Fever (Chemical Garden 2)
By Lauren DeStefano
Simon and Schuster
February 21, 2012
This review is part of the Catch Wither Fever Event, hosted by Andrea at Overstuffed Bookcase and Jessie at Daily Bookmark
As I usually do for books in a series, I'll do a non-spoilery recap, then give you my thoughts on Fever, which is book two in this trilogy.
When I first heard about the Chemical Garden trilogy, I really wasn't sure it was for me. In the story world of these books, genetic manipulation has backfired, sentencing an entire generation to an early death: women at twenty and men at twenty-five.Young girls are rounded up on the streets and then either shot, forced into prostitution, or compelled into polygamous marriages so they can try to produce healthy children before they die. Barrel of laughs, right?
But I was packing for a trip and needed a lot of books. I threw an ARC of Wither into my beach bag. Yes, the story was dark, but it cast a strange sort of spell over me. I was hooked.
What won me over? First, I have to admire Lauren DeStefano for not wimping out in the dystopian worldbuilding department. Dystopian fiction is supposed to be dark and chilling, and these books certainly are. Second, she writes beautifully -- finding ways to celebrate the strength of the human spirit even in grim circumstances. Rhine, the heroine, is kidnapped and forced into a polygamous marriage with Linden, a young House Governor with a rich, crazy father. Linden already has a dying wife, his childhood sweetheart, but he marries three new girls, Rhine among them. Rhine forms a touching emotional bond with her fellow sister wives. She tries to resign herself to her circumstances, but she longs for freedom.
I won't go into any more plot details, but I don't think it's that much of a spoiler to say that book one ends with Rhine's escape attempt. If you haven't read Wither and really don't want any details about what happens next, skip the next two paragraphs. But really, no major spoilers. Promise!
My summary of Fever:
Fever takes up right where Wither left off. Rhine and Gabriel, the household servant she's fallen in love with, steal a boat and flee the Florida compound where Rhine has been imprisoned. Things don't go so well. Rhine and Gabriel stumble upon a ramshackle carnival, run by the sinister Madame Soleski. Madame is entranced by Rhine's beauty, and wants Rhine to join her stable of young girls. To control Gabriel, Madame gets him addicted to angel's blood, an injectable drug.
Rhine soon sees that Madame's harem is yet another prison, and she begins to plot their escape. Unfortunately, Gabriel's drug addiction makes him less than helpful. Will Rhine be able to make it home to New York City and find her brother? Or has she found herself trapped like a butterfly under glass yet again?
Again, I'm amazed and impressed at the subtexts and issues that Lauren DeStefano so effortlessly weaves into her writing. Rhine's beauty is what saves her and imperils her, all at the same time. Her striking, unusual looks draw the attention of others, and not always to her benefit. Yet, strangely, Rhine never tries to make herself less noticeable. She is who she is. And her beauty is her currency in this strange world, I guess.
I also love the way the author is able to create such a pervasive sense of melancholy and menace. As in Wither, the story world of this book is both seedy and beguiling.
Finally, Lauren DeStefano never takes the easy way out, plot-wise. In Fever, Rhine is forced to face the fact that her escape plan was impulsive and ill-conceived. Things don't go very well. It never occurs to her that Gabriel, who doesn't have any memory of freedom, might find the outside world alarming and strange. Rhine compares him to a goldfish she once had as a child, in a vignette I found both insightful and touching.
This book's beautiful storytelling and fantastic characters kept me completely transfixed. By the last chapter, it's clear that Rhine's life is about to take a sudden twist. I'm SO ready for the next installment!
Postscript: I'm always trying to shorten reviews, so I rarely comment on a book's cover. But I just have to express my admiration for Lizzy Bromley, the designer of this book. Everything about these covers is perfect -- the spookily beautiful photos, the iconic props (birdcage, tarot card) plus the cool graphics on the title page. Someone give this woman an award!!
Have you read this series? Are you planning to?