The Chemical Garden Trilogy #1: Wither by Lauren DeStefano
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Publication Date: Original: March 22, 2011 (I have the
Paperback version dated December, 2011)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Young adult, Dystopian, Science Fiction
Source: Bought it
Book Description from Publisher: In the not-too-distant future, genetic engineering has turned every newborn into a ticking time bomb: Males die at age twenty-five, and females die at age twenty. While Scientists seek a miracle antidote, young girls are routinely kidnapped and sold as polygamous brides to bear more children. When sixteen-year-old Rhine is taken, she enters a world of wealth and privilege that both entices and terrifies her. She has everything she ever wanted— except freedom.
Soon it becomes clear that not everyone at her new husband’s home is how they appear. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to escape… before her time runs out.
In anticipation for book two, entitled Fever, I picked this one up to see what it was all about. I’m a sucker for pretty covers, and Wither’s cover composition is amazing! The model, dress and bird all make for a striking cover on its own, but it’s the subtle circles that link the head, wedding band clad hand (say that fast 5 times) and caged bird that pull together the theme of forced and trapped marriage.
The story immediately starts with a bang, it throws you into a claustrophobic panic as we are introduced to Rhine who has been kidnapped along with a group of other girls to be sold off as brides to be baby making factories for the rich in order to try and save the dying human race. It’s a tense situation as selections are made, and the fates of the girls are decided.
After the initial bustle of being kidnapped and sorted, we are introduced to Housemaster Vaughn - a scientist working on the cure for the virus and father to Linden Ashby who is the husband to be for Rhine, along with her impending “sister wives” Cecily and Jenna. After the marriage, the plot slows down and takes it’s time to explain the back story of Rhine and how she is coping with her new life, her interactions with the other wives, and what her plan is to get out before she spends the rest of her short life in a lavish mansion. Point is - the plot tends to linger here for awhile. Although this really reflects how little there was in the way of entertainment and freedoms for these girls in this marriage. We as the reader’s don’t get to see much outside of the gates of the estate, but the scenic areas we are exposed to are very poignant places.
It does pick up after awhile and for the last leg of the story - once all the pieces have a solid foundation to work from, I couldn’t stop reading until I found out what happened next.
Rhine is resourceful and very tact which serves her extremely well in the mansion in order to survive.
I have to say I love how complex the character Linden is, on one hand he’s a creep for participating in these marriages (especially the consummating parts… read it, you’ll see what I mean), but the way he acts toward Rhine is completely different and they seem to be building a really meaningful relationship where he isn’t a villain at all. In fact at some points I was rooting for him.
The dynamic nature of the wives kept things interesting in the household, each one had their own persona and purpose that fit into a specific role in the polygamous relationship.
Housemaster Vaughn is an intriguing character, he’s that guy that immediately gives you the heebie-geevies (literally my skin crawled during every scene with him) because you just know there’s something off about him.
My only real complaint is with the servant Gabriel who Rhine gets close to, and is supposed to be a love interest. There’s something there, but Gabriel just seemed like such a wooden character (likely due to his role as a servant) that their relationship doesn’t quite get to form.