Author: Lauren DeStefano
Release: March 22nd 2011
Genre: Dystopia, Science Fiction, YA
#1 in the Chemical Garden trilogy
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?
Solid 3.5 stars.
I can fully and whole-heartedly understand why people might not like this. I see why. But, I have to say, it didn't bother me, and I fully enjoyed myself while reading this book.
The thing that's probably terrorizing readers about this book is the monotony. The whole book is taking place in that awful mansion and there's not really a lot happening outside of it. The plot was there, albeit a bit wavering, still, I was able to feel its ghost. I think what really captured me mainly were the world building and the characters. There is a little bit of a murder mystery going on in the background too though, although there wasn't much to propel that story line forward, unfortunately.
World building was brilliant. Everything was explained, to the fullest, on page 8! We got details about it all! It seemed real, there were all these flashbacks to the 21st century and all that, which made it seem truer, because people were in nostalgia for old times. The bleak world just struck something with me, I was curious. There are still some of these "first generations" around, those who have been artificially conceived to cure cancer and STDs, and were just an experiment gone wrong really, because all their offspring don't live past the age of twenty-five for males, twenty for females. I had minor issues with the fact that the males got a longer lifespan, because that seems a bit misogynistic, but oh well.
These desperate times call for desperate measures, brothels are bursting full and polygamy is reintroduced. Wealthy men have multiple wives to ensure creating enough offspring so that the human race doesn't die off. What I didn't get was the rough treatment of women, there is a full van of girls that Linden was able to choose his wives from, and all the others he didn't choose got shot. Now, why would you do that in a world where the human survival is at stake, and it'd be best to have as many women as possible to ensure our race carries on? Why are we being treated like cattle, while really, we should be treated as queens because our survival lies in our hands? I don't know if I'm just being naive, but that's what my thoughts went back to all the time while I pondered this.
Anyways, plot-wise and especially action-wise, there isn't too much going on. I found all this fairly interesting, what happened in the mansion was fascinating enough for me, personally. There were some plot twists that were nice, plot lines that were intriguing and the general routine was nice to read about.
Characters made the book. The heroine, Rhine Ellery, wasn't particularly strong or anything, but she wasn't weak, either. She definitely didn't make my favorites list, but I found I liked her, because she has quite the agreeable character. Not too whiny or fussy, not too nice or sweet. There were times where Rhine was a tad bit annoying for a page or two, and others were she was just really likeable. All in all, she was very decent. Next we have her sister wives, Cecily and Jenna. Those are the other two girls Linden takes for wives and the three of them form a strong bond. Cecily reminded me a bit of Maura from Born Wicked with her attitude and attention problems, always needing to be coddled and tended to, but she simply had this childlike innocence about her that made her hard to dislike. And in the second half of the book, she undergoes tremendous development, growing up way too fast. It was nice to see this loss of innocence reflected so strongly in the book, as it fit the atmosphere, and not only in the way of how she grew up; also in the literal sense, because, obviously, Linden is supposed to produce offspring.
Jenna was one of my favorite characters, because she kept up her silent rebellion the whole freaking time she was there. And that was eleven months. Her ambition to defy what's expected of her was admirable and I understood her, although there was one major problem I had with her. She said she wouldn't ever share a bed with Linden, and later we find out they do it almost every night. What changed? Why did DeStefano have to make her contradict that character trait of hers? I mean, she got a back story to match, but still... it made her waver a little, and her resolve seemed a bit weak after that. I didn't like it. And while she did it in part with honorable intentions, protecting Rhine, I still didn't like it. What I did like though, or rather loved, was her friendship with Rhine. They have a strong sisterly bond full of affection and understanding for each other, a quiet agreement to make what they both have endure better simply by carrying the burden together. Very lovely.
Anyways, then there was Rose, Linden's former wife and love of his life. Rose was my favorite character. I loved that the author actually put her in the book and gave her screen time, and didn't just make her a shadow of the former lover that we never got to know. No, this way, we could learn a lot about her, especially since she befriends Rhine soon after she arrives at the mansion and I loved her character. She was so strong, even in death, and not bitter about Linden choosing new wives and all that. She was a good person.
Jesus, two paragraphs already purely on characters. But I still have to talk about the two love interests, Linden and Gabriel. I'll start with Linden. I didn't really know what to think of him first, because he seemed like he was a little overly confident and smug in the beginning. Turns out, though, he's actually a timid, shy boy, which made it easier to like him. However, he soon destroys that when he has sex with Cecily. Poor, thirteen-year-old Cecily, and even though she wanted it badly, and it's a desperate world where lives are short, I still couldn't believe it. This apprehensive twenty-one-year-old takes a thirteen-year-old, just like that. I guess it's just because of my own current perspective of the world, but I can't imagine it. I just can't, really. Later, I was able to be more accepting of Linden, though. He was okay in the end. I don't think I'll ever grow to love him, but he's not at fault, after all. He's simply ignorant. Gabriel was adorable though, I loved him. His love for ships and the uncertainty about what he's never had were cute and I hope he's going to have time to adore freedom someday. Gabriel was a good guy.
The romance wasn't sappy or fluffy, thank God, and I actually liked how Gabriel and Rhine's relationship blossomed. No insta-love, take it in, folks! And while she does start to pity Linden and care for him a bit, I wasn't angry. I thought it was a good way to build this love triangle, because it wouldn't have made a lot of sense if she wouldn't have given a rat's behind about Linden after all the time they spent together, even if it was under forced conditions. Especially since she is described as being emotional and empathetic, so, luckily, no more character trait contradiction. I'm intrigued about where this is going to go. It seems a little like the triangle in Shatter Me, and I'm really hoping it won't go where Unravel Me did, because this and Shatter Me have very similar endings. But, we'll see.
Oh, what was up with all the plant/tree names? Rose, Linden, Rowan, Cecily (or rather Cicely)? Huh.
Anyways, I liked this book. I am interested and invested, and I am so happy about that. I was extremely scared I wouldn't like it as I have the two sequels already sitting around here and I really wanted not to have to drag myself through them. But, I'll gladly get to them right away!