Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #10: Sever

Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #10: SeverSever by Lauren DeStefano
Series: The Chemical Garden #3
Published by Simon & Schuster BFYR on February 12, 2013
Genres: Dystopian, Post-Apocalyptic, Romance, Science Fiction
Pages: 371
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Time is running out for Rhine in this conclusion to the New York Times bestselling Chemical Garden Trilogy.

With the clock ticking until the virus takes its toll, Rhine is desperate for answers. After enduring Vaughn’s worst, Rhine finds an unlikely ally in his brother, an eccentric inventor named Reed. She takes refuge in his dilapidated house, though the people she left behind refuse to stay in the past. While Gabriel haunts Rhine’s memories, Cecily is determined to be at Rhine’s side, even if Linden’s feelings are still caught between them.

Meanwhile, Rowan’s growing involvement in an underground resistance compels Rhine to reach him before he does something that cannot be undone. But what she discovers along the way has alarming implications for her future—and about the past her parents never had the chance to explain.

In this breathtaking conclusion to Lauren DeStefano’s Chemical Garden trilogy, everything Rhine knows to be true will be irrevocably shattered.

Recommended by: Anonymous

First Sentence: “In the atlas the river still flows.”

Just to be up front with everything, this will be more of a series review than a Sever review, because, honestly, not much actually fucking happens in Sever. It’s a boring, largely plotless mess, and most of what’s frusrating about the characters requires prior knowledge of the series as a whole. There will be swearing, gifs, and spoilers up in this bitch, so if you’re not up for that, check out of this review with a swiftness.

Maybe, to start, we should talk about Sever just a little bit. Sever picks up with Rhine desperate to locate her twin, like she has been since they were separated at the very beginning of Wither. She’s planning to leave immediately to find him, because he’s apparently become a radical and is bombing shit. For OVER A HUNDRED PAGES, she plans to go find him, during which time she dicks around with Linden’s uncle and thinks angsty thoughts about Linden. Seriously, nothing happens during all of this except that DeStefano pretends to kill off a character and doesn’t.

Me, to everyone, so the book could end.

Then, Rhine, Linden, and Cecily go look for the brother, which involves stopping by the torture carnival (which I will address later), the sole point of which is learning that Rose, Linden’s first wife was Madame’s daughter. Whoop-di-do. They do find the brother, and he’s working for Vaughn and really doesn’t do much of anything except serve as a reason for Rhine to be in Vaughn’s clutches again.

Seriously, the only plot arc to this series is Rhine trying to do something and getting captured by Vaughn. That’s all three books. Even better, Rhine accomplishes nothing in either Fever or Sever. Congratulations, Rhine, I give you the award for most useless heroine; it comes with a nice shiny gilded cage and a cookie wand. Enjoy.

What makes me so fucking pissed off about this series is the purity myth that it’s putting forward. Slut-shaming isn’t something I regularly cite, because it doesn’t often, in what I read, feel like the driving force of the book to me. However, in this case, I will make an exception, because, though I don’t recall the word ever being used, this series runs off of horror movie logic: if you have sex, you will have a fucking horrible life and probably die.

Rhine, our boring, stupid heroine lives in a world where women are used as breeding chattel, because they die so young that babies are needed as early as possible. Her brother protected her at first, but she left (because she’s dumb) and got sold to wealthy Linden as one of his four wives. Linden doesn’t have sex with her, because he wants her to love him (more on this later); Jenna and Cecily have sex with Linden (one of them dies and one nearly dies – THIS IS WHAT YOU GET, RIGHT?). Rhine escapes from the house with one of Linden’s servants. They wash up at a Carnival of prostitution run by Madame. A gorgeous virgin comes to this Madame and what does she do? Sell her virginity to the highest bidder because that’s what would totally happen? Of course not. Instead, she dopes Gabriel and Rhine with aphrodisiacs so they can be sexually turned on enough to make out with one another. Apparently in this world, men will pay money to watch other people make out while scantily clad (not even naked, mind you). Now, I know voyeurism is a thing, but THAT is bullshit. She would at LEAST have to bang Gabriel. In Sever, Rhine remains eternally innocent, which, apparently, means she gets to be cured for some dumbshit reason which I really give no fucks about. She and Gabriel make out and she stops him and that’s pretty much it for their reconciliation.

Listen, it’s not so much that I want to see Rhine raped or having sex or anything. However, if you create this particular world, then you have to follow things through to their logical conclusions. The world building is minimal enough as it is, so to completely ignore what there is of it is monumentally frustrating. In Sever, when they see the ferris wheel of the carnival in the distance, Rhine moans about how awful it was there. Yes, you poor, poor girl. Forced to make out with your boyfriend like a brazen hussy. Please, tell me more about how traumatizing that was for you.

That’s one thing that upsets me. Another thing is Rhine’s relationship with Linden. She and two other girls, Cecily and Jenna, are picked out of a line up by Linden and his father, Vaughn. They’re rich, so they can afford to purchase Linden some wives. Neither Rhine nor Jenna want any part of it, and Cecily’s like 13, so doesn’t know any better than to be excited. Rhine sort of develops feelings for him over time, but wants to get away more than anything. That’s in Wither, and I sort of liked it, because it rang of Stockholm Syndrome in an interesting way.

By this point, though, the acknowledged Stockholm Syndrome-ishness of it is gone, and we’re apparently supposed to think Linden is a prince among men. Rhine’s obviously much more attracted to him than to Gabriel, and she alternates between jealousy of Cecily and being glad to be freed. All throughout this damn book, all Rhine can think about is what a stand-up guy Linden is, how she’s mistreated him, or how she owes him for something or other. THIS attitude may almost be unhealthier than the purity myth thing, because it’s subtly putting in this idea like Rhine is beholden to Linden. Rhine doesn’t owe Linden SHIT.

Please share this power with Rhine. She needs it.

Linden may not have been the one to order the rest of his possible wives killed (that’s his dad) and he didn’t perform creepy ass experiments on them (still dad), but he’s just as culpable. It’s not like Vaughn was all that fucking sneaky. He’s got his house full of locked doors like Bluebeard on steroids and Linden’s not going to be like “Dad, what the fuck are you doing in the basement?” He’s ignorant of what’s happening, but he remains that way purposefully, so it really doesn’t let him off the hook.

Even if you don’t lay any of that on his head, he still FORCED three girls to marry him. Obviously, they did go through with the vows, but it’s not like they had a whole lot of options, considering that they knew the other girls were killed and were just going to be raped or murdered by someone else if they said no. He’s an attractive man with pockets well-grown, so there’s no fucking reason he needs to pick up women from the slave trade. From the very beginning of Wither, he was a creepy bastard and I do not find it even one iota acceptable to have him romanticized. At the very end of Sever, Rhine says this of Linden: “‘It’s because he was better than me . . . He never wanted to hurt anyone. I didn’t want to hurt him either.'”

Linden, who fooled people into thinking he was a nice guy.

This attitude straight up disgusts me and I cannot believe we’re putting these thoughts in front of impressionable minds. Linden is NOT a good guy. In my opinion, Rhine should have found a weapon and taken Vaughn and Linden out, because they are both disgusting human beings. What could have been a thought-provoking look at Stockholm Syndrome turned into yet another instance of turning a creep into a viable love interest.

Don’t even get me started on the fact that DeStefano concluded the Linden-Rhine-Gabriel love triangle by killing off Linden. Gabriel and Rhine obviously have absolutely no chemistry, so Rhine was totally going to go back to Linden someday. I guess I’m glad that somewhere along the way the author and/or editor realized her ending up with Linden would be unhealthy, but, rather than fixing the relationship dynamics between them somewhere along the way, Linden is killed off, which pretty much ensures she will always love him martyr-style.

On top of that, the ending is just as bad as one might expect. Rhine and Vaughn go for a pleasant stroll. She inquires about why he’s a crazy bastard and he responds with villainous infodumps. Then Cecily shoots him. I come through ALL three of these books for this? Remind me why Rhine is the heroine again? She never does anything. The fourteen-year-old mother of one who just miscarried and only just got off of bed rest is the one who takes out the bad guy. Are we for real with this shit? I never liked Cecily but at least she’s got balls. Rhine never did anything during this whole series but be speshul and get people to help her do things. Not a single useful thing did she ever do on her own.

There’s probably more I could say about this dreadful series, but I don’t want to waste any more of my time or energy on it. These books are boring, full of shoddy world building, written in a pseudo-poetic style that mostly falls flat, and perpetuate seriously unhealthy concepts of romance. You’re welcome to read them if you want, but you could do so much better. Reading The Handmaid’s Tale instead would be an excellent life choice. In conclusion, here’s my recommendation for dealing with this series:

Pedal, bitch, pedal!

Favorite Quote: “‘I’ve seen all kinds of foolish girls, but none so foolish they’d come back here if they got away.'”

Up Next:

The next Sadie Hawkins Sunday book will be The Collector byVictoria Scott recommended by Steph of Cuddlebuggery. I’m a little afraid, but I am trying to keep my mind open.

Want to tell me what to read? For more details, check this post.

45 responses to “Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #10: Sever”

  1. Annie says:

    Wow, I wish I had seen this review earlier! I just got Wither. All your issues with the series seem like things I would have trouble with too, so I’m not too sure about the series. I’ll check out some other reviews, but I loved this one! The GIFS were hilarious! 🙂 Excellent review!

    • Christina says:

      Awww, bad timing. Well, maybe you’ll like it more than me. Plenty of people have not been bothered by the series, though I admit that I don’t get it. To each her/his own, I suppose.

  2. Kelly says:

    Reading this really makes me want to grab my copy off the shelf and pitch it out the window of my apartment. I forgot how aggravating Rhine was, especially for a useless Mary Sue who was passive in every way possible. Ugh. I’m so upset with this series. I loved Wither, the rest of it should have been great! If I could go back and stop with Wither, I would.

    • Christina says:

      Well, I don’t condone the destruction of books, but…used bookstores would probably love it. I don’t toss around the term Mary Sue lightly, but, seriously, everyone’s all about Rhine and she never does a damn thing. Wither was enjoyable, I thought, but it went in all the wrong directions.

  3. AnimeJune says:

    THANK YOU for this review. It sounds like this book would wind up thrown against a wall.

    I had similar issues while reading Where It Began by Ann Redisch Stampler. I mean, it was interestingly written, but the heroine does literally NOTHING. Nothing in the story is affected by her choices – even when she’s vindicated at the end, it’s by a friend. She didn’t do it herself. SO WHY IS SHE THE HERO AGAIN?

    • Christina says:

      I almost wish you would read it, because you have powers of rant far beyond my own. I’d been curious about Stampler, but I certainly won’t be trying that one. I don’t need my heroines to do EVERYTHING, but is SOMETHING too much to ask? Other than causing trouble?

  4. GillyB says:

    Ouch! I definitely will NOT be starting this series. I admit to being mildly curious, but the slut-shaming/romanticizing the creep/utterly useless “heroine” are all elements that are making me say “NO THANK YOU.” I mean, just one of those things would piss me of. All three and I feel like I’d get super ragey and stabby and yelly. ALSO. KILLING OF A PRONG OF THE LOVE TRIANGLE THAT IS SUCH A COP OUT.

    • Christina says:

      Seriously, I was going to rate this higher, because my natural inclination is to say “surely it wasn’t THAT bad,” but then I wrote my review and I was like “yes, it fucking is that bad.” These concepts are just all so unhealthy and just no to all of it. Also, FOR REAL, THAT’S CHEATING.

  5. Kat Balcombe says:

    Holy fuck, what a mess. Full of arsehole characters that are romanticised? Noooooo thank you. I think someone missed the memo that a heroine is supposed to be heroic…..

    I’m 110% certain your review was far more entertaining than even a paragraph of this series. Bravo, lady! And power to the gif-age!

  6. I haven’t read past book #1 luckily, otherwise I would have felt just as revolted as you, Christina, because I remember how much I disliked Wither. Gorgeous review, absolutely gorgeous! I sign under each word including the recommendation to read The Handmaid’s Tale which is what really would have happened with Rhine in such scenario. I can’t see how Linden would have been any different from The Commander…

    • Christina says:

      If you were unhappy with Wither, the latter two would make you foam at the mouth with rage. I really don’t get this series being so popular at this point. The Handmaid’s Tale is amazing. Linden really isn’t different, other than not having sex with her, but maybe the commander might have given her time if he has two other ladies for sex. Who knows?

  7. Stephanie says:

    Oh my gosh! You should check out a book called Innocence by Jane Mendelsohn. The whole thing is about subverting horror tropes like the idea that if you have sex you die, and that the virginal “final girl” always survives.

  8. cncbooks says:

    You got a lot farther than I did. I chucked Wither 2/3 of the way in when I realized I was either snoring or cursing, neither being a good reaction. More power to you for sticking it out because you at least gave the series a fair shot, unlike me.

    • Christina says:

      Ha, well, I’m sure others would say I’m a big jerk for reading this one when I didn’t think I would like it, but, hey, I gave the series every chance in the world.

  9. Molli Moran says:

    Ohhhhh my. I skimmed this because I bought Wither last year and have been meaning to read it, but I saw how much you disliked this one. Man, Rhine sounds like a freaking piece of work, eh? I’m planning to give Wither a try but unless it really knocks my socks off, I won’t continue the series. I am REALLY picky when it comes to post apoc/dystopian.

    Molli | Once Upon a Prologue

    • Christina says:

      Oh dear, honey. I would say just read Wither. It didn’t make me angry, and I remember thinking it was okay. Of course, that was early in my blogging career, so who knows what I would think now (even without knowing where the series would go). Good luck, buddy.

  10. thanks for the review. I stopped at book two because nothing happened in that book , and I wanted my time back. I am glad to know that I didn’t miss a damn thing. This series started off great but fizzled. I can usually tell with a book 2 if i will read on.

    • Christina says:

      Good choice, Julie. You really didn’t miss any plot, except for what I outlined there at the end. Vaughn finally gets killed in an anti-climactic scene and Rhine gets to live happily ever after for some reason.

  11. Jessica R says:

    Ohhhh wow. I read Wither and wasn’t really impressed by it, but was recently considering picking the series back up after hearing people love Sever upon its release. That will no longer be happening, knowing it really doesn’t get any better, so thank you!

    • Christina says:

      OMG, do not. If you weren’t a big fan of Wither, I really don’t think there’s any way that you will be happier with the rest. Some people love it, and good for them, I guess, but this does not improve as it goes along.

  12. pagesunbound says:

    I’ve only read Wither and was not impressed to continue the series–so this was an informative and amusing summary. I got the gist of the rest of the story without having to slog through books 2 and 3!

    I admit I haven’t read many reviews of the series, but so far I haven’t seen many negative ones, so I appreciate this. There’s a lot wrong with these books, both in terms of writing and some moral sense, which you seem to agree with. Linden is creepy, or at least stupid, and should not be a valid love interest. But Rhine has no reason to like Gabriel either so…there’s not much to root for in this supposed love triangle.

    I also noted that DeStefano didn’t seem entirely comfortable with the world she was building or, as you put it, didn’t follow things to their logical conclusions. Maybe she would have gone further if it were adult? As a YA, the book tries to walk some thin lines, and it doesn’t always work. Just the polygamy thing, for example. It happens, but Rhine never has sex so we don’t have to think of her as a polygamist and can therefore like her more or something.

    Also, yes, Rhine is stupid. My favorite part is when she puts in colored contacts and thinks she has a brilliant disguise. No one will recognize her now!

    • Christina says:

      Isn’t it nice how I could sum up all of the plot of two books in a couple of paragraphs? It’s great when nothing actually happens. There’s this whole thing in book two where they take this little girl, daughter of one of the prostitutes, and find her a home. None of it has ANY impact on the series as a whole. Oy.

      Really? How can there not be a bunch of negative ones? There’s so much that I find upsetting. Linden’s totally a love interest, even if it’s not framed that way. Rhine’s so much more interested in him than Gabriel, despite the occasional assertions the other way.

      Exactly! I’m not sure if it’s because it’s for YA or just that DeStefano didn’t want to go there. Yeah, it’s like if she had sex with him, then she would be lesser or something. We’re supposed to look down on Jenna for going along with the situation in which she’s found herself. I don’t like the messages of that at all.

      Haha, this can’t be Rhine! She has two eyes the same color. Natch.

  13. Kami says:

    Wow! I’m glad I stopped after the first book.

  14. Faye M. says:

    Thanks for the review, Christina! I had all three books in my TBR list, but I’ve always been hesitant to pick it up because the premise seemed ridiculous back then. Now I know better 🙂 I’ll never, ever touch this series. I mean, unrealistic premises are okay because it’s only fiction, but for those that make NO sense whatsoever? No, thanks!

    Faye @ The Social Potato

    • Christina says:

      I think this premise could maybe have been turned into something, but nothing was ever explained aside from science did things. Also, I’m really not okay with the “males have better immune systems so they live five years longer” thing. I mean, even if they do, immune systems vary, so why do all girls die at twenty and men at 25. That doesn’t make any sense to me.

      • Tobu says:

        The lifespan thing was one of the worldbuilding issues that bothered me the most in this series. Biologically speaking, women outlive men. Period. Our bodies and immune systems are built to last. Unless this virus is customized to somehow hit women harder, the girls of Witherworld should be outliving their husbands.

        Consequently, the entire premise of this series is built on misunderstood and/or deliberately cooked biology. And as far as I can tell, it’s mostly to facilitate the tragic widower setup for Linden. (And/or to suit the author’s the-husband-must-be-older complex.)

        It’s even more frustrating because you could easily tell a similar or better story with decent science. Polygamy is still the fastest way to breed lots of babies, even if the boys die younger than their wives. A virus that kills young, but more unpredictably so, is arguably scarier than a virus that magically knows it’s your twentieth birthday next month. And so on, etc…

    • Faye M. says:

      I find it quite absurd that a lot of people think they can make up something so ridiculous like that for the, I dunno, shock factor maybe? To give it a dystopian feel? It feels so fake and unnatural, as if it was put there for the mere heck of it.

    • Christina says:

      Yeah, I’m with you. I feel like a lot of dystopian/post-apoc novels were dreamed up from a basic concept. “Think how creepy it would be if girls died at 20 and guys at 25” or “imagine if people had to kill off their twin,” but the authors don’t necessarily figure out how to set that idea up believably.

    • Stephanie says:

      I think that unfortunately comes from the fact that novels sell on a one-sentence pitch…sometimes pubs really don’t care if the idea will be developed believably.

  15. Amy says:

    I only read your opening paragraph, and looked at the gifs. I read the first book, and I have the second one. I plan on getting to it sometime since I bought it, but now I am doubting whether I should. I wish I had a physical copy instead of a nook copy because if I gave it away I wouldn’t feel guilty about buying it and not reading it. Thank you for the warning.

    • Christina says:

      Oh dear. Yeah, if I’d paid money for it, I would probably try to read it anyway. I usually punish myself for my unwise financial decision by making myself read the book I bought. Haha.

  16. KM says:

    Baha! I’ve only heard bad things about this book, even from people who liked books 1 and 2. But I just couldn’t stomach a book about polygamy – that stuff freaks me out, yo. Your review was hilarious, and I’m very sorry you had to take one for the team here. I’m just glad I didn’t read it 😉

    • Christina says:

      Oh really? I feel like most of the people I follow were smart enough to quit reading this series. Haha. I’ve only heard about it from one person.

      Yeah, you’re not big on dystopias to begin with and there’s no swoony romance or anything. I think you might agree for once. haha.

  17. Ok I remember liking Wither pretty well at the time I read it, but I never read Fever and time has passed and I can’t remember anymore why I liked it, but I decided with so many other books out there I really don’t care to finish the series.

    After reading your review I am SOOOOOO GLAD I didn’t read the other two books. The fact that Rhine doesn’t appeared to have grown or changed in any way, shape or form irritates the crap out of me. The ending also sounds terrible.

    And love triangles should never, ever, ever end that way! Ever! That defeats the point of a love triangle! The only thing worse than this is if there is no choice made at all!

    • Christina says:

      I liked Wither pretty well at the time, and I really don’t know if I still would at this point, but I’ll allow the series that much.

      You made a good choice, and, no, she hasn’t grown one bit. It’s sad, really.

      NEVER. So lame. UNLESS she chooses a guy and then HE dies, and the other guy’s happy and she’s alone. lol. I’m a bitch.

  18. Renae M. says:

    Uhm. Basically this review is awesome. (I tried to think of something intelligent to say, but I’m not very coherent lately.) You’re so right in terms of Rhine’s sexuality—or lack thereof—and also the nothingness that was this book’s plot. But yeah, yep yep yep. Incoherent Renae is incoherent. Carry on.

  19. Ugh… I can’t read this review yet because I haven’t read Sever. I shall return. *whips cape and retreats into the shadows*

  20. Hahhahahaha this makes me inappropriately laugh. And you know what, I love that you wrote this because I actually really liked the first two books but I am not a fricken psycho, so I won’t freak out on you for dogging a series that I liked. Funny, that.

    Anyways, I still don’t know if I will read Sever. I guess I just want to see how things play out.

  21. Tobu says:

    Just swinging through for some spoilers, since I lost patience with the series after Fever. It’s at least nice to hear that the rest of the world was NOT sunk into the sea, since that always made me gnash my teeth in books 1 and 2. (A, continents and oceans don’t work that way, and B, even if somehow the rest of the world was successfully blown into rubble and sunk, how are we living in a mansion in a thriving Florida orchard, clearly not drowned by the risen sea levels? All that landmass would displace a lot of seawater. The fact that Rhine never thinks of this drove me batty.)

    Besides the pure-virgin-in-a-world-where-sex-is-justifiably-ubiquitous thing, and the blatant sunk-continent lies, there was just so much bad worldbuilding in general. So, not having read this final installment:

    Did they ever explain why all the unchosen “brides” are shot, rather than being put back in the van and peddled to the next husband? Especially given that fertile girls are apparently such a hot commodity?

    Did they ever explain why there are so many stray children, when Deirdre and her peers clearly demonstrate that training them in a trade is an excellent investment?

    Did they ever explain how Linden could be a fully educated and successful architect who puts on public exhibitions in the city and attends balls full of young kidnapped brides, and yet also a complete naif who doesn’t know about the squalor of the world outside his father’s home or anything about bride Gathering?

    Did they ever explain why movie theaters are still running? Who buys the tickets, if the world is a complete shithole where young women can’t go outside without being kidnapped and pointlessly shot?

    (Note: “To make the dystopia seem super terrible” and “because the author didn’t think it through” are not satisfactory answers.) Sigh.

  22. Anonymous says:

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