Sep 20, 12
Read from July 17 to 19, 2012
Wither has a dumb premise, but once you ignore the stupidity of it, the story is quite fun. It’s some unspecified distance into the future. Humanity got so smart that it learned how to stop disease entirely. It cured cancer and everything else, and made an entire generation of people who couldn’t die unless they were killed. Tadaa! Of course, when THAT generation started having kids, everything went wrong. Kids of the first generation all die slowly and painfully at a young age. Women die at 20; men at 25. Don’t ask why. Maybe the Y chromosome provides 5 years of longevity. Whatever. They also refer to the thing that kills everybody as “the virus” which is, of course, scientifically wrong. There is no virus that attacks all women at 20 and all men at 25. That’s not how viruses work. Don’t ask questions. Just accept the dumb premise and try to move on to the story.
Of course, nobody knew about this until 20 and 25 years after the first “perfect” generation had kids, and by then it was too late for the next 20-25 years of kids too. At the time of Wither, the first generation is mostly in its 70s. Some of the first generation is desperate to “fix” whatever keeps killing off everybody. Some want them to stop trying and just let everybody die off. The ones who want to keep humanity alive have taken to breeding kids. Starting as young as possible and lasting as long as possible.
Girls are kidnapped off the streets, out of their beds, through fake job ads, from anywhere they can be found, and taken to be sold. If they’re “lucky” they are chosen by rich men as a wife. Plural marriage is the norm for rich men so they can make ALL the babies who will all die at 20 and 25. Don’t ask why each successive generation’s mortality date stays the same. It just does. The less “lucky” girls are dropped off in scarlet districts to be whores. The least lucky (or possibly most lucky, who knows?) are killed and left in a ditch to rot. That’s where Wither starts.
Rhine is 16. She’s a gorgeous blonde with two different colored eyes. She has a twin brother named Rowan who also has heterochromia. This maybe makes them special, but we really aren’t sure. Rhine has been “gathered” and is chosen, along with two other girls, to marry Linden. The non-chosen girls were killed. “Girls” is an appropriate title because there’s really no such thing as adulthood if you die at 20.
Linden is 21. His first wife, Rose, is 20 and dying. In theory, Rhine’s age makes her perfect because she and Linden will die together in 4 years. Isn’t that romantic? The other new wives are 18 and 13. They are all married in a joint ceremony where the girls don’t speak at all. They live mostly locked up in a giant house, with a few privileges including a library and sometimes access outside, but it’s all a tricky maze designed to keep them in. Romantic.
Rhine falls for a cute boy who works in the mansion, and is constantly scheming how to get out of the house and back to her brother. In the meantime, Rhine becomes first wife after Rose’s death, and watches the 13-year-old have her first child. Rhine manages to not have sex with Linden (doing promulgation of the species wrong, people) which really takes away from any sense of reality going on here, but whatever. Again, suspension of belief is necessary. The father-in-law is an evil mad scientist, or something.
Even if Rhine hadn’t lived free and didn’t have a twin brother to get back to, she would want out of Linden’s house. She catches on that father-in-law is doing experiments on Rose’s body, and possibly on a baby that Rose gave birth to. They told Rose it was stillborn, but Rose and a household worker heard it cry. Father-in-law is big big trouble. Especially once he catches on to the cute boy that Rhine likes.
Thereafter it’s an escape novel. Will Rhine get away? Will the cute boy go with her? Will she find Rowan? What will the crazy father-in-law do in the meantime? What about the other sisterwives? Gotta read to find out.
I liked it a lot. That said, I cannot fully endorse the series. The second book was… not good, shall we say? A series that consists of a first book with a good premise but loses it all in later books might not be worth starting.