Review: Wither (The Chemical Garden #1) by Lauren DeStefano


Title: Wither
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Publisher/Year: Simon & Schuster 12/6/11
Length:   384 Pages
Series:  The Chemical Garden #1


What if you knew exactly when you’d die? The first book of The Chemical Garden Trilogy.

By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males born with a lifespan of 25 years, and females a lifespan of 20 years—leaving the world in a state of panic. Geneticists seek 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 sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape. Yet 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 has no way to communicate to her twin brother that she is safe and alive.

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?

My Thoughts

To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of this story since the cover art makes it look all victorian but the premise if obviously dystopian.  We learn very little of what put them into the position that they are in with girls females dying at 20 and males dying at 25, aside from the thought that there was something to do with the prior generation all being the result of artificial insemination.  They are living in a time where all of the diseases that we know in 2016 are gone, and this first generation are healthy, but their children are not.

Girls are sought out by Gatherers who are on the hunt to find brides for the wealthy and that’s where we meet Rhine – after she’s been caught and has been taken from her twin brother to Florida where she becomes the wife of Linden.

The undertone of this story is one of hope, of the quest for freedom and of building bonds where they are least expected.  Rhine has 2 other wives that were purchased at the same time she was and while they are there all for the same reason, their take on what their experiences are become quite different.  We see Rhine forge friendships with one of the wives but not the other since she can’t be trusted as we learn throughout the story.

In addition to that, we are in the story before Linden’s current wife dies and we see Rhine create a friendship there with her – so that she can become the ‘first wife’ in the hopes to gain more freedom.  In doing this, she inadvertently finds commonalities with Linden, but are they enough to keep her from trying to escape?

The other bit to this as the summary noted is that Rhine gets help from Gabriel – one of the attendants at the mansion.  Gabriel doesn’t remember anything other than the house and because of that, he doesn’t see things necessarily like Rhine does, but what he does see is that there’s something special about her that calls her to him, and not only does it get them into trouble, but it becomes the lead out of this book.

The biggest question is though what’s out there to make life better for them and is there an antidote to the virus that kills everyone of their generation.  Are we going to see Linden’s father continue to be the horror that he is or will he show some type of human side that makes us question it even more.  Will Linden finally realize that maybe his father has orchestrated everything in his life so that he opens his eyes to see that he’s stronger and more independent than his father lets on.  And i guess the biggest question of all is whether Rhine will get her freedom and at what cost?  I know that it’s not going to be easy especially since there are 2 more installments still in this series to prove out that it’s going to get chaotic, but i can’t wait to see how it all turns out.  Enjoy!

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