The Chemical Garden Trilogy


This series was one I discovered rifling through shelves in the bookshop, before reserving the ones with potential from my local library. The setup is this: in the future, there is a virus that means all men die at twenty-five and all women die at twenty. This has created a world where girls are Gathered and sold as wives to rich men or to brothels in the many scarlet districts.

Our main character, Rhine, is Gathered and her heterochromia (different coloured eyes) makes her distinct enough to be sold to a rich man’s son – Linden – as one of three wives. They are swiftly married in one large ceremony and trapped inside Linden and his father’s mansion.

Rhine is determined to escape, something that threads across all three books in the series. But the atmosphere of the mansion is given its comforts at the same time: watching the relationships develop between the wives is one of the few cheerful glimmers in a house which is essentially a prison. In the second book, we see more of these relationships as well as of Gabriel, an attendant Rhine grows close to in Wither.

I enjoyed the series enough to keep reading – I liked Rhine and her determination and desperate searching for hope even when there doesn’t seem to be any left. But while no character felt very predictable, few other characters leapt from the page. Resident villain Vaughn, whilst threatening, does not feel completely terrifying, even when his experiments come to light. DeStefano also drops one of the main characters for a long stretch in Sever, and while this is understandable within the plot, Rhine does not seem to really miss them and so we don’t either. It makes what was an engaging dynamic in Fever vanish, which is a disappointment.

The premise was attention-grabbing and I skated through Wither at speed. They’re not challenging books to read, which is part of their charm, and so my brain didn’t have to work hard to get through them. I would definitely give this as a reason why I chose to finish the series – it was little effort to read them all and satisfy my curiosity.

DeStefano’s use of first person for Rhine works really well, and allows us to feel as trapped in that mansion as she is. Rhine is a keen observer of others and so we are able to paint a picture of the day-to-day life of the house without difficulty. The same goes for the carnival in Fever. It’s not the most vivid description I have ever read, but it does the job very effectively and without really drawing too much attention to itself as you go through the pages. As well as that, the characters we meet at the carnival make a welcome and interesting recurrence in Sever that distracts us from too formulaic a conclusion to this YA trilogy.

On the Waterstones blurb it reads: The Handmaid’s Tale for a new generation. But I’m not quite sure what has led this person to this conclusion, as beyond its trading young girls as commodities I don’t really see any other connection. However, if it subsequently gets unsuspecting YA readers reaching for The Handmaid’s Tale, I certainly won’t complain.

An entertaining easy-read trilogy, worth picking up from your local library.


Wither: 7/10

Fever: 7/10

Sever: 6.5/10


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