Wither by Lauren DeStefano
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?
Rhine’s story is beautifully written. What else could you expect from a book whose first sentence is “It was so dark we lost sense of our eyelids”? Rhine’s voice is believable and sincere, and her relationship with her sister wives is touching and real. That said, Wither was a little disappointing plot-wise. Most of the book consists of Rhine dreaming of escape but playing mini-golf and swimming instead. Don’t get me wrong; I liked Wither a lot - I just wish there was a little more action in it. For a book whose summary promises daring escape, Wither doesn’t really deliver. While still a good book, it’s more about Rhine learning to cope with her situation, her husband, her terrifying father-in-law, and the fact that she has only four years to live.
The concept behind Wither, while creative and captivating (I couldn’t put this book down), isn’t completely believable. We’re not given much information on why humans only live to twenty or twenty-five. For a science fiction book, there isn’t a whole lot of science. We also don’t know why humans are so focused on procreating. To continue the species, obviously - but twenty/twenty five years is plenty of time to date, and maybe fall in love with, someone - especially with such drastically shortened life-spans. I don’t know exactly why the men are so eager to precreate that they have to kidnap multiple girls, marry them, and impregnate them, especially when orphanages are already so overrun. Obviously the human race isn’t ending totally yet, calm your balls.
Wither was a book with great intentions that didn’t live up to all the hype for me. If you want to read it, I fully encourage you to do so. But I won’t be biting my nails waiting for a sequel.
Ex Libris, Veritas
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