Saturday, March 19, 2011

Wither review

March 2011

I have been looking forward to this book for ages, and was so, so excited to finally get my hands on it. It's one of those books that I was almost afraid to begin reading. How could it possibly live up to my expectations? Yet, somehow, it did. This book was amazing, probably one of the best that I've read all year. Set in a not-so-distant dystopian future, genetic tinkering has caused an incurable virus in humans, shortening men's life span to 25, and women's to only 20. "First generation" humans are currently in their 50's, with the potential for long, healthy lives ahead of them, while their children are the first wave of people who are starting to die off. While anarchy and chaos reign the streets, a select few wealthy patrons kidnap young brides for polygamous marriages in hopes of keeping the human race alive.

16 year-old Rhine Ellery and her twin brother Rowan manage a hardscrabble existence in a basement apartment, sleeping in shifts so they can guard against pillagers. With her two-colored eyes and pretty blonde hair, Rhine is prime pickings for The Gatherers, a group that arranges child-bride marriages. One day, she's captured, and brought to stay on the Florida estate of Linden Ashby, a young man distraught over the imminent death of his true love, Rose. Except for her unusual eyes, Rhine bears a striking resemblance to Rose, something which she quickly uses to her advantage, hoping to lull Linden into a false sense of security so that she can make her escape. Rhine quickly falls into a rhythm with her two sister-wives, Jenna and Cecily. Jenna has been rescued from a bordello life, and with her 20th birthday not far away, she is more than content to spend her final years in a gilded cage. Cecily is only 13, but very excited about the prospect of becoming a mother. She's certain that a cure will be found within their lifetimes, and she too, is delighted to have left her orphanage for Linden's mansion.

I was curious why Rhine was so very eager to leave. Her life before sounded nightmarish, constantly having to remain on armed guard against attack, barely getting enough to eat. Of course, being separated from one's twin sounds very upsetting, but Rhine only has a few years left anyhow. Despite having a creepy father-in-law, Linden sounds young, handsome, and somewhat sensitive, a not altogether disagreeable choice for a husband. I was surprised that more of the 50 year old men didn't use the crisis as an excuse to gather up underage harems for themselves. That, to me, would be a clearly odious, yet believable thing to happen. I also thought that in a world where the lifespan was limited to 20-25 years, it seemed natural that the age of adulthood would be lowered. I expected that 13 would be the new 30. Children are a lot brighter and more capable than many people give them credit for, so it wasn't surprising to me that most of the servants in the house are smart, enterprising 8 or 9 year olds. It seemed a reversal of the natural paradigm, having men outlive women. I questioned too, the idea that women pass away at exactly 20 years of age. It's implied that it pretty much happens on your birthday. If this is a virus, wouldn't people have a variety of resistance to it? Wouldn't it fall within a natural range, say 19-22 years, with folks not certain of when exactly they'd fall prey to it? I wondered if Rhine's heterochromatic eyes provide some kind of clue to the cure. Or maybe she's immune? I was surprised too, that so many people seemed to feel that the human race was doomed, and actively hoped for the end of humanity. It seemed to me that with a greatly shortened lifespan, more girls would feel like Cecily does, eager to get their families started in their early teens, as that might be their only chance. I also wondered, with the future of humanity hanging in the balance, why on Earth would the Gatherers choose to murder any of the fertile young women that they've kidnapped. Ultimately, the thing that strained my suspension of disbelief the most was the fact that Rhine is kept in Linden's house for nearly a year, and out of deference to his late wife Rose, Linden never consummates their marriage.

Linden's father, Vaughn, is a truly terrifying villain, and the forbidden romance between Rhine and servant Gabriel adds a wonderful hint of danger. Fans of Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games will go for this dystopian novel which careens between scenes of action-packed violence and scenes of glamor and beauty. The first in a series, the ending resolves some important questions, but leaves a lot more to be answered. I highly, highly recommend this novel.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

I read this for the 2011 Debut Author Challenge.


  1. Good points Madigan. I also wondered why they would need to kidnap any girls at all. Since so many are putting themselves into compromising situations to survive anyway, it seemed to me that many girls might actually welcome the chance to become a sister wife.

    I never wondered about Rhine's eyes, but now I can't see how come I didn't. It was certainly brought up enough.

  2. I also really wondered why Rhine didn't tell Linden the truth - when he reveals that he really has no idea how the girls came to be living at his mansion - why doesn't she speak up and say, "You know we were kidnapped, right? You know they shot and killed the girls you didn't choose, right?"

  3. So glad you enjoyed this one too! You raised a lot of interesting questions about the lifespan issue and Rhine's mismatched eyes - that's part of what I loved about this one, there are just so many interesting elements that leave us with tons questions that have a multitude of possible answers. I can't wait for book 2 to learn more!

  4. I totally agree with you in not understanding why she would want to leave Linden so bad. Knowing that he didn't know she was kidnapped, and how nice he was to her, and he seemed really like a good guy. But yeah, I wonder about the mismatched eyes. And I wonder where the next book in the trilogy will go as well.

  5. I guess Linden seems like such a marshmallow to me... I didn't understand why she didn't trust him sooner. I mean heck, so what if she likes Gabriel. It's not like Linden doesn't have 2 or 3 other wives, plus he could probably get more anytime he wanted, right? I guess I thought that Linden would have more of a scary edge to him.

  6. I'm so glad this is as good as the hype! I've been trying to win a copy of it. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. I wanted to read more about the effects this had on society, but most of this book took place in one household.



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