Sometime in the early 22nd century, the world has gone horribly awry. Scientific breakthroughs in the 21st century eradicated deformities, diseases, and all forms of natural death. The human race had finally figured out a way to defeat some of the biggest obstacles plaguing our society. But when the second generation of perfect human beings, something went wrong. All the females contracted a fatal virus, killing them at age 20; the males at age 25. Because of the new virus, the modern world has plummeted into chaos. With so many dying so young, the orphan population swells and the world has become a more desolate, dangerous place. These orphans and “gatherers” roam the streets, looking to rob people of their valuables, or in some cases, actually kidnapping people for other nefarious purposes.
Rhine Ellery is a 16-year-old girl living during this time, one of the girls who will die at age 20 unless a cure for the virus is found. When we meet her, she is crowded in the back of a windowless van with countless other young girls, to be sold off as an unwilling bride. This has become a common occurrence; girls are kidnapped (by the gatherers) to be married to the highest bidder, with the goal of reproducing as many children as possible. She finds herself and two other girls, Cecily and Jenna, married off to Linden Ashby, a very wealthy 21-year-old architect. Rhine is determined to break out of the mansion they live in together and get back to her twin brother, Rowan. This proves to be difficult, as the wives live on an isolated floor of the mansion, and the mansion itself is a twist maze with what seems like endless land and no discernable way out. Rhine also begins to become close with her sister wives as well as a servant named Gabriel. Rhine begins to realize that something very sinister is going on, involving her father-in-law Vaughn, and it only strengthens her resolve to find a way out.
I took a few days to sit on this book before writing the review. Wither is the first in trilogy (of course) and DeStefano certainly packs in quite a few storylines. Rhine, on the surface, is a rather boring narrator, wholly focused on her old life with her brother and getting out of the mansion. I wasn’t a huge fan of hers at first, until I realized that her voice is a very adult one, not that of a 16-year-old, and in this case I think it works; anyone who has led the life and had the experiences that she has had should sound like someone who grew up long before they should have had to. I really enjoyed the sister wives, Jenna and Cecily, and they felt like the most three dimensional characters in the book. Some of the characters could have benefited from being a little more fleshed out, Linden and Gabriel especially, as I think this would have made the emotional investment of the read much higher. Additionally, some of the writing was uneven. There were odd time jumps that made it a little confusing (but not overly impossible) to judge the passage of time, and the middle of the book seems to stall out at some points.
Overall, though, I quite enjoyed this book. There are some questions I had that I hope DeStefano answers in the future installments; although one question of mine she probably won’t address is why doesn’t Rhine just ask Linden to bring her brother to the mansion? (Probable answer: because then there’d be no books). But I digress. This was a very enjoyable novel that introduced some solid characters and shows promise to be a great trilogy. I will definitely be checking out the next installments when they are released.