Summary (courtesy of GoodReads): What if you knew exactly when you would die? Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb—males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.
When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden's genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape—to find her twin brother and go home.
But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden's eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limted time she has left
And here's what I thought: I started this book one evening and finished it the next day -- once I started reading, I just kept going because I was so into the story (and needed to know what was going to happen next). This book is so well-written, and the pace is so even, that even though what's going on with Rhine and the other girls is kind of horrifying, you can't stop reading (at least, I couldn't). The whole idea is so disturbing, that young women are stolen from their homes and families, and forced into polygamous marriages just to breed before they die. If they aren't found suitable, they're just disposed of. Sound horrifying? To have such a short life (living to only twenty) and having all of your personal value placed on whether or not you're seen as acceptable to try and procreate with? And to know that in some cultures, this is the reality for some girls? Definitely disquieting.
Rhine is an interesting character, and definitely seems like someone who keeps her own counsel. The other two sister-wives, one younger and one older, make interesting foils to Rhine, showing the reader what she's made of, through compare and contrast. In fact, the relationship between the three sister-wives was something I found pretty compelling (maybe because I've watched two seasons of Big Love and sometimes marvel at how those three wives get along at times). It was also interesting to see how her relationship developed with her new husband, who isn't at all what I had expected he would be like.
I did wonder a bit at the world that the author has created -- there's not much explanation about the possible reasons why humans have such a short life span, and it's a bit vague on when this is supposed to be taking place (obviously, it's some time in the future, and there is mention of a third world war, which "demolished all but North America, the continent with the most advanced technology" p. 55). I suppose it takes a bit of imagination to accept the situation in this story, but I'm used to that suspension of belief, considering all the fantasy books I read.
If you have read and enjoyed the Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, this book will most likely resonate with you. Where Atwood took the idea of a society where women serve only one purpose, to breed, and spun it in one direction, commenting on society as a whole, DeStefano takes the idea where fertile young women are seen as the solution to a rapidly dying human race, and spins things in a different direction. Unlike Atwood's book, this story is one in a series, and the ending is definitely left open for the story to continue. I'm curious to see if there's a bit more about the world and society in the next story, considering where this first book ends.
First sentences: I wait. They keep us in the dark for so long that we lose all sense of our eyelids. We sleep huddled together like rats, staring out, and dream of our bodies swaying.
Thoughts on the cover: Interesting images of a girl, looking down - juxtaposed with other images, like a bird in a cage and an hourglass. Also interesting how the title and author are perpendicular, with lines and circles making their way around the cover. Conveys the tone of the story, and makes you wonder what lies inside this book.