Series: The Chemical Garden #1
Published by Simon & Schuster on March 2011
Genres: Dystopia, Young Adult
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?
With intelligent and beautiful prose, the reality that DeStefano creates in her debut novel, Wither, is remarkably intense. On the brink of perfection, disaster strikes and now plagues the children of the children of the world and perpetuates the forced action of young girls to become mothers. The characters, starting with Rhine, are all completely well rounded and very solid. Rhine’s strength is something that is immediately demonstrated in the book and her will to survive and be free is a constant theme. DeStefano has created a strong history for Rhine, we are always learning about her parents and her twin brother Rowan. Through her connection to her family, Rhine is caring and open to people that she begins to interact with; Linden, Gabriel, Cecily, and Jenna.
Her sister wives are individually crafted to be unique. I loved Cecily, it was such a nice turn of events to see a girl, a child in fact, be so willing to partake in the customs or lifestyle that is set before her. Cecily was such a complex support character, her changes through the book were astounding and a central part to Rhine’s emotions. Rhine’s love of her new family ebbs and flows as she struggles with adapting and craving freedom. She worries and cares for the well being of all of her family, including Linden.
Against most odds, I was “Team Linden”, his sincerity towards all of his wives was not fake or covered in chauvinism, he was genuine in his care for all three of the girls and his son. He is not at fault to fall so unknowingly to the cruelty of the world; Rhine can see and understand his naiveté, making her only more lost in her emotions. Linden’s depth is so profound, he would have given Rhine the world on a silver platter and there are times I thought she would let him.
The story in this book has a rigid setting, taking place almost entirely in the manor, though it doesn’t hinder the progression, pace, or entertainment. It is so carefully constructed that there are times the plot doesn’t seem linear, that there will the surprise ending. There are clues to the mystery, the confusion of emotion, the devotion amongst wives, etc. All these things are circling one another, turning on top of each other, until the end. There was no way to predict the choices that would be made until the moment of decision.
This book leaves plenty of mysteries to be unravelled in the remaining two books and ends with a gentle setup rather than a cliff hanger. I am very interested in seeing where DeStefano takes the story of Rhine in Fever.
The Chemical Garden