Wither by Lauren DeStefano
Okay, so I bought this book on a whim during one of the book sales I went to. It was marked 10% it’s original price and so I thought to myself, why the hell not, it’s so cheap. I did not know anything about the book. I did not even read the blurb inside the jacket cover. I just thought that good or bad, I’d nothing to lose since the price of the book is very cheap.
And then I got home and look it up on Goodreads. I was partly torn when I read the summary and the reviews. The gist seemed interesting enough for me, actually I find it good and different, plus it’s a dystopian book. It made me want to read the book already. But then as I scanned the reviews, I saw that a lot of people did not enjoy it and some were saying that the book was not worth it. And so what’s the best thing I can do? Read it and find out for myself, which is what I did.
The story is set the future in which people’s lifespan is drastically shortened to a mere 20-25 years. This was cause by a botched genetic experiment where the first generation to receive the intervention became strong, healthy and flawless but caused their offsprings to live only up to 20 or 25 years. When a female reached 20 years of age and a male reached 25, he/she will acquire a virus that would take their lives. This virus is of unknown origin and has no cure. The world’s population dramatically decreased, crime and poverty skyrocketed. As a result, people tend to live in fast pace, marrying to early or giving birth as early as their bodies can allow. Young girls are being captured to be sold as brides to wealthy men to bear more children.
In comes Rhine, a 16-year old girl captured by Gatherers and was sold to Linden, her will-be husband. Rhine wanted nothing more than to escape and go back to his twin brother, Rowan. As Linden’s wife, she was introduced to the glamorous world or wealth and illusion. But all of this seemed nothing when she was caged up in a huge mansion, not allowed to go out on her own. Also, she was terrified of Linden’s father, an eccentric doctor desperate in finding an antidote for their genetic flaw to such lengths that he hoards corpses in their basement. Rhine also has a love-hate relationship with her sister wives, two other brides sold to Linden for purpose of marrying and child-bearing.
Rhine didn’t know who to trust except one of the servant, Gabriel. Together, the two try to plot their escape from this fake world. Would they have enough time to reach their goal or would they die in the mansion trying?
You see, this is a unique plot for me. I don’t know if there are any other books with the same story but for me, it’s a first. Reading the book, I get why people seem to get uncomfortable. Most of the theme is the books is disturbing. The fact that minors are being sold to become polygamous wives to bear children is cringe-worthy enough. Also, there seemed to be a Stockholm syndrome feel to it. Some people was angered by the fact that the brides, including Rhine, starts to feel attached and feel sorry for Linden, despite being their captor. But then when you know the whole story, you’d understand why. I, myself, hated how Rhine slowly grow a soft spot for Linden at first because I felt that her actions contradicted her plans for freedom. But then when some secrets were revealed, I somehow saw through Rhine’s eyes and empathized.
Another disturbing part in the book is when Linden would sleep with the brides alternately. Well, it was to be expected because their purpose was to bear his child, but it really got to me since the wives knew when it was happening. This gave Linden the douche-y personality, jumping onto one wife to another, which I guess irritated and disgusted a lot of readers. I felt pain for the brides, not only because I felt they were being harassed but also because they know that they had no choice.
Speaking of choices, Rhine chose to act as a good wife to try and gain Linden’s trust to make her plans of escape easier. Despite this, it was clear in the book that she has a more powerful feeling for Gabriel, their servant and her partner-in-crime. I just don’t know how to feel about their relationship. I know that Rhine and Gabriel has the circumstances, prisoners forced to live their lives in the mansion and perform their designated roles. There wasn’t much chance to explore their relationship in the book. Most of the parts focused on Linden and Rhine’s interactions.
The book also tackled human experimentation. Linden’s father was a doctor, so hell-bent in finding the cure that he is willing to mutilate people every chance he get. This was unknown to Linden but Rhine and Jenna, one of the sister wives, were very aware of it. I get that he was trying to help prolong his son’s life, but up to what cost? It’s scary, but I think it is somehow reflective of what’s going on in real life. Advancement in technology pushes us to more experiments, more trials but sometimes, too much causes harm to the living. I mean, in the book, it was our own fault that the human race suddenly have short lifespan. Our thirst for perfection backfired and caused an irreparable damage which change everything.
The book was not very fast-paced but it was detailed. It was rich with description of their environment, and I felt that there was good world-building. I enjoyed the mysteries and the unraveling of events, though I felt that it was incomplete and hanging. But I understand that it is a trilogy so maybe more will be revealed in the other books. I like all the characters and each of them has different but significant personalities. It made the story work somehow and I am intrigued as to what would happen to each of them in the other books.
Overall, I would give this book a 4/5. It gives me so much emotions while reading. I could relate to each character even when I haven’t experience what they went through. It was a bit depressing because it has such heavy themes in it but when you think about it, these thing happen in real life, some places are still practicing polygamy and concubinage. I like how relatable the book was despite the controversial themes.