Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sever by Lauren DeStefano

Sever is the final installment in the Chemical Gardens trilogy. In this novel, readers learn the truth about Vaughn's experiments, about the post apocalyptic world, about Rhine and Rowan's history, and most of the loose ends of the story are tied up in a satisfying ending.

Sever opens with Rhine in hospital recovering from two months of Vaughn's experiments on her and Linden promising to protect her from his father. Linden and Cecily, who is now four months pregnant with their second child, are concerned about where Rhine will go once she is released from the hospital. Rhine wants to find her brother, Rowan, whom she believes is in Rhode Island. Rhine decides to take Linden up on his offer of staying with his Uncle Reed, who is Vaughn's brother. She finds safety with Reed, an older, gruff but kindly man who loves to tinker with machines. Linden still does not believe what Rhine told him about his father. He feels that Rhine imagined what she saw in the basement of his home. However, when Cecily miscarries and Linden experiences her terror at Vaughn's presence in the hospital, he begins to acknowledge that they might be right about his father.

After listening to Rowan on a radio broadcast, Rhine realizes that she needs to find her brother. He believes she is dead from an experimental procedure designed to find a cure. The broadcast also refers to Rhine and Rowan's parents, who ran nurseries as part of their Chemical Gardens projects. These nurseries were also research labs. The broadcasts also tell Rhine of a connection between her parents and Vaughn - that he was working off of her parents research on twins hoping that the virus might be duplicated and used in vaccinations to make people resistant and therefore, live a normal life span. This however, is not the understanding Rhine has of her parents. Vaughn is the madman, not her parents.

Questions swirl in Rhine's mind. Did Vaughn know the Ellery's were Rhine's parents? Was her Gathering part of some sinister plan by Vaughn? More than ever Rhine has to find Rowan, since learning that he is now a terrorist, bombing medical facilities to stop what he considers to be deadly research being conducted to find a cure for the virus. Cecily also wants Rhine to find Rowan and to learn about the Chemical Gardens and to determine if Rhine and her brother are in any way connected to a possible cure.

Reed takes all of them by car to see his friend Edgar, who confirms that the broadcasts are indeed real. Rhine learns from Edgar, that Rowan was told by Vaughn that she is dead. The only way to learn the truth about her parents, about Rowan, about Vaughn and his research, is to find Rowan. Linden, Cecily and Rhine set out to locate Rowan by traveling to South Carolina, where he was last seen. However, their journey leads them back to Madame Soleski's carnival-brothel - and ultimately to Vaughn who holds the key to Rhine understanding her past and her future.

Sever was a satisfying ending to this bizarre trilogy that featured forced marriage, human experimentation, genetic manipulation, prostitution and murder. As such it is a story filled with tragedy but which ends in hope. The world Rhine, Rowan, Linden and Cecily inhabit has been altered irrevocably. It is a world where genetic manipulation has removed all of the major illnesses but resulted in shortened lifespans.

DeStefano holds the reader's interest by only revealing to her characters some of the information. We are viewing the world through Rhine's point of view but Rhine doesn't have all the information and it soon becomes apparent that what she thinks she knows isn't always correct because she doesn't have all the facts. These plot twists are frequent throughout this third novel, ratcheting up the suspense level.

The major characters are well done, with unique and believable personalities. From the very first book, Rhine is a strong person, and she remains that way throughout the trilogy. She is also a tragic figure, having lost her parents and her brother, endured kidnapping, being experimented on and the loss of the man she loves, Gabriel. Her world is constantly shifting yet she seems able to adjust and remarkably focused on her goals. She finds it difficult to watch Cecily and Linden in their marriage, knowing she could have had Linden's love. She is strongly conflicted about this, even jealous and has to keep reminding herself that this is not what she wanted.

Cecily is a character who changes considerably from who she was in the first novel. She was quite young when she was "gathered" but is quickly growing into a mature, young woman who takes decisive action near the end of the novel to protect herself and her son, Bowen. She has been transformed from someone who things happen to, to a person of action.

Linden is a man who seems "ruined" in this installment. The death of yet another child, seems to break him and he appears to never fully recover from his loss. Like Cecily, he too begins to mature, eventually having the courage to face down his father. This increases his esteem in the eyes of Rhine, who sees him beginning to break free of his father's control and to try to see the world as it really is.

My disappointments with this novel include Gabriel's absence until the very end and therefore, no further development in his relationship with Rhine, and the rushed ending which ties up all the loose ends and reveals all. I felt the novel (and the series) deserved a more detailed conclusion, despite the fact that it was approaching 400 pages. Nevertheless, fans of this trilogy won't be disappointed with Sever.

Like the other novels in the trilogy, the cover of Sever contains items referencing storyline of the novel. This beautiful and unusual cover is a great draw to actually picking up the novel and reading it. DeStefano has stated that the idea for the series came about while she was ill with the flu and looking through her abandoned story ideas on her laptop.

DeStefano's next effort will be the Internment Chronicle with the first novel titled, Perfect Ruin.

Book Details:
Sever by Lauren DeStefano
Simon & Schuster Books for Young People     2013
400 pp.

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