Book Review: Sever, Lauren DeStefano (2013)

Saturday, April 13th, 2013

Cicely saves the day!

four out of five stars

Trigger alerts for discussion of rape, violence, and drug use.

Having managed to escape Vaughn’s mansion for the second time in as many books – this time, through a botched, drug-fueled suicide attempt – Sever finds Rhine Ellery recovering in a Florida hospital room, surrounded by her (soon-to-be ex-) husband Linden, sister (-wife) Cicely, and their young son Bowen. Though Linden’s feelings for his estranged wife are complicated and oftentimes contentious, he refuses to relinquish Rhine for use in his father’s experiments. Instead, Linden “gives” Rhine her freedom and agrees to help her in her quest to find her missing twin brother, Rowan, now a pro-naturalist “anarchist” who’s taken to bombing research labs. (Scare quotes because the term “anarchist” is bandied about without further explanation.) Along the way, Rhine and her companions discover more than they bargained for, including answers to many of the questions raised in The Chemical Garden trilogy. In the face of unthinkable tragedy – and not insignificant triumphs – the survivors also find home, family, and hope amongst one another.

I hesitate to say much more about the plot, since it’s filled with unexpected twists, turns, and intersections (some of them admittedly improbable). Suffice it to say that those who enjoyed the previous two books in the trilogy – Wither and Fever – will not be disappointed. In fact, if you thought of Fever as mere “filler,” most likely Sever will prove a pleasant surprise. Fast-paced and full of suspense, Sever will have you glued to the couch (Kindle?). DeStefano’s prose is, as always, lovely, poetic, and brimming with detail. A number of old favorites – including those you just love to hate – reappear: Vaughn, Madame Soleski, Jared, Lilac, and (yes) Gabriel (though his face time is blessedly limited). We also meet Linden’s uncle Reed, an eccentric and delightful recluse who was banished from the mansion after Vaughn’s experiments nearly killed Linden in childhood, and travel to Hawaii which, contrary to the American government’s claims, does indeed still exist.

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Book Review: Fever, Lauren DeStefano (2013)

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Before the Fever Breaks

four out of five stars

Trigger alerts for discussion of rape, violence, and drug use.

In a two-star review of Wither, one Amazon reader commented, “I really just couldn’t stand Rhine at all. She kept saying she wanted to be free. But what point was there to being free. She was safe, and treated well, and it was terrible where she was.”

Freedom or comfort – this is the choice facing Rhine Ellery at the end of Wither. Within the walls of Vaughn’s estate, Rhine will never want for creature comforts; she has more food than she can eat, the latest in technological toys, and a “husband” and sister wives who love her. Somewhere (far, so far!) outside of the gates are her twin brother, Rowan; the Manhattan home they shared with their parents, now five years dead; and, perhaps most importantly, choice: the freedom to choose her own path in life, no matter how hard or short it might be.

If you know exactly how and when you’ll die, which would you choose?

* Warning: minor spoilers ahead! *

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Book Review: Wither, Lauren DeStefano (2011)

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time. (*)

four out of five stars

Trigger warning for rape and violence.

At the tender age of sixteen, Rhine Ellery is already well past middle age. Genetic experimentation meant to rid the world of disease and extend the human lifespan has instead had the opposite effect: all women can expect to die in their twentieth year, and men only live to see twenty-five. In a world mostly absent of adults, the streets of New York City are overrun with orphans who beg and steal to get by. Children are sold as guinea pigs, experimented on in hopes of finding an antidote to the unnamed sickness that strikes down young people before their lives have even begun. “Gatherers” in gray coats and dark vans roam the streets, kidnapping girls and young women to sell into sexual slavery or as child brides. Girls deemed “unsellable” are murdered, their bodies discarded along the side of the road like sacks of garbage.

Though their lives are far from ideal, Rhine and her twin brother Rowan are better off than most. They are orphans – but, unlike most orphans, they were lucky enough to know their parents. Members of the “first generation” of genetically modified humans, Mr. and Mrs. Ellery lived long and healthy lives, the sickness that kills young adults only manifesting in their children and grandchildren (and so on down the line). In fact, they probably would have outlived Rhine and Rowan, had they not been murdered by “pro-naturalists” who bombed the lab in which they were employed as geneticists. Rhine and Rowan are relatively well-educated and, while they were forced into the workplace at the age of twelve, they’re lucky enough to have a roof over their heads and food to eat. A meager existence, but one far better than freezing to death on a stranger’s porch, as Rhine finds a homeless girl one winter morning.

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