred the earth and sheltered inside the paradise that is the Dome. But Partridge escaped to the outside world, where Wretches struggle to survive amid smoke and ash. Now, at the command of Partridge’s father, the Dome is unleashing nightmare after nightmare upon the Wretches in an effort to get him back.
At Partridge’s side is a small band of those united against the Dome: Lyda, the warrior; Bradwell, the revolutionary; El Capitan, the guard; and Pressia, the young woman whose mysterious past ties her to Partridge in way she never could have imagined. Long ago a plan was hatched that could mean the earth’s ultimate doom. Now only Partridge and Pressia can set things right.
To save millions of innocent lives, Partridge must risk his own by returning to the Dome and facing his most terrifying challenge. And Pressia, armed only with a mysterious Black Box, containing a set of cryptic clues, must travel to the very ends of the earth, to a place where no map can guide her. If they succeed, the world will be saved. But should they fail, humankind will pay a terrible price..
In the sequel to Pure, Julianna Baggott once again immerses readers into her richly imagined dystopian world, one that is equal parts beauty and darkness. As Pressia, Partridge, and their companions race to take down the Dome, they travel farther than anyone has before, taking readers with them beyond the Dustlands. The broad scope of the geography in Fuse and the glimpses of history before the Detonations give Baggott’s world astonishing range and depth and mark the author as a master creator. The setting alone makes this book work reading.
However, has also raised the stakes of the plot in Fuse. Typical of dystopian novels, the protagonists have discovered some awful secret about their government and are planning to rebel against the corrupt societal system. Yet the standard dystopian plot elements stop there. Baggott’s plot is wild, unique, and unpredictable. Just when the characters think they have everything figured out, new evidence comes to light and new factors into play. Because the characters are so well-rounded and are continually developing as their journeys change them, they even surprise themselves sometimes, with the actions they are willing to take.
Baggott continues her method of writing every chapter in a different character’s point of view, choosing the character who has the most investment in the scene. The lack of order of the multiple POVs can be initially disorienting, but ultimately the approach works and gives readers valuable insights into every character’s thought process and personality.
The unusual POV switches add to the overall memorability of Baggott’s writing. She has a gift for writing beautiful descriptions and phrases that prompt readers to think about the world in different ways. Her voice is confident yet pensive, and she always writes as if she believes her readers are bright and strong enough to handle anything she throws at them.
Essentially, Fuse is the perfect follow-up to Pure. It includes all the most brilliant elements of Pure and intensifies them. Fuse has complex world-building, a strong plot, and memorable characters. A recommended read for those who like their books both smart and exciting.
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In 1984, the world has been divided into three superpowers constantly waging war with each other. Winston Smith, a member of the Party that rules the superpower Oceania, works to erase all mention of a past that might encourage the people to rebel against their masters. In secret, however, he longs for a world that embraces beauty and truth and, slowly, he begins to stretch the boundaries of what he would dare to do in order to live free.
In many ways, 1984 acts more like a platform for George Orwell’s concerns than it does as a story. Winston Smith proves likeable enough and his predicament is certainly horrifying, but the momentum of the plot breaks just when readers might have expected it to be approaching its climax. At this point Orwell provides his readers with whole chapters allegedly taken from the handbook of a secret society dedicated to taking down the Party. Though a rebel handbook sounds exciting, in execution it proves nothing more than a lengthy explanation of the motivations and strategies of the Party—it is Orwell speaking, not the society. Subsequent events likewise show the hand of the author guiding the characters, feeding them dialogue, and generally inserting himself into what otherwise might have been a much more engrossing story.
Arguably, 1984 achieves its purpose just as well—if not better—through these techniques. Orwell clearly wants his readers to think about topics like censorship, propaganda, government oversight, and manipulation of others achieved through language, then apply it to their own world. To create a secondary world so believable that readers lose sight of their own would cause them to miss the warnings Orwell gives about the danger in which they themselves live. He seems to have been relatively successful, given that articles and reporters routinely reference Big Brother when talking about the current prevalence of security cameras, Internet data collection, etc.
To think about 1984 only in terms of privacy, however, is to miss the nuances of its vision. The real horror of the book lies not in the ability of the Party to monitor every movement and utterance of its members, but in the people’s acceptance of, and even desire for, this oversight. At the time the story takes place, readers can easily understand why the tenets of the Party have become so engrained in the characters that they can suppose themselves to be thinking autonomously—they have little to no access to outside opinions and thus have no choice but to think along Party lines. Party control is so absolute that its methods seem to readers obvious, and thus theoretically possible to combat. Orwell, however, clearly means to suggest that something similar is happening in his own world, and, if so, its advance is more insidious.
Though it presents a gloomy vision of the future of the world (if it continues in the course Orwell sees it following),1984 is ultimately a celebration of the beauty and power of the human spirit. Rebellion against those who would censor free speech and stifle creativity, passion, and curiosity need not successful in order to be worthwhile. The fact that one man in Orwell’s world dares to attempt to forge his own path means everything even when it seems to mean nothing.
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Goodreads: The Testing
Series: The Testing #1
Published: June 4, 2013
Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Isn’t that what they say? But how close is too close when they may be one in the same?
The Seven Stages War left much of the planet a charred wasteland. The future belongs to the next generation’s chosen few who must rebuild it. But to enter this elite group, candidates must first pass The Testing—their one chance at a college education and a rewarding career.
Cia Vale is honored to be chosen as a Testing candidate; eager to prove her worthiness as a University student and future leader of the United Commonwealth. But on the eve of her departure, her father’s advice hints at a darker side to her upcoming studies–trust no one.
But surely she can trust Tomas, her handsome childhood friend who offers an alliance? Tomas, who seems to care more about her with the passing of every grueling (and deadly) day of the Testing. To survive, Cia must choose: love without truth or life without trust.
The Testing has an interesting plot, solid pacing, and intelligent protagonists. If I had not already encountered this plot in several other YA dystopians, I probably would have loved the book. The opening scene is immediately reminiscent of a number of others novels. Featuring a teenage girl going to a graduation ceremony that will determine her future in her dystopian society, it evokes scenes from at least Delirium, Matched, and Divergent. Once Cia is chosen for the Testing, the plot is most similar to Divergent as Cia must pass a variety of tasks to move on in the completion. Finally, the plot mirrors that of The Hunger Games, as Cia and her fellow Testing candidates are dropped off in the wilderness to fend for themselves and kill their competition if necessary. The Testing, of course, puts some unique details on the plot, but the similarities to other YA books are so strong that the story barely seems worth reading for anyone who already has read many other dystopians, particularly Divergent and The Hunger Games.
Even the characters cannot set The Testing apart. Cia, in my opinion, is likeable and I was totally rooting for her. However, her defining characteristic is decency. While this is admirable, one of the many reasons I wanted her to succeed, and a large element in the plot and themes of the novel, it simply does not make Cia the most exciting female dystopian protagonist. Excitement, of course, is unnecessary for a book to be interesting or good, but its presence could really help a book already struggling to differentiate itself from every other book in its genre. The Testing’s attempt to be different from books like The Hunger Game by being a little more “quiet,” emphasizing that good leaders are good people and not just good killers, may actually lead it to become lost in the crowd rather than standing out in it.
Furthermore, beyond Cia’s intelligent and mature discussions of what the ideal Testing candidate (i.e. ideal future leader of her nation) should be like, Cia and her friends are not very dynamic. Everyone chosen for the Testing is smart, but their brilliance inevitably appears commonplace to the reader because no one is lacking in it. In this post-apocalyptic society, it is apparently normal for teenagers to engineer innovative irrigation systems, electrical systems, new plant life, etc. And although the Testing candidates are supposed to have a specialty, most of them appear to be good at everything, and no one is as good at everything as Cia. If she encounters a problem, she solves it in a heartbeat. It might take her time, say a day or two, to execute her idea, but that only involves the practical part of building her brilliant design. The design itself comes to her, unflawed, almost instantaneously, no matter the situation.
The dystopian government of the novel also has some flaws. After finishing the book, I am still asking myself why any of this had to happen at all. Why does the government want candidates to die during the Testing? As Cia observes repeatedly, the Testing committee could easily weed out the “weaklings” without having them actually die. Right now, I, and Cia, can only assume the Testing officials are sick and voyeuristic, but (as I mentioned in my review of Nerve), I never find this type of explanation satisfying.) I also wonder why the Resistance is interested in Cia. So far, nothing special about her has been revealed. Presumably it will be later in the series, but some hints should be dropped so readers do not spend the entirety of book one scratching their heads and thinking so many of the plot elements make so little sense.
The Testing is well-written and has a lot going for it thematically. Cia tackles head-on important questions about her society, what it means it be a good person and a good leader, and what her experience during the chilling stages of the Testing should mean to her and to others. Charbonneau is clearly a thoughtful writer who wants to provoke readers’ minds and not just their emotions; she wants to inspire in addition to stimulate. Unfortunately, Charbonneau’s thoughtfulness is packaged in other writers’ plots. The book would probably be incredibly enjoyable to readers just discovering the dystopian genre, but avid fans of it will recognize they have read variations of this book before.
Bottom Line: I would read more of this author’s work, but I am not interested in this particular series.
Discuss! What do you think of a dystopian novel that celebrates characters who are smart, rather than physically tough?
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Goodreads: What’s Left of Me
Series: The Hybrid Chronicles #1
Official Summary: Eva and Addie started out the same way as everyone else—two souls woven together in one body, taking turns controlling their movements as they learned how to walk, how to sing, how to dance. But as they grew, so did the worried whispers. Why aren’t they settling? Why isn’t one of them fading? The doctors ran tests, the neighbors shied away, and their parents begged for more time. Finally Addie was pronounced healthy and Eva was declared gone. Except, she wasn’t . .
For the past three years, Eva has clung to the remnants of her life. Only Addie knows she’s still there, trapped inside their body. Then one day, they discover there may be a way for Eva to move again. The risks are unimaginable-hybrids are considered a threat to society, so if they are caught, Addie and Eva will be locked away with the others. And yet . . . for a chance to smile, to twirl, to speak, Eva will do anything.
Review: What’s Left of Me is an imaginative story about what it means to be human. Here, it is to be a unique, living soul. Eva is completely trapped inside the body she shares with Addie, unable to move and unable to communicate with anyone besides her twin soul. As far as the rest of the world knows, she no longer even exists. But she does, and she, Addie, and the reader know it. Her courage, passion, determination, and kindness immediately woo this reader to her side, and there is no doubt she has the right to life as much as Addie, the “dominant” soul. The problem is in convincing Eva’s own society and government.
In their search for freedom, Eva and Addie take the reader through a whirlwind of emotions and experiences. The story is not built on life-or-death cliff hangers that will keep their audience reading through the night, but it is certainly interesting. The subtle commentary on the nature of humanity is encased in an exciting and action-packed tale and populated with a variety of characters, ranging from love interests to villains. (The love interest also raises more questions, such as how two souls in one body can ever maintain a romantic relationship. Part of an explanation is offered, but Zhang will have to delve further into the issue in the next book in order to make the success of such a situation sound practical.)
What’s Left of Me offers the things I truly love in science fiction: a unique vision, important questions, and humanity. However, the book may have been stronger if it had remained purely science fiction—a compact standalone that resolved its most important issues immediately. Instead, at the end it veers off into the typical dystopian mold with Eva and Addie seemingly poised to join a secret resistance fighting a corrupt government. The hybrid story is new, but this part is just old.
Published: September 18, 2012
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Goodreads: Oryx and Crake
Series: MaddAddam Trilogy #1
Summary: Snowman is the only human left alive, and by thus by default the caretaker of the genetically engineered Crakers. As he watches over this new species, he teaches them and reminiscences about their beginnings: Before the world ended, Crake was his genius best friend, and Oryx was their lover.
Review: Oryx and Crake is a well-written speculative fiction that follows the question “What will happen once we begin to become highly successful with genetic engineering?” to what Atwood clearly thinks is its natural end. Her answer is rather bleak: First, biotech foods will become so cheap and efficient that real foods will be a luxury only for the rich. Social classes will be based on proficiency in math and science, with geniuses receiving the best of everything. Second, someone will eventually be smart enough he thinks he can play God, and the results will be catastrophic for the earth and the human race.
So does this seem right? Atwood does strive to base her novel entirely on existing science in order to lend some realism and actual terror to the book, but I cannot say I was personally horrified. Yes, scientists are working on some of the experiments she mentions even now, so this could happen, but I think I have a bit more faith in the human race than she does. There are dissenters in Oryx and Crake, people who believe all this science and “creation” is dangerous and wrong, so Atwood does recognize the controversy, but her speculation is that the scientists will be in league with the government and too powerful for the dissenters to stop. Again, this is possible, but Atwood does not give a clear trail indicating how all this happened in the first place, which makes it a little more difficult to buy into.
As for the story itself, Atwood tends to drag things out. Much of Oryx and Crake is about Snowman’s personal life, which eventually all ties into the dystopian plot events, but the effect is often more intimate than exciting—another reason why the book is not terrifying, despite its suggestions about our near future. This is also a novel where the entire premise is that the author refuses to tell the reader what actually happened until the end.
On one hand, I appreciate building suspense. On the other hand, I am beginning to be suspect of such books. Something seems disingenuous about telling a story where the author refuses to tell the story, but instead just leaves tantalizing hints for roughly 400 pages. One begins to wonder if the story is good enough that people would care if the story were just told chronologically –or if the book is using “suspense” as a crutch. In the case of Oryx and Crake, I do think the story could stand on its own merits. Atwood seems to be building a certain type of atmosphere by withholding information, since the story is from Snowman’s POV and he has to ease into thinking about his own traumatic past. Even recognizing this artistic decision, however, I found Oryx and Crake a bit frustrating.
Oryx and Crake is an interesting and a supremely thoughtful book. After reading this and about half The Handmaid’s Tale, however, I think Atwood’s style is a little too slow and boring for my taste. This may be another case where I will be just interested enough in plot events to read the Wikipedia summary, once the third book is published.
Content Note: Atwood is quite interested in sex. Much of this book focuses on describing the pornography Snowman used to watch and Oryx’s (possible) former life as a sex slave.
Summary: Love is a disease, and so everyone must undergo an operation to rid themselves of it—and from the effects of most other emotions. Lena is looking forward to her surgery, until she meets Alex, a young man who always seems to be where she is and who understands better than anyone what happiness is. Now, as she begins to succumb to disease herself, she must decide what she will risk to have it.
Review: Delirium is a very smooth read, well-constructed and well-cast. Exactly why love is a disease remains rather vague, despite the excerpts from official government texts and the explanations of the five stages of love that eventually end in death. Oliver’s cleverness shows in that some of the first stages of infatuation or love can be similar to sickness—anxiousness, lack of appetite, inability to concentrate, etc. So when Lena begins to fall in love, it seems to her that the government is right, and she will inevitability die of it. But why society decided forgoing love was a brilliant idea is unclear. Sure, eradicating fear or depression could sound nice, and these emotions are disposed of along with love in this society…but why is love the focus?
If the reader can get past this point (or, more precisely, try to ignore the entire premise of the novel), it is rather good. The writing is wonderful. The characters, unlike in Before I Fall, are likeable. There is romance—and some of the scenes are really very sweet. There is also a mystery, which adds a bit of a political edge to the story that one can only hope will be developed in the following books.
The most beauty comes from the interspersion of completely normal moments. Here Lena is in the middle of a dystopian society, where media is censored, houses are searched, curfews are enforced, the residents are fenced in, and no one is allowed to feel too much—and she is doing things like running, tanning at the beach, or sneaking sodas from her uncle’s shop to share with her friends. This is a rare dystopian that seems so close to our own society.
The ultimate effect is that Delirium is a somewhat pleasant read, which is not necessarily what one would expect from a dystopian novel. There is no huge conflict, no urgency, no sense that everything is horrible and will never, ever be fixed. It reads very much like a romance and an adventure. What will Alex and Lena do next? Will they be able to come together in the end?
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Series: Divergent #2
SPOILERS FOR DIVERGENT
Summary: Since the Erudite took over Dauntless and invaded Abnegation, Tris and Four are on the run to Amity to rest and regroup with their allies. Neither was ranked in Dauntless’ hierarchy, but as the city becomes more and more dangerous, both find themselves at the center of preparations for the upcoming war.
Review: Insurgent is an exciting follow-up to Divergent, beginning right where the last book stopped and dropping readers right into the middle of the war with Erudite. The book has a lot of action, just on a much grander scale than Divergent as Tris and Four have left the Dauntless compound in order to explore the other faction headquarters and the rest of the city. The portrayal of the different factions is one of the novel’s strengths, as Roth gives each one unique customs and a distinct personality, ranging from the adamantly peaceful Amity to the straightforward Candor. In general, however, Roth makes sure to make clear that no faction and no individual is as one-dimensional as most of the citizens believe.
Tris and Four do get some very nice romantic moments in Insurgent, though unfortunately they spend a large portion of the book arguing. I read through a few hundred pages before I realized the book was actually putting me into a bad mood because everyone was yelling so much. Precisely why they are arguing is a little unclear. Maybe it is just stress from all the danger and battle preparations. Perhaps Roth thought she needed to “spice up” their relationship. Luckily, they get over their differences eventually, and Tris gets over all the issues that were holding her back for most of the book, and the ending gets much more exciting than the beginning.
Roth also continues to insert philosophical statements in surprising places. Tris comes to see that other people view the world in shades of grey, while she and Four tend to look at it as black and white. In the end, she stands up for absolute morality, arguing that no matter how she looks at it, controlling people’s minds has to be wrong. It’s hard to argue with that!
Insurgent is a very strong second book, and although the ending is expected rather than surprising, Roth has set up herself up well to deliver a thrilling finale where everything changes.
Published: May 1, 2012
Series: The Chemical Garden #1
Goodreads Summary: 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? Together with one of Linden’s servants, Gabriel, Rhine attempts to escape just before her seventeenth birthday. But in a world that continues to spiral into anarchy, is there any hope for freedom?
Review: The story of Wither is built around an intriguing, disturbing premise. In the future, people die, without fail, in their early twenties, and humanity is left in a desperate race to find a cure before the entire population disappears. Readers will be drawn in from the first pages, wondering how the scenario will play out.
Most of the story, however, is not focused on this search for a miracle. Instead, it closely follows protagonist Rhine as she is sucked into the alien world of the wealthy, who are eager to spend fortunes on stunning home illusions and parties in an attempt to enjoy their lives while they last. DeStefano’s depiction of the luxurious world is imaginative and captivating, as tempting to readers as it is to Rhine. She must continuously struggle against the life that has been forced upon her, always remember that beyond the endless gardens and orange grove and course for miniature gulf, that she once had a different home, one with family if without wealth.
She begins to find, however, that it may be possible to build a different sort of family. One with her sister wives and the servants, if not with the House Governor, her husband, whom she is determined to hate. The relationships that develop between the girls are complex, sometimes strained but sometimes moving. The fact that they are in a polygamous relationship can occasionally escape the reader’s memory because they spend so much time together trying to be friends. This is doubtless the result of a concerted effort by DeStefano to soften an incredibly creepy plot aspect. Her other main endeavor to make the polygamy palatable is evident in Rhine’s consistent refusal to actually have intercourse with her husband. Nonetheless, their strange sister wife relationship to each other and to their husband is disturbing.
It may honestly be the most disturbing facet of the book. In many ways, DeStefano fails to deliver on her dystopian/post apocalyptic ideas, and her world ends up inconsistent. For instance, readers may wonder why, if women are in such high demand, they are frequently murdered. Or why women must be kidnapped to be brides. Or why only the upper classes are eager to reproduce. Or why no one bothers with education anymore if they really want to find a cure. Or even what purpose it serves to the plot for North America to be the only continent left in existence. (Perhaps this is supposed to be an easy solution to the question of how everyone in the world, including very poor countries, would have all turned to genetic engineering so quickly?) Answers are not forthcoming, and the lack of explanations makes Wither less believable and therefore less powerful.
The level of potential fear is also diminished by the fact that there is absolutely no hint as to what evil deeds Rhine’s father-in-law is supposedly up to in the basement. He is doing something—he is murderous and controlling and has corpses he of people he claims had been cremated—but without an idea of what his experiments are (besides the fact that they must evil), readers cannot be overly concerned about them. One can only imagine that the whole mystery will be cleared up later in the series, but by the ending of the Wither, it seems though an interesting plot turn will have to occur for that reveal even to happen.
Wither is unique and rather fascinating. It is filled with a cast of strong and unforgettable characters. Its most obvious characteristic, however, is its failure to live up to its own potential. The plotline, concept, and relationships are enough to lead readers to the sequel Fever—after all, who wants to leave a story without discovering whether the human race survives?—but there are so many ways by which readers could have been made even more eager to find out what happens.
*Posted for the Catch Wither Fever event hosted by The Overstuffed Bookcase and The Daily Bookmark.