Thursday, September 25, 2014

Audio Book Review: The Chemical Garden Trilogy by Lauren Destefano

Brilliant, morbid, desolate and fascinating

Series: The Chemical Garden
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Publisher: HarperCollins /Recorded Books
My ratings: 4 out of 5 stars
Released: December 2013

This is a review of The Chemical Garden Trilogy by Lauren DeStefano.

The Chemical Garden Trilogy is the debut series written by Lauren DeStefano. To be honest, while I may have heard a lot about this series I had not picked it up as the reviews had been quite conflicting. I decided to pick up the audio book on a whim, as this series has been widely read and that is the reason why there has been so many opinions about it. My curiosity got the better of me and I gave in.

The series consists of three books called Wither, Fever and Sever and they have been aptly named. The premise goes like this. In the near future, with the developments in technology and medicine, diseases like cancer and the likes have been cured making human kind almost immortal. However their children were not so lucky as due to some side effects, their off spring contract a 'virus' and perish at the age of 20 of the girls and 25 for the boys. The older generations are called First Generation and the newer kids called New Generation. In a society like this, where human lifespan is so short, people tend to get married and have children as soon as possible. Basically try and live as much as possible before their expiry dates.

Rhine is kidnapped and sold to the rich House Master, Vaughn, where she is married off to his son along
with 2 other girls. Polygamous marriages are common for the wealthy and girls are kidnapped on a daily basis. She is held within an mansion with the constant fear of rape and torture, Rhine yearns to be free again and live in Manhattan with her twin brother, Rowan.

Rhine was an empathetic character. The story is being narrated by her and she is a strong, resilient and determined character. Even while she is trapped in this impossible situation, she does not lose hope and sits like a duck to await her fate. The mansion provides security and luxury bit Rhine knows she is a bird in an gilded cage. The audio book narrator, Angela Lin put a fair amount of work in order to bring the right emotion to the character. There was always this sense of hope and desolation in her voice which convinced me of the longing Rhine felt for her freedom.

Before I go any further, I have to hand it to Lauren DeStefano, the lady knows how to write.The plot is spread quite thinly across the three books and the dystopian world while being terrifying, hopeless and desolate was not quite convincing. There were many plot holes with the world building and I just wish that there was more depth and complexity to it. Regardless, I was mesmerised with Rhine's story. It wasn't complex or with lots of twists or turns or many surprises. Furthermore, the bigger picture was bleak and not very well explained but I was sucked into Rhine's world. The writing makes the reader almost blinded to everything except Rhine's emotions and her quest for freedom. Rhine at first felt a little whiny but over the course of the series we get to see how strong and determined she really is.

The side characters were really interesting, including Rhine's sister-wives Cecily and Jenna. The three girls forge a bond in this unusual circumstances which was beautiful to witness. The House Master Vaughn is the villain of the story, as he is the one holding the girls and trying his experiments on unwitting subjects, trying to find a cure for the virus. Then we have Linden, Rhine's oblivious husband and the love interest Gabriel who is an attendant. Gabriel was sweet and caring and looks after Rhine and becomes her friend when she needs
someone the most. While it's clear he is the love interest he felt flat for me. There was so much potential for him as it's clear the author knows how to write beautiful romantic relationship, Rhine and Gabriel failed to instill any excitement in me. There romance was boring and round the mill. Linden on the other hand was another story. There was so much wrong with Rhine and Linden's situation as the reader was supposed to hate him for having three wives but all I felt for him was pity. He was deeply in love with his first wife Rose and Rhine. He comes to love all his wives in his own way ( that statement in itself is so wrong) but I felt deep sympathy for him. He is timid and quiet but he cares about Rhine very much. Yes, he has marital relationship with a 13 year old girl, which is gross on so many levels but I still cannot hate him.

Rhine of course is conflicted about her feeling for him and at one point it is attributed to Stockholm Syndrome but I think it was more than that. I did not like how Lauren progressed his character over the course of the book, especially in the last book. Sever. It made me slightly angry to think that a shortcut was taken but , it did resolve the story well.

The story deals with polygamous marriages and possible rape and underage pregnancies which are serious taboo/serious topics to write YA dystopia on, but Lauren DeStefano does a splendid job of it. I loved how small Rhine's perspective is, as often dystopian books are usually about the bigger picture. While it may be criticised for it, I also enjoyed how Rhine's narrative was like a candle in the dark and the reader could only see and feel what this candle was illuminating.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Chemical Garden Series. The world building may leave something to desire but the writing, narrative, characters are brilliantly written and I was gripped by where the story will take me next. It was morbid, sad, unilateral sorrowful and yet utterly brilliant, evocative and fascinating. I think it is a must read of every YA fan as it has a dark, serious tone which will make you keep turning the pages until you can barely see.


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