Book Review: Wither (The Chemical Garden #1) by Lauren DeStefano
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?
Opinion: (Slight spoilers – read with caution)
I can’t remember the last time I was so conflicted about a novel. I spent the first 224 pages not really caring about the novel. I was mostly enjoying it, and I loved the characters, but I wasn’t really dying to find out what happened. At the end of chapter fifteen, I had almost decided to just stop reading the book all together, because Rhine was so frustrating. I really only kept reading because I had spent so much time on the first part of the book, and I wanted to see how it ended. The rest of the book was really fascinating. I couldn’t put it down. I was even crying near the end of it. And then the book actually ended, and I found myself not really caring again. I guess I’ll try to organize my thoughts a bit more than that, though.
First, I absolutely loved the characters. They were what kept me interested in the story, even when the plot wasn’t really pulling me. They all seemed to real to me. They had their own personalities, and I found myself c aring about them. There’s only one really horrible character in the novel; the rest all have their strengths and weaknesses, their good sides and their bad. They were fascinating. They reacted to each other like real people would. I could picture them in my head. I liked that Linden wasn’t just this horrible guy who’s forcing himself on his wives. Yes, he has four wives at one point, and his youngest wife is thirteen, but I find it hard to dislike him because he’s so clueless about everything.
Really, the only character (other than Vaughn) that I couldn’t really understand was Rhine. Maybe I’m a pathetic person, but I couldn’t really understand why she wanted to leave so badly. Yes, Vaughn was horrible, but he hadn’t really done anything to her personally (other than kidnap her from what sounds like a horrible life). Linden has no idea that they were kidnapped, has no idea what happened to the girls who weren’t chosen. Rhine keeps complaining about how clueless and sheltered and naïve Linden is, but she has several opportunities to tell him the truth, and she doesn’t. That’s what almost made me stop reading this book, and that’s the main reason I dislike it. Rhine has a husband that’s nice to her, that makes her feel special and will give her anything that she wants. Why doesn’t she tell him the truth about where she came from, that she has a twin brother whom she misses dearly? I’m sure Linden would have tried to find her brother and brought him to live with them, and they could have all lived happily ever after.
Again, maybe I’m just a pathetic person, but I don’t see what’s so horrible about living with Linden. I don’t understand what’s so great about Gabriel. I don’t dislike him or anything, as he seems nice, but I don’t really feel like we see enough of him to really understand her pull towards him. I found myself relating to Linden a lot more, and I got a better read of Rhine when she was with Linden, as well. We also have to remember that Rhine is going to die in four years. I’d rather spend my last four years with my sister wife, domestic, and husband, going to parties and having plenty to eat and drink. She and her brother didn’t exactly have an easy life. I’m sorry, but I found myself relating a lot more to Cecily than I did to Rhine, at least for the first three-quarters of the novel.
I know a lot of people have complained about the world building of this novel. Really, the world building didn’t bother me for the most part. I could buy the fact that they created a perfect generation and then damned all future generations to dying young. The ages seemed a bit odd to me, but I could go with it. Most people have a hard time believing that only America still exists, but I never for a moment thought that that was true. I guess I’ll have to read the future books to find out, but I’m assuming that’s just something they tell people so they won’t try to go somewhere else.
The only part of the world building that didn’t make any sense to me was why they would kill the girls that weren’t chosen to be brides. Why wouldn’t they keep them to study? And if they’re so concerned about keeping the population alive, why would they kill so many young women? Why wouldn’t they just rape them and force them to have children? I have to admit, that part didn’t really make sense to me. I also don’t see what’s so horrible about cutting up dead people. The person’s dead; of course you should dissect their body to try to find a cure for what killed them. It’s better than cutting up living people, isn’t it?
This book definitely left me with mixed feelings. I couldn’t relate to the main character, and I felt as thought most of her problems would have been solved if she had just been honest with her husband. That said, I found the characters intriguing overall, and I am curious to see what happens in the next book. I won’t be rushing out to read the next book, but I will definitely be picking it up eventually.