Wither by Lauren DeStefano
Published: 2 May 2011 (Harper Voyager)
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Source: Swapped at the Harry Potter Alliance's Apparating Library
Plot Summary (from Goodreads):
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.
I picked this book up at the Harry Potter Alliance's Apparating Library at Leakycon last year. It jumped off the shelves at me as I'd heard of it and knew it was a dystopian type book. Just my kind of thing! Wither follows Rhine who is sold off to marry Linden, in a world where women only live to age twenty and men to twenty-five. One of several new wives to Linden, Rhine must learn to adapt to her new life under the watchful eye of Linden's father, Housemaster Vaughn.
I loved the concept of Wither. It had that feel about it where, although it's set in a futuristic world, it still feels like something that could actually happen. Developing a cure for cancer has solved one problem and created another, being that people are now dying young and nobody has discovered a way to stop it. There are still what are known as first generations - people living late into their lives and not dying out - which gave you that connection to the real world that made the idea even more frightening. I think DeStefano has managed to conjur up some quite chilling and terrifying ideas and a really elaborate world that made for a gripping read.
I really liked the world building and how the beginning of the book uses flashbacks to give you a bit of back story of Rhine's life and what has happened to her so far. It meant you avoided tied up in boring exposition and kept the book moving.
One of the highlights of Wither is definitely the strenght of the characters. I loved Rhine who comes across as genuinely caring and nurturing. She's always worrying about her brother or the other girls she ends up living with, referred to as her sister wives, and I loved her relationship with Linden's dying wife Rose. I found her observations of other characters to be very astute, for example how well she can read Cecily, the youngest and most naive of Linden's wives. In fact the relationship between all the girls in the house was a highlight for me. I like how they all have different personalities, backgrounds and priorities.
The book does take on a bit of a love triangle, but it was one of those books where I didn't have any preference. There's Rhine's new husband Linden who is a bit of a mysterious character. At first I didn't like him at all, but over the course of the story as he gets closer to Rhine, I found myself really warming to him as a character and wanting to know more about him. When she moves into Linden's house, Rhine also meets Gabriel, a servant who attends on her. Their relationship is more natural as they haven't been forced together and they get to know each other gradually and willingly. I enjoyed Rhine's relationship with both Linden and Gabriel and think their is potential in each pairing.
The pacing of Wither is quite gentle and I enjoyed the focus on characters and the slow unravelling of secrets. As this is the first in a trilogy I was definitely left wanting more and there is a lot I am hoping is touched upon in more detail in the sequel. At times I was hoping for a few more shocks or a bit more action, but I think it's set a solid foundation for a trilogy I'm really excited to continue with.
What to read next: Fever by Lauren DeStefano, book two in the Chemical Garden trilogy
Books like this: Pawn by Aimee Carter, What's Left of Me by Kat Zhang