Review: Sever by Lauren Destefano

Lauren Destefano

Simon & Schuester Books for Young Readers
Released February 12, 2013
371 pages
YA / Dystopian

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Time is running out for Rhine in this conclusion to the New York Times bestselling Chemical Garden Trilogy.

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.

In this breathtaking conclusion to Lauren DeStefano’s Chemical Garden trilogy, everything Rhine knows to be true will be irrevocably shattered.

I’m really glad I was home alone when I was reading this book, particularly about midway through when Rhine meets up with someone who is not in the know about all the crazy things she’s been through and the evilness of Doctor Vaughn. The events that followed their meeting left me screaming out loud at this book and throwing it across the room. It was only my inability to quit, especially so close to the end of a series, that forced me to endure the rest of this book. I never wanted harm to come to Rhine until this moment and then I figured she was about to be killed and I would be completely fine with that because she was stupid.

Less vagueness and MORE SPOILERS ahead

When Rhine meets up with her terrorist bomber brother Rowan, there is a happy little reunion and then she finds out that he’s been bombing all these laboratories under the instructions of a wealthy beneficent medical benefactor, who knew about Rhine’s disappearance and told Rowan she was dead. Yes, of course, this wonderful and inspiring doctor that is asking Rowan to bomb buildings and kill innocent people is none other than Vaughn, the puppet master pulling everyone’s strings. But rather than burst the bubble of hero worship her brother has for the man who kidnapped her, killed her sister wife, most likely caused her youngest sister wife to have a miscarriage and stuck needles in her eyes while keeping her captive in a basement lab, Rhine keeps her mouth shut, doesn’t tell Rowan a thing about what’s happened in the last year and gets into Vaughn’s waiting limousine without saying a word.

If the next scene had Vaughn tying them up and dissecting them for parts, I would have been perfectly fine with that. There was no reason or indication of character for Rhine to not tell her brother about all the monstrous things this man had perpetrated against her. It would have been far more logical for Rhine to tell her brother about her last year held captive, Rowan to come back with disbelief and fight her claims before getting into Vaughn’s awaiting car, and for Rhine to follow because he is her brother and she doesn’t want him to face evil alone. This would have made more sense and not caused me to hope for someone to shoot them both in the head.

But no, she waits hours upon hours and possibly days before she tells her brother anything about the awful things she’s gone through and by that point she is starting to buy into Vaughn’s martyr complex. It’s all very much ridiculous and if this weren’t the final book, it would have put me off the entire series. I am not exaggerating when I say I yelled at this book on almost every page for several chapters because the lack of communication made no sense and drove me crazy.

But other than that, Sever is a fitting conclusion. If we quietly cut that irritatingly convenient amnesia of Rhine’s, it’s a good book. We get a glimpse of the world outside of the states and hints at something much bigger and much more insidious going on with the US government. These are ideas that would have been nice to have more interwoven in the entire series instead of infodumped towards the end of the last book because this twisted government conspiracy thing was fascinating and probably the most interesting piece of world building Destefano did in the whole series.

The reason behind naming the series “The Chemical Garden” finally comes to light, another bit of background information that I would love to have seen expanded and brought out throughout the story as an added mystery instead of an infodump towards the end. While the world Destefano created in Wither was intriguing with the illness killing everybody off, the glimpse of a larger, more complex world seen by the end of Sever was downright fascinating. It’s a shame that it wasn’t utilized earlier.

Sever gets points for not being as depressing as Fever and I didn’t walk away with a feeling of outright doom and gloom. The end wrapped up very quickly considering how much setup had been created, and the lack of Gabriel was highly disappointing. It was like Destefano didn’t know what to do with Gabriel after the escape and just sort of dumped him into places off screen to parade out for a pseudo-happy ending.

The Chemical Garden is by far an imperfect series. Wither makes a great standalone and some of the ideas glimpsed in Sever are incredibly interesting, but underdeveloped. Rhine was likeable enough in the early part of the series, but after not informing her brother of the evilness she’d experienced in Vaughn’s household, she became annoying and whiney. There were narrative choices made because they made things easier that I think derailed the story. This isn’t a series I’ll revisit and I wouldn’t recommend it outside of Wither being read on it’s own.


I received a copy of this from the local library and have since returned it. Opinions are my own.