Wither by Lauren DeStefano (Harper Voyager)
Set in a post-apocalyptic world where all continents besides North America have seemingly been destroyed, Wither tells the story of 16-year old Rhine Ellery, who along with 3 other girls, is kidnapped and sold as a child bride to the wealthy Linden Ashby.

Time is short, and in a world where men live to the age of 25 and women only to the age of 20, these girls, kidnapped by the Gatherers (a group of people who hunt girls down solely for this purpose) are one of the many who are forced to procreate in a desperate bid to save the dying human race.

Even though Rhine is treated kindly by her new husband and is surrounded by the beauty of his and his father's wealthy estate, Rhine can't help but feel like she's trapped in a gilded cage.

Desperate to escape the house - and Linden's malicious father, Rhine employs the help of Gabriel, a servant she quickly becomes attracted to. With the years counting against her, and a suspicious housemaster on a trail, Rhine knows that she needs to make an attempt to break free the first moment she gets.

Let me start off by saying that Wither is probably an acquired read. You're either going to love it or hate it.

With dystopian fiction, many people assume that because it's set in a post-apocalyptic world, that the actually story should be fast-paced filled with lots of breakneck action, speed and adrenalin.

My thoughts are that dystopia isn't necessarily rooted in the abovementioned factors, nor should it be. 

Wither by Lauren DeStefano takes the concept of post-apocalyptic fiction, turns it on its head and focuses primarily on her beautiful storytelling skills to create an atmosphere of impending doom.

The first book in a trilogy, Lauren tackles subjects such as polygamy, the kidnapping and trafficking of children (used solely for the purpose to become brides and to breed), blending it with science in a deft and unflinching manner; creating a sinister world where young girls like Rhine are subjected to the mercy of a system that disregards their rights.

Beautifully written, the atmosphere that pervades throughout the novel, is one of a cruel and menacing beauty; the holograms, wealthy estate and beautiful fashion, starkly juxtaposed to the grim reasons they are there.

It's a slow-building piece of dystopian fiction, with nuances and undertones of darkness, melancholy and desperation. And yet, for all this, the author has created a strongly refreshing and defiant character in 16-year old Rhine.

A caged bird she may be, but she's wise and smart enough to know how to bide her time in order to buy her escape. The supporting characters, sister wives Jenna and Cecily, are equally unique characters whose voices come into their own and whose stories (Jenna's mostly) are certainly as riveting as Rhine's.

What adds to an already fascinating read is Linden Ashby's character. Is he really the villain in the story or is he just another victim and pawn in a larger game? It's these questions and so much more that insidiously work its way into your system while you're reading.

The phrase, "everything-is-not-as-it-seems" is a sentiment that is echoed more than once throughout the novel.  I could go one and delve into the rest of the characters, in particular Linden's father (totally gave me the creeps), and Gabriel (who offered some much-need distraction for Rhine), but then I'd be telling you the whole story.

In an age-old battle of pro-science vs pro-naturalisation, Lauren DeStano's Wither is a book that certainly makes one think about one's own mortality. It's exquisitely written and a finely crafted tale that deserves all the accolades it's been reserving so far.

It's one of my favourite reads of 2011 so far. I highly recommend it.

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