Book Review: Wither by Lauren DeStefano (Gothic Horror)

Wither is set in the not so distant future where the lifespan of humans stops at 20 for females and 25 for males (why the age is so precise is not explained but we’ll let that go).  Genetic experimentation  to create the perfect race has resulted in a lethal genetic disease and as a result most of the world has descended into chaos. Girls are being abducted from the streets and forced to breed. One such abductee is Rhine Ellery and this is her story.

The gorgeous cover along with the evocative title are what initially drew me to this book and the blurb also sounded promising.  Unfortunately the novel is a little too simplistic and while I enjoyed reading the book I’m not sure if I’ll pick up the second part of the trilogy when it is released next year.   More than likely it’s my advanced age (late twenties, how horrible!) that prevented me from truly loving this story.

Rhine is kidnapped and forced into a polygamous marriage with the wealthy but insipid and weak in every sense of the word Linden (I really hope young readers won’t think he’s the romantic hero of the tale; he’s nothing of the sort).  Under the watchful eye of Linden’s villainous father Vaughn, Rhine and her sister wives Cecily, an excitable, bratty 13 year old and 17 year old wary and world-wise Jenna, find themselves trapped in a huge mansion and kept away from the outside world.  Even their windows are kept locked at first and they are not permitted to go beyond the garden and then only while chaperoned by the scary master of the house.  Rhine plots her escape, wanting only to return to her brother.  She finds a friend in Gabriel, a servant of the house and hopes that when she flees he will come with her.

I had trouble accepting large parts of this book.  Why doesn’t Rhine tell Linden exactly what his father is up to and about his penchant for dissecting corpses in the basement?  Why were the girls who weren’t chosen to be wives shot and killed if life is so valuable and they need women to increase the population?  Why is America the only place left standing in a world decimated by war?  Why would teenage girls, and boys barely out of their teens care about having children and keeping the human race going, particularly when they won’t live to see their children grow beyond infancy?

Gabriel’s character is not drawn clearly so it’s almost impossible to care about him and his tentative relationship with Rhine.  Rhine is also difficult to empathise with, not a good sign when she is the protagonist.  The most vibrant character is Jenna, a former dancer and prostitute who resigns herself to her fate as a sex mate for Linden while hating him the whole time.  She is daring and also protective of Rhine, helping her with her mission to escape.   Linden’s father, Housemaster Vaughn is the obvious villain of the piece depicted as a mad doctor and shadowy figure of authority and menace.  However Linden’s naivety is appalling.  He sees nothing wrong with impregnating a 13 year old and then crawling into bed with another wife.  It’s all a bit disturbing and reminiscent of the dark, gothic fiction of Virginia Andrews.  I was reminded of Heaven trapped in the mansion in Dark Angel and the kids from Flowers in the Attic who were locked up for years.  These characters were likewise forced to confront their sexuality too early.

*** for an interesting premise and despite the fact that I found some elements questionable I enjoyed reading this and finished it quickly.

Check it out on Amazon HERE

About Emma

Buffy fan, avid reader, writer.
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