Summary from Goodreads:
With the clock ticking until the virus takes its toll, Rhine is desperate for answers. After enduring Vaughn’s worst, Rhine finds an unlikely ally in his brother, an eccentric inventor named Reed. She takes refuge in his dilapidated house, though the people she left behind refuse to stay in the past. While Gabriel haunts Rhine’s memories, Cecily is determined to be at Rhine’s side, even if Linden’s feelings are still caught between them.
Meanwhile, Rowan’s growing involvement in an underground resistance compels Rhine to reach him before he does something that cannot be undone. But what she discovers along the way has alarming implications for her future—and about the past her parents never had the chance to explain.
2013 is a big year for the end of series. Many stories are drawing to a close, some that I’ve been with since the beginning. Lauren DeStefano’s Chemical Garden series was my first in quite a few ways. Wither was my first YA dystopia and the first YA book whose prose I really enjoyed. Fever was the first time I fully experienced second book syndrome, the first time I seriously considered a DNF. Sever is the first 2013 series finale I’ve read; I seriously hope it isn’t the best.
After the undeniable disaster that was Fever, I really wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. I knew that DeStefano was capable of writing well, but she’d disappointed me. A few chapters into this, I was relieved—no surreal acid trips or carnival brothels were in sight. Rhine’s narration made sense, the prose wasn’t too florid, and it looked like things were going places. But they didn’t. 5 chapters passed, then 10, then 15. Nothing happened.
The lack of…well, anything was the worst part of Sever. Over half the book consists of Rhine thinking deep thoughts, convincing Linden that his dad is a bad man, and dreaming of saving her brother. That’s 200+ pages of boring tediousness. I constantly asked myself where the plot was. Character-focused writing is one thing; aimless rambling toward an unspecified goal is another. Once again, I really have to wonder how Lauren DeStefano got away with publishing this. Sever is better than Fever, but not by much.
The was a slight improvement in characterization, though. Rather than being pieces of cardboard that DeStefano pushed around, I felt that Rhine and her companions actually had substance, more or less. Still not the most brilliant characterization I’ve encountered, but better than nothing. The love triangle (or whatever it is) was more or less handled well, though there wasn’t much conflict since Gabriel is off-stage for all but the last two or three chapters. I’m still not entirely sure what Rhine saw in either Linden or Gabriel, but since there were no declarations of undying love or other ridiculousness, I honestly don’t care.
Obviously, though, the big issue with any dystopian setting is whether or not the world’s problems are resolved. In Sever, I think they were, though certainly not to my satisfaction. DeStefano’s blatant anti-intellectualism and message that “science is evil” made multiple info-dumping conversations necessary for anything to work. Really, you can’t spend two books saying that technology and science are the worst things ever only to rely on them in the end so your characters can be saved. I call foul on that.
If you’re looking for answers to the Chemical Garden series’ shoddy world-building or suspicious anti-science themes, don’t expect to get much satisfaction from Sever. Yes, answers are provided, but not enough, and they came much too late in the game. This book was a decent conclusion to a trilogy that left me in a constant state of internal conflict. If you were able to drag yourself through Fever, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t give Sever a go.
For myself, I’m okay with how things ended up. I’ll most likely check out DeStefano’s new books as well—but I certainly won’t be buying the entire series in hardback!