YA Friday: Fever by Lauren DeStefano

Friday, May 11, 2012

Title: Fever
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Series: The Chemical Garden #2
Genre: Dystopian, post-apocalyptic, YA
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, 2012
Source: Library
Read for: fun

**SPOILERS** for Book 1, Wither, are inevitable.

Rhine and Gabriel have escaped from Vaughan, and they are out in the world, free, for better or worse -- for a couple of hours. After stumbling on a twisted circus, Rhine and Gabriel find a whole new brand of captivity -- that of the scarlet districts, where dying girls exist only to bring momentary pleasure to a dying race. Gabriel, raised in the comfort of Vaughan's mansion, begins to question Rhine's decision to "escape" -- and Rhine too wonders if the reason she left, to find her brother, Rowan, has long since become beyond her reach.

I never realized how very dark and dismal this series was until my sister picked it up off the couch and began reading a paragraph out loud. For some reason, hearing the words somewhere other than my own mind was pretty shocking. However, it wasn't just the experience of hearing the words out loud -- Fever is definitely darker than Wither. 

While Housemaster Vaughan's totalitarian rule and creepy experiments were horrific, the drugged, hazy existence of the circus is also hellish. The ringmaster, as it were, is Madame, a woman who names all the girls that find her after colors and puts them in their respective tents. The girls have children, of course, and one of these is the deformed Maddie, who is rejected by Madame but who seems to know some secrets about the past. Ultimately, it is Maddie who help Rhine and Gabriel the most as they seek to escape the circus. And while the circus is probably the most twisted step on their journey, the book travels through several other areas before its shattering conclusion, all the while with Vaughan pursuing Gabriel and Rhine. The plot moved more quickly in Fever than in Wither, with more key events occurring. While I couldn't put Wither down, either, I definitely enjoyed the faster pace in Fever.

The character development was somewhat lacking for me. While Rhine is having new and dangerous experiences, she doesn't really change as a person. She still doggedly seeks after the same principles and goals. While many of these are good and worthwhile, I would expect her to develop more after all she experiences. Gabriel continues to be the quiet, somewhat blank presence he was in Wither -- sweet, romantic, but not especially interesting. He does have some dark moments in Fever, such as recovering from addiction to the drug Madame fed him in the circus, and flashes of annoyance at Rhine for convincing him to leave the relative comfort of the mansion, but overall he is muted without much change or personality. The only character that continues to shift and change is Cecily, Linden's youngest bride. Cecily can be foolish and is overly trusting of Vaughan, to the point of betraying Rhine multiple times, but as the book continues she finds her preconceptions challenged. I don't think she will ever truly move beyond her desire to be a bride and her level of comfort with what Rhine saw as imprisonment, but she definitely reveals new sides to her personality as Fever progresses.

DeStefano's writing continues to be lush and descriptive, with poignant images of both beauty and decay illustrating the strange worlds the characters inhabit. Occasionally, if I looked carefully at a metaphor or phrase, there were certain issues that didn't quite mesh. I should have written down examples, but unfortunately I already returned the book to the library. However, for the most part, the writing was just as powerful as it was in Wither. I think the real strength of this series is the disturbing, fantastical atmosphere DeStefano creates, and I think her most powerful tool is her ability to create powerful imagery, rather than characters or plot.

Fever is a dark, quick-paced sequel to Wither. While the characters do not seem to develop, instead simply struggling to achieve their goals, the pace is faster and many events transpire, leading Rhine to learn additional secrets about her world and the dark basement of Housemaster Vaughan. I am curious to see where the conclusion will lead.

3.5 stars

Warnings: Dark thematic material (including prostitution), drug use, violence, some language

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