Friday, February 8, 2013


(third in THE CHEMICAL GARDENS trilogy, review based on an advance reading copy)

I enjoyed WITHER and loved FEVER, so I went into SEVER with high expectations. Rhine has a lengthy, ambitious, and unusual - for lack of a better term - bucket list. She wants to find her brother and stop his new destructive goals, find Gabriel, free herself permanently from Vaughn, and ensure the safety of Linden and Cecily, to list a few of her objectives. Given her life expectancy of twenty years, her time left has dwindled down to the point that the more cynical could lament, "Why bother?"

Since book one, I've praised DeStefano's complex characters. Many authors can craft well-developed characters, but where she really impressed me in SEVER is showcasing their change and growth. Cecily's probably the most prominent example. If handing out simplistic labels for these characters, book one would have earned her "shallow simpleton." By book three, she has enough self-awareness to perceive how others see her and to realize the horrible consequences of some of her past actions. Sadly, for all the negative adjectives one could throw at her, Cecily was a bright, bubbly spark in an otherwise dull, doomed world and the entire story flickers to a darker tone with her fading optimism.

In the first book, I struggled a bit with Vaughn as a character. Then those problems disappeared in book two. Now some of my same issues come back into play. He's a bit too "the-pure-evil-villain" for my tastes and he's the only one I constantly struggled to pin down long enough to understand. Every time I think I have a handle on his motivations and thought-process, a new action or statement will challenge that, so I try again. He also emerges as the root for Rhine's every problem and that frustrated me, as well. I'm teasing spoiler boundaries now, so I'll just say that most of her problems can be traced back to Vaughn and in some cases I think it would be far more compelling if he had no part in that specific dilemma.

I also wish the story didn't go into the science behind the virus at all. I consider THE CHEMICAL GARDENS trilogy soft sci-fi. Science fiction imagines where science can go. Hard science fiction logically explains how this new science works, sometimes so convincingly that you marvel we can't actually utilize it. (Sometimes, we can!) Soft science fiction doesn't explain the new technology; usually the science fiction premise is background to the real plot. In this case, I consider THE CHEMICAL GARDENS far more character-focused than science fiction focused. Anyway, so far the virus hasn't been explained very much, but as Vaughn desperately searches for a cure some bits and pieces of explanations come through and a lot of it doesn't make sense. For one vague example, one of the details about a potential cure strikes me as the first thing anyone with any grasp of science would have thought to try. So I would have preferred no scientific explanation than lax attempts.

I confess the ending didn't live up to my hopes, but I didn't really think this trilogy could possibly end in a way I would love. Satisfying or unsatisfying don't quite cover my response. Satisfying is too generous and unsatisfying too harsh. Appeased might be the best word to describe my feelings on the end. Ultimately, I think the story was bigger than its box. DeStefano created such a wide-scoping, ambitious world that I can't imagine any perfect ending with only three books. Perfection's overrated, though, and this is a captivating trilogy I won't soon forget!

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