I expected to enjoy Wither. Why wouldn’t I? The blurb on the book jacket reads,
“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.”
Intriguing, right? That’s exactly what I thought. Like I said, I expected to enjoy Wither. What I did not expect, was to get completely lost in the dystopian world created by Lauren DeStefano.
This fictional future USA is a dreary place, but it is still eerily familiar. The first chapter grips readers immediately by thrusting them into the middle of the action. I love the use of first-person, present tense narration that adds a sense of immediacy and urgency to the novel. It is as if we are discovering this crazy world along with Rhine, seeing everything through her eyes. And I do mean EVERYTHING. This novel is full of descriptions, from intricately designed gardens to gorgeous dresses—there is no lacking of detail in the prose. Normally, I find this distracting (I had to skip through the pages of dress descriptions in the Luxe series) but for some reason it works in this novel. I could smell the bath salts, taste the lobster bisque and chocolate éclairs, feel the harsh hurricane winds, and hear Cecily’s music and Jenna’s coquettish conversations.
The best thing about this debut novel is the lush language. I’m one of those people who has to write in the books she’s reading (even when I’m reading on my Kindle) and there were so many passages that I underlined just because of the beautiful way the words were put together. Some of my favorites:
“It’s the silence I imagine in the rest of the world, the silence of an endless ocean and uninhabitable islands, a silence that can be seen from space.”
“Fall has always been my favorite season. The time when everything bursts with it’s last beauty, as if nature has been saving up all year for the grand finale."
It is, of course, the characters who drive the story. Rhine, the spunky main character has wisdom well beyond her sixteen years, due to the way she has grown up and the situation in which she now finds herself. Jenna, her sister wife is both feral and pitiable; a damaged girl who has experienced way too much, too soon and who, as a result, is a fierce protector of her sister wives. Cecily, who should be repugnant, evokes empathy and readers will at once want to slap her and hug her. Likewise, Linden is not entirely dislikable, though he is sniveling and naïve. Gabriel is a victim of circumstance who is torn between a desire to protect Rhine and to see her happy. Vaughn, on the other hand, is every bit the arch-villain—I hope very much that he will meet a painful demise in the series. Rowan, Rhine’s twin brother is hinted at in flashbacks and in the stories Rhine tells her sister wives, he is a character I look forward to learning more about as the story continues. That’s another thing—this is the first installment of a series; however, it is also every bit its own story.
I just can’t say enough how much I loved this book. What a phenomenal debut for Lauren DeStefano!
Click here to hear the author discussing her book.