Review: Wither

Review: WitherWither by Lauren DeStefano
Series: The Chemical Garden #1
Published by Simon & Schuster BFYR on March 22, 2011
Genres: Dystopian, Romance, Science Fiction, Space Opera
Pages: 358
Format: ARC
Source: Library

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?

Wither was really good but also incredibly frustrating. I literally yelled at the book on several occasions. My irritation at the book and Rhine’s decisions are an indication of quality in this case. Were the book more comfortable, it would not be doing the subject matter justice. There are serious themes being dealt with here: sexuality, gender, ethics and stockholm syndrome top the bill.

The world building was pretty amazing. While DeStefano has no real scientific reason for why the succeeding generation were all dying off a virus at those particular ages, I did not have too much trouble believing such a thing possible. It seems likely that messing with life through genetic engineering could have such horrible and unforeseen consequences. Perhaps most unlikely from my point of view was the precision of the deaths, with all women and men dying at the same ages. And why do men live five years longer?

Even more than this setting, I loved what she built out from this premise. The world she depicts is horrifying because of how possible it seems given a few crucial things gone wrong. I have no difficulty envisioning a society with such a limited life span turning women into reproduction machines. A small step from that is a return to bigamy, so that wealthy men can have a better chance of fathering progeny, and a powerful sex trade. As a woman, this is horrifying, and that is part of what made the book resonate so strongly with me.

This is the first in a trilogy, which I will definitely be super eager to read the next books of. The ending of Wither could easily have been an ending to Rhine’s story, if an unclear one (not uncommon in dystopias), but I’m glad that it’s not. The ending of this book struck me as a bit too positive and light given the tone of the rest of the novel, but with more books to come it is but a brief respite for our heroine. I can’t wait to find out what happens next!

Also, I have to say that this is one of the prettiest books I have seen in a while. The formatting is gorgeous, not to mention the cover. Go out and find a copy to read!

5 responses to “Review: Wither”

  1. Heather says:

    I kind of want to read this for the cover alone…haha

  2. Nori says:

    I enjoyed this book too! Except what you thought was odd in a slightly happy ending, was what redeemed it for me. I can’t stand books that are on continuous slopes downward with no hope, and the ending is what convinced me to keep reading when the next one comes out! And it really pretty!

  3. Christina says:

    Sometimes I find it novel (punned!) to read a YA book where everything isn’t all hunky dory at the end. Which is probably why I still liked Ascendant and you didn’t really.

  4. Nori says:

    There better be a third one of those books!!!!

  5. I have to say that I wondered why the men lived 5 years longer as well!
    I’ve yet to read this book but it does seem a bit of a strange world in which it is set. Going to get round to reading this at some point 🙂

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