Friday, April 20, 2012


(second in THE CHEMICAL GARDEN TRILOGY, review based on an advance reading copy)

I enjoyed WITHER, but FEVER far surpassed my expectations. Primarily, I had a few nitpicky complaints about WITHER - minor flaws that still distracted me from the story; however, I don't have a bad word to say about FEVER. Not only does DeStefano sidestep any hint of middle book syndrome, but the writing struck me as much more elegant in the second book, and I found myself admiring apt and unusual phrases and metaphors.

Of course, DeStefano certainly didn't make this a great book by going easy on her protagonist. Rhine's victorious escape at the end of WITHER is short-lived: she and Gabriel barely travel anywhere before they find themselves captives of someone else. On that topic, be forewarned: every time you think things just can't possibly get worse for Rhine...oh, yes, they can. I kept thinking she had finally hit bottom only for DeStefano to pull the floor out from under me (and poor Rhine) to reveal an even deeper abyss than I imagined.

Rhine's latest captivity begs the question if one cage is really better than another. Even when they do escape again Rhine realizes the world is hardly the paradise she described to Gabriel. Her life before becoming Linden's unwilling bride wasn't easy or necessarily happy, but she coveted her past life for one simple reason: freedom. Now that she has Gabriel beside her, though, she sees the harsh, cruel world through his eyes and worries that dragging him out of the comfort of a mansion wasn't quite the heroic rescue she first believed. I mentioned earlier that DeStefano has some great metaphors in this second installment in the series and in particular I noticed how often she would juxtapose a memory from Rhine's childhood with a present dilemma, allowing observant readers to connect the dots themselves. Take Gabriel for example. He simply might not be tough enough for the world outside the mansion. As Rhine watches him suffer, and even beg for death, she recalls a pet goldfish. She transferred it to a new bowl with fresh water. The fish swam for a few minutes and then died. Her twin brother Rowan explained that she switched it too abruptly from one environment to another - without a chance to adapt to the changes in the water, the fish died. Rhine doesn't overstate the obvious connection, but it's easy for readers to understand her fear that she tore Gabriel away from the only life he's known without properly preparing him.

On the surface, it may seem hard for an average person, particularly a young teen with their life ahead of them, to connect with a world in which girls only live to twenty and boys to twenty-five, but in truth DeStefano has tapped into the fear of mortality that we all bear, some to greater extent than others. Rhine's ticking clock is keenly felt in this book as it sinks in that she lost a year of her short life in WITHER, and that she only has three years left now. One tragedy that pulled at me again and again in the book is the fact that Rhine's life has become about nothing other than survival. She wants to live - with all the passion inside her she wants to live - and live freely, but aside from that goal I'm not convinced she knows why she wants to live. Even when she had her brother, they lived in constant fear, and all their desperate efforts still didn't prevent Rhine's kidnapping. There are victorious moments in this book, but hardly any happy moments. I don't just want to see Rhine free and constantly fighting to stay that way; I want to see her safe, really safe, and happy. This taps into everyone's fears that we don't have enough time or that we might waste what time we do have in pursuit of the wrong things.

The romance between Rhine and Gabriel is also brilliantly understated. Their relationship feels incredibly realistic. They don't discuss what they want from each other, because they're still trying to escape, to find some place somewhere that they can actually be safe. Discussing a relationship or a future is pointless in a world where you might not have a future. Nevertheless, they cling to each for support both physical and especially emotional. They share tender moments and exchange muted and heated kisses, but romance is hardly the first thing on their minds these days.

The ending is fabulous! I find that especially impressive, since this is the middle book in a trilogy. DeStefano had me perplexed near the end regarding where on earth the plot was headed (and, yikes, were there some totally unexpected twists that finally made me hop on board the "Vaughn is terrifying" train), but she found that perfect closure point that left me satisfied but ready for book three!

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