cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
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The cover of Wither by Lauren DeStefano; a girl in a ball gown sitting in a dark space, with circles highlighting her face, her wedding ring, and the caged bird next to her.Wither by Lauren DeStefano // Harper Collins, 2011 // Borrowed from the library // Read December 2011, reviewed January 2012 // Trigger warning: (skip) Forced marriage, underage sex and pregnancy.

By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. She can thank modern science for this genetic time bomb. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males with a lifespan of 25 years, and females with a lifespan of 20 years. Geneticists are seeking 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 kidnapped and sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape. 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 is desperate to communicate to her twin brother that she is safe and alive. Will Rhine be able to escape--before her time runs out?

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?

I really didn't mean to read this one - I didn't know anything about it, but I'm generally wary of YA books with girls in floaty dresses on the cover. But then the sequel was stalking me around Waterstones (Every time I went in, I had a moment of "Ooh, that book looks interesting", picked it up, and only then remembered that I'd done this before.) so I decided to exorcise it by reading the first one in the series.

... It worked!

(As an aside, I really liked the cover for this, and the way it throws subtlety to the wind to highlight all of the symbolism. It's nice, I like the design, and it is a floaty-dress cover where the floaty dress is actually appropriate!)

I'm not sure that I can buy the premise - every country in the world except America being gone seems, quite frankly, bloody unlikely (I hope that in the sequels this is revealed to be a lie.). The "we genetically engineered things too well and now everyone in the current generation will be dead by dead by twenty-five (men), or twenty (women)" is... Somewhat fetishistic, if that makes sense, in the same way that In Time was. Everyone is going to die young and pretty, and this is problematic in many ways, some of which are dealt with in the text and some of which... aren't. The lack of explanation, while it's a plot-point, really doesn't help.

On the flip side, if you can accept enough of the setting to get into the story, it's quite well done. The writing is fairly good - the introduction, with the girls in the van, was really atmospheric and terrifying. The characters are really interesting. The plot is... I'll get back to that.

I really liked Rhine and her sister-wives (holy crap it's an American YA book where polygamy is a thing! Now we just need it to be a thing in a... Positive, healthy way!), especially when they're all together and working towards one goal. I like that that the other girls have roles apart from Linden and the house - there isn't really any competition between the girls, which is nice, because they all want such different things! They're friends and sisters who care about each other and help each other (especially Jenna), and I like that they are the focus of their story rather than dwelling on their captors? I find Jenna's change in attitude regarding Linden to be quite strange, because we don't really get a reason for it - I think we're supposed to blame Housemaster Vaughn? On the flip side, I can understand Cecily's motivations really well, bless her - I don't like what she did, but I can understand it. Also her character thread raised interesting questions for me - I thought that the point of the polygamy was to produce more children, a la The Handmaid's Tale, but this doesn't really seem to be mentioned much? In fact, he only seems to be having sex with one of his wives at all. Possibly I am wrong! Possibly I was putting more importance to a minor theme than it warranted! It was still mildly confusing.

I find Rhine interesting, because her life has theoretically improved in almost every way - and she doesn't want it. (It's something that is common to all of the girls; they know most of the beautiful things in the house are an illusion and they hate it and I find that interesting!) She'd sacrifice everything she'd been given for reality and her brother, but she struggles with that. In a world of heroines with laser-like focus, I find it interesting that she gets distracted from this goal, tempted to stay - I found that kinda realistic.

On to the men of this story. Linden: reasonably well handled, as was the Stockholm Syndrome. Like Rhine, I found myself caught up in his seeming to be a nice, oblivious guy - and then remembering that he's an accessory to kidnapping and murder who impregnates a thirteen year old. It's a strange and interesting contrast/combination, especially as he seems to be unaware of so much - and none of the people who could educate him do.1 Vaughn, on the other hand? Felt distinctly under done. He was supposed to be a lurking figure of fear and control, manipulating everyone to his will - and yet he wasn't there enough. He's barely even a prescence in the book, so even despite the conspiracy theories and neon signs saying "THIS IS THE VILLAIN" and his threats... He didn't feel like a threat. As for Gabriel - he's a bit of a non-entity. A very nice non-entity, but when I think back to the book I remember the girls and not him. I'm not sure that there was enough of a set-up for Rhine to risk everything to take him with her.

Which leads me (At long, long last) to the plot! The main plot is Rhine trying to escape, with other things set up along the way as REALLY IMPORTANT, OMG, and yet... Well, here is my reaction when I finished the book.

Susan: I'm still waiting for the shoe to drop on that ending!
Susan: ... I'm not actually sure whether that was the good end or not!
Susan: Hang on a minute, that didn't resolve anything!

And it really doesn't! In between the dresses and the parties (I thought they were very nicely described - very pretty, without quite reaching the realms of purple prose), Rhine discovers subplots and important questions, and none of them are resolved by the end. I suppose that is fair enough from a story point of view, in that she is cutting off her life in the house fairly abruptly, but from a reading point of view, that is kinda frustrating!

Plus, the ending seems far to convienient to me (as does the fact that Rhine is so well informed because her parents were scientists/doctors... That did feel convenient.), but that is just because anyone who isn't really paranoid after an escape confuses me.

In conclusion... I really enjoyed this book, much more than I expected to, but I'd be hard-pressed to tell you why. It's was fun, in a depressing sort of way, despite its flaws, and I guess that's enough!

If you like this you might like:
  • The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood or The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers if you like dystopian/post-apocalyptic futures where baby-production is the major societal concern and role for women, and the reactions people have to this.

  • In Time if you like the aspect of "genetic manipulation means we're all going to die really young!"

  • 1: I appreciate that it's not anyone's responsibility to educate anyone else, but I'm still not sure why Jenna and Rhine didn't explain about the truth - ANY of the truth - to Linden when they had the chance. I do wonder how the story would've gone if they had.
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    Cirque des Geeks

    About Us

    Welcome to Cirque Des Geeks! We are a trio of geeks who review books, manga, comics, tv shows, and films as the mood takes us. Our trio comprises Sam (the fez-wearing philosopher), Susan (the book-addled librarian), and Tonks (the shape-changing scientist). Our interests are wide and varied, but generally come back to science fiction and fantasy in all their forms.

    Sam and Tonks can also be found working with Black Stump Films (On Vimeo and Youtube) making short films.

    We do not have a formal posting schedule, but the current goal is at least two posts per week. If you wish to be kept in the loop of what's happening, please follow us on twitter - [personal profile] cirquedesgeeks.

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