On a surface level I enjoyed Wither but there were parts of me that remained stubbornly incredulous and even a little bit derisive at times. This is a dystopian YA novel so I’m willing to suspend disbelief but I do feel a little bit of extra work on the world could have made Wither a more fulfilling read. Both the dystopian elements of Rhine’s world and also some of the character intentions felt lazy and frustrating. I also felt a bit iffy about it at times because the concept – one young man sharing three teenage ‘wives’, emotionally and sexually – well, I find that a little wrong, especially for a teenage book.
There are moments of beauty in Wither, which was mainly why I kept reading. I also really wanted to find out if Rhine managed to leave, and take Gabriel with her. There are a few passages where the author really captures that desperate, funked out atmosphere and sense of hopelessness – this I enjoyed. But then nobody ever did anything about it.
I enjoyed the three main characters in Wither – the sister-wives Rhine, Jenna and Cecily. The relationship that develops between them is the heart of the book (not the kind-of-forced twin-brother angle). I probably cared for Rhine the least, and found her the most un-multi-faceted, but I still did want her to successfully escape. Actually all the female characters in the book – from Rhine’s hand-maiden to the head cook to first-wife Rose – all exude some kind of personality. They are all likeable. The male characters don’t fare so well. Hopefully Gabriel will come out of his shell a bit more in future books.
I have heard this book referred to as a young ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ and I can see resemblances. The Handmaid’s Tale is one of my favourite books and I think the dystopian elements of it are near perfect. The dystopian elements of Wither are not. I think it is catering more towards the romance element, and therefore YA fans of that will really enjoy it. Wither is quite moody and atmospheric, and actually quite different from a lot of YA dystopian action-based on-the-run books. I guess its uniqueness is a strong selling point. I enjoyed it, but only just.