I’m finding it hard to write this review and I think that’s because Wither by Lauren Destefano has left me speechless and completely dumbfounded. I read it rather quickly as I just had to keep on reading and I didn’t like putting it down at various intervals when life got in the way. The premise of Wither is quite original, dealing with an arguably taboo subject in the YA world and that is polygamy. I have never seen another YA book deal with this subject matter and whilst it was this very thing that intrigued me in the first place, it is also the aspect of the book I found most disturbing. Here’s the synopsis:
“What if you knew exactly when you would die?
Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb — males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.
When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden's genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape — to find her twin brother and go home.
But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden's eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limited time she has left."
One of the strongest attributes of Wither is the characters. Rhine is a fantastic protagonist and I admire her strength and courage, and how she is not only strong for herself but also for her sister wives who indeed become like real sisters. Rhine is a spirited young lady but she is smart to keep her true feelings to herself as a way of self preservation. Rhine narrates the audience through the terrifying world in which she lives in but what’s even more terrifying is that on the surface, from a day to day perspective, it actually looks quite nice and comfortable. She lives in luxury and is treated well, Linden is not an ogre and I thought the way Lauren chose to write his character was very clever. You’d think that he would be very dislikeable, after all he has three wives who were kidnapped against their will and forced to marry him, share his bed (separately, I hasten to add)and live like everything is just peachy. But we don’t hate him as we come to realise that he is just as much of a victim in this as everyone else. Arguably, the forced kidnapping and polygamy has become a necessary way to procreate and ensure survival of our species. It all sounds rather mechanical doesn’t it? I mean, what about love? Thankfully, this is also touched upon in the novel as we learn about Rose, Linden’s first wife who sadly died from the disease. Also, Rhine is more and more attracted to Gabriel but is it love? Possibly ;)
Overshadowing it all is Linden’s father who is one of the creepiest characters I’ve read about in a long time. He is a wealthy, intelligent man who no doubt loves his son but takes the idea of doing anything to save him to the extremes.
Wither is not an action packed novel but rather it feels like an eerie period drama set mainly in a sprawling stately home. I would describe it as a strange mix of Victorian grandeur and futuristic dystopia. The world building is enough so that you can see it all playing out like a movie in your mind. Like my good friend and author Zoe Marriott said in her fantastic review, Wither is a book that chips away at you quietly and gets under your skin. You’ll be thinking about it long after you’ve read it.
Wither is the first book in the Chemical Garden trilogy and was published on 22nd March, 2011. The sequel entitled “Fever” will be published in February, 2012. To find out more about Lauren Destefano, click here to visit her website. She is also active on Facebook on Twitter.