About the book
Wither is the first book in The Chemical Garden Trilogy by Lauren DeStefano. It was published by Harper Voyager on 16th February and the book is 358 pages long.
What if you knew you exactly when you would die?
In our brave new future, DNA engineering has resulted in a terrible genetic flaw. Women die at the age of 20, men at 25. Young girls are being abducted and forced to breed in a desperate attempt to keep humanity ahead of the disease that threatens to eradicate it.
16-year-old Rhine Ellery is kidnapped and sold as a bride to Linden, a rich young man with a dying wife. Even though he is kind to her, Rhine is desper-ate to escape her gilded cage - and Linden's cruel father. With the help of Gabriel, a servant she is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in what little time she has left.
What I thought
I have to admit straight off that I pretty much only wanted this book because of the insanely gorgeous cover. I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover but with one like this, how could you not want it immediately, even without knowing what it is about. Still, I did read the synopsis on the back and it (thankfully) sounded like something I would love anyway.
Wither starts off extremely strong with protagonist Rhine being taken away by men in grey coats. Taken to an unknown place, Rhine is locked up with many other girls in a dark, damp place awaiting her fate. That fate is being sold off into a polygamous marriage to Linden, a wealthy but broken man. The opening of this book is quite shocking because of how Rhine is taken away, where she is taken and then what she is forced to do. Although she doesn't want to die, she also doesn't want to be forced to marry someone she doesn't know and think that she will be turned into a baby making machine.
Rhine is a strong character and while she does go along with this horrible future picked for her, she really doesn't have much other choice. She has already been kidnapped and taken away from her brother so what else can she do. While living at the mansion where Linden lives, Rhine reverts into her a shell a little bit. She doesn't want to give too much away about herself, she doesn't want to know Linden and she sure as hell doesn't want to be a proper wife to him. At the same time as showing strength and bravery, Rhine is also able to show compassion and friendship to Linden's first wife, Rose.
When Rhine is forced to live at the mansion, she knows she is not the only wife bought for Linden. Along with Rhine, two others, Jenna and Cecily are also made to be wives, making all three of them sisters. Next to Rhine, Jenna and Cecily are completely different girls. Jenna is 19, Cecily is only 13 and they were all picked for Linden for completely different reasons. Although Rhine is obviously the main character of this books, the two other girls feature a lot due to them being in quite a confined space for most of the time. The way that these three girls are forced together made their interaction and friendship really interesting because at times, it was unsure what one felt towards the other while at other times, this was so clear.
For many YA books, romance is the main point. Not in this book, even though the synopsis makes it sound as though it will be. Although Linden is technically Rhine's husband, she doesn't want him to be so this is not a story of instant love or romance. Linden is not the hero of the book and at times I really didn't even like him very much. That being said though, he was a great and well written character with a lot of depth. I loved getting to know Linden more over the course of the story and having my opinion changed about him many times.
The real hero is Gabriel, a servant. Rhine and Gabriel become friends quite quickly because of her not wanting to be a 'real' wife to Linden. The two characters have a lot in common because of how they came to be in the mansion and their experiences as they grew up. Gabriel was wonderful but I wish he had been in the story a lot more. The main plotline of Rhine wanting to escape and the time spent with her sisters takes up a lot of page space and this doesn't leave too much room for Rhine and Gabriel. I would have liked to have seen their friendship develop
Wither's villain was truly scary. Housemaster Vaughn is Linden's father but also a scientist/ doctor trying to find a cure for the deadly virus that is killing off the newer generation. Instead of going about this in a normal, civilised way, Housemaster Vaughn seems to have no morals at all. He isn't against killing or dissecting etc. to find his cure and it really seems as though he will go to any length to reach his end goal. Due to this, he comes across as creepy and devious throughout the whole book. I never really trusted him from the beginning but DeStefano makes you question what he is actually doing, putting doubts in your head.
As you can see from Housemaster Vaughn's antics, this book isn't light reading at some point. In fact, many of the themes and issues addressed are dark but real at the same time. Not only is the cure for the virus a big issue but also is child trafficking, prostitution, teen pregnancy - and that is only a few things. While these topics should bring the tone of the book to being something depressing and hard to read, it doesn't. Each aspect only adds intensity to the story and each is written so well that it makes the story better. These things made me open my eyes a little bit to the way that the world works, the one we are in now and also got me thinking about what the world could be like one day.
The majority of this book is either set in the mansion, over the space of one floor or the grounds surrounding it. I thought that because of this, the pacing would be extremely slow but it wasn't. A lot happens during Rhine's time here with all of the characters involved and there was always something going on, whether it be exciting or interesting. As this is the first book in the trilogy, it explains a lot about the world in which it is set and the things that have happened previously and what is happening now. The whole main idea for this book was great and something I have never seen done before, not even anything close to this.
Something that I really liked about this book was the ending. While it does leave the story on somewhat of a cliff-hanger due to this being a trilogy, it is also concluded quite well. Although there are obvious questions left in the air, it would be possible to finish this book and be satisfied that the end really is the end, if you didn't want to carry on with the series. There aren't many series/ trilogies that can pull this off but DeStefano does extremely well. Now, I am not saying don't carry on with this one, because I will be for sure!