Lauren DeStefano's debut novel Wither is dystopian to the max. It embodies all of the genre's integral components - a lack of free will, an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, a foreboding sense of impending death. Our guide into this bleak, colorless world is Rhine, a 16-year-old girl who was kidnapped and sold into an arranged marriage. Her polygamist husband, Linden, sets her up in the lap of luxury. The kicker is - they'll both be dead in a few years since a genetic experiment gone wrong has infiltrated the population limiting the average lifespan to 25 years for males and 20 years for females. To keep the human race going, young girls must breed, and breed quickly. However, there's a problem - Rhine refuses to consummate their marriage.
What enfolds is a series of mind games between those with power and those without. The resident puppet master is Housemaster Vaughn, Linden's sociopath father and member of the long-living "first generation." As a manipulative mad scientist, his basement holds a chamber of horrors where he conducts fruitless experiments in a desperate attempt to extend his son's life. He is the one holding the keys to the castle. No one gets in or out without him knowing. He is a jailer, pimp and grandfather figure rolled into one.
The most intriguing interaction occurs between Rhine and her sister wives. Jenna, the eldest, is street smart. She's jaded, wary and under no false delusions that the world around her is fair. She knows in Linden's eyes she is just a body to impregnate. She gives in to his advances, but does not surrender her heart. Her aloofness is her only form of protection. While Jenna remains barren, the youngest wife, Cecily, becomes pregnant almost immediately. She fluctuates between extremes. On the one hand, she's a 13-year-old with a schoolgirl crush on her husband and on the other, she's a spoiled, demanding diva. While Jenna keeps secrets, Cecily tells them since she is willfully oblivious to the danger lurking behind every frilly dress and shiny candy wrapper.
The bright spot in Rhine's life is the servant, Gabriel. In him, she finds a confidant, and someone she is genuinely attracted to. It is her first experience with true love. She knows Linden does not love her, but is pining for his now-deceased first wife. In an attempt to compensate for his loss, he yearns for Rhine to occupy the physical space that she held. He wants to project his feelings onto her as a new outlet for his dormant affections. Rhine tolerates being a placeholder up to a point, but her heart belongs to Gabriel. While Linden might dress her up and show her off at fancy parties, Gabriel is the one who will risk everything to free her from her gilded cage.
As the first installment in a planned trilogy, Wither closes with a cliffhanger ending. Help comes from an unexpected source and the possibility of hope is reborn. However, what was once a defined waiting game turns into a frenzied hunt for prey. Some have already succumbed to the dreaded early death while others know it is only a matter of time before they too will wither and die. Will Rhine get to experience love, hope and freedom before it's too late?
Overall, a call-to-arms to make the most of the time you've been granted.
Wither by Lauren DeStefano is available for $17.99 at Amazon.com and at LaurenDeStefano.com.
Thank you to GRGenius for recommending this book. Follow her fantastic book blog and Twitter posts.
Review copy provided by Valley Community Library.