Wither (The Chemical Garden Trilogy Book #1) by Lauren DeStefano
In the not-too-distant future, because of genetic engineering, every human is a ticking time bomb. Males live only to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. To keep the population from dying out, girls are kidnapped and sold into polygamous marriages.
When sixteen-year-old Rhine is taken she enters a world of wealth and privilege that both entices and terrifies her. She has everything she ever wanted–except freedom. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to escape before it’s too late.
Here’s the scoop:
Wither grabbed me from the first page.
Rhine is being held captive by Gatherers—men who kidnap young women and sell the chosen ones into forced, polygamous marriages, murdering the leftovers without remorse. She fears she’ll never see her twin brother, Rowan, again and that the difficult life she’s left behind will only be a distant memory. She’s sent to a beautiful mansion with attendants, unlimited food, clothing, and anything she could possibly desire as she awaits the impending doom of matrimony.
Such kidnappings are common in the world. The younger generation is dying out. Men only live to the age of twenty-five and women to twenty. The oldest generations still live long, healthy lives, but their offspring are dying to a mysterious genetic disorder that appears to have no cure. Young women are often sold to wealthy families who, in a desperate attempt to ensure the continuation of the family lineage, force marriage and children upon their victims.
Rhine, along with two other girls–Jenna and Cecily–is to be the wife of Lindon Ashby, the House Governor and son of Dr. Vaughn Ashby. Lindon’s current wife, Rose, is twenty and nearing the end of her life. She appears to love her husband—though she admits to marrying him against her will— and as she struggles for every breath in her last few days, a lovesick Lindon grieves. After Rose’s death, Lindon marries Rhine, along with Jenna (the oldest) and Cecliy (barely thirteen).
Rhine finds ways to placate Lindon, but never truly accepts her new life. She constantly seeks a way out; an opportunity yet undiscovered; a chance to escape from the prison of her marriage and find her brother. She befriends Gabriel, a servant, and the two become close. As they fight to keep their burgeoning love a secret they dream of running away together. They both learn quickly that the person to fear in their household is not Lindon, but Vaughn, Rhine’s menacing father-in-law who is watching them closely.
I found it interesting to note the differences in how each wife dealt with her impending doom and her fate as an enslaved bride. Rhine essentially has four years left to live and is bound and determined to risk her safety to escape. It’s such a dramatic difference from the desires of her sister wives. Cecily is an orphan who is thrilled at the idea of being suddenly wealthy and “loved” and Jenna is a former prostitute who, though she refuses to open up to Lindon, has basically given in and decided not to fight.
And then there’s Lindon. Lindon is a character I should hate. He marries (and even impregnates) young women seemingly against their will. And he has not one wife, but three. He clearly favors Rhine—slipping in her bedroom each night to lie beside her in bed, often crying over his beloved Rose—but he never lays a hand on her. The more I came to understand him, the more I liked him and the more torn I felt about Rhine’s desire to run away. Obviously she needs to try because she has been taken against her will, but I couldn’t help wondering how she would have felt about her husband if she’d just met him the natural way.
Vaughn is a different story altogether. His lack of conscience and his determination to preserve the family bloodline lend to the creation of a perfectly terrifying, evil villain. He was creepy and easy to hate and I truly feared for the well-being of every person near him, even his own clueless son.
Wither is an excellent read. DeStefano vividly paints a picture of the desolate, dreary world in which Rhine lives. She skillfully pulled me into her world, forcing me to feel emotion for characters that I would otherwise have hated, and kept me on the edge of my seat. Her writing is solid and shows the contradictory emotions Rhine finds in her feelings of detachment from her husband and the comforts of her new life. Her flashbacks are descriptive and helped to lay the groundwork for the present, giving understanding to the dilemma facing Rhine and all of the characters. My only tiny complaint is that I felt that the romance between Gabriel and Rhine fell a little short. It’s possibly because the two barely get a moment together since everyone is watching them, but I would have liked more. Still, I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Wither is the first book in The Chemical Garden Trilogy. It is in stores March 22 (that’s TODAY!). Read it!
Crush Intensity: 4/5 Excellent!
Watch the Trailer:
Thank you to my awesome librarian Julianne, for insisting I read her advance copy! Loved it.