(Website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads)Series: The Chemical Garden #1
Published by Simon and Schuster on March 22nd 2011
Genres: Dating & Sex, Death & Dying, Science Fiction, Social Issues, Young Adult
What if you knew exactly when you’d die?
The first book of The Chemical Garden Trilogy.
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 discovered Lauren DeStefano’s vlogs and am so glad that I did. Her debut novel, Wither, has been on my shelf for a while. I’ve heard mixed reviews about it, but I’ve never really heard about it, other than the dystopian feel and early fatality rate for the current generation of humans. When I watched her vlog on the book (which contains some spoilers for those adamantly opposed to such an idea), I couldn’t resist finally pulling the book off my shelf and diving in after I finished my current read.
Rhine Ellery gets taken into the life that she always feared: a rich man’s wife. One of three, to be exact. I am one of those people who finds the subject of polygamy fascinating, so that in and of itself was enough to make me want to read more. Rhine hated Linden Ashby, her new husband. She hated what he stood for and that he subjected her to this new life. After all, she only had four years left to live before the virus would take her, too. I didn’t expect a lot of romance, but I did expect a lot of confusion. How she saw Linden, the gradual progression of their relationship enticed me. I enjoyed getting inside the head of someone who can no longer tell who to blame for her misfortune. I liked Linden, I found it difficult not to like him.
While Linden confused me, I fell hard for Gabriel. The quiet and reserved servant could not remember what it meant to truly live, and his and Rhine’s relationship was exhilarating in a slow burn kind of way. She was married—but she was one of three. He was a servant—but he only had a few years left to live before the regret of never having a life sunk in on his deathbed. Every look, touch, and secret they shared was forbidden. And, be honest, who doesn’t love forbidden love?
The love that shown throughout the novel was that of the wives. Rhine had a connection with Linden first wife, Rose, before her untimely death. Their relationship didn’t grow and mature as much as the bonds that she formed with Cecily and Jenna, the wives that shared an anniversary with her, but it set the background for much of the novel. They had a unique relationship, one shaded with unplanned jealousy and obvious discomfort—but there were also bright moments, times where they worked together and stood firm against the people holding them captive. While they were all Linden’s wives, they were sisters first, and I loved their relationship, even through the uncertain bits.
Time hung over every characters’ head. Whether he or she was the one with the inevitable expiration date or the one watching those around them dwindle down barely out of their teens, it controlled everything about the story. The sci-fi aspect of the novel drew me in, the knowledge that the happily-ever-after we’re so accustomed to in literature could be as short as a year’s time. As a reader, DeStefano put an expiration date on our after-the-last-page fantasy, and it added an expedited quality to the journey. Rhine just wanted to live, and I wanted her to live—I still want her to live. The ticking time bomb is as much of a character in this series as the actual characters.
I love books that make me think. There’s something inherently magical about a book that picks at your brain, your emotions, and knocks on your moral compass. The rest of the series is definitely on my must-read list. I’m still going to root for Rhine and the enigmatic cure, against my better judgment. No more spoilers for me—I’m ready for the edge-of-your-seat business.