Monday, February 27, 2012

Wither


Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I read Wither, by Lauren DeStefano, the first book in a planned trilogy called The Chemical Garden. It's also DeStefano's first book ever, and I thought it was a great start.

It takes place in a dystopian future in which scientists have genetically engineered the perfect children--they think. But after the first generation, which is not only disease- and cancer-free but also nearly immortal, all subsequent generations have been attacked by a virus that kills all the women at age 20 and all the men at age 25.

This has resulted in an odd social construct: The wealthy have started practicing polygamy, with one man marrying multiple wives and attempting to impregnate them all during their six fertile years before death. The hope is that someone will discover an antidote, but in the meantime, people want to keep their bloodlines going.

The book starts with a bunch of terrified girls in the back of a van, kidnapped from the streets of Manhattan; three of them are chosen to be sister wives in one mansion in Florida. Jenna, Rhine and Cecily will be married to Linden, whose first wife, Rose, has reached the age of 20 and is on the verge of death from the virus.

Rhine, age 16, is the middle wife (Jenna is 19, Cecily is 13) and the central character of the story. Her greatest desire is to escape and get back to Manhattan and her twin brother, Rowan (and freedom), but despite herself she begins to care about her sister wives and even the husband who was forced on her. Her alliance with the servant, Gabriel, is both the most dangerous and the most promising relationship in her story.

The thing I liked about this book is that although a sequel is obviously planned (since it says right on the cover that it's part of a trilogy), the book can stand alone. You do want to know what happens to these people and this world, but DeStefano doesn't do that thing we all hate, where an author just stops on a cliffhanger, instead of ending her book properly. Nice writing and engaging characters--I look forward to the sequels.

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