This book is kind of like a young adult version of THE HANDMAID'S TALE with a dash of THE SELECTION and maybe a light sprinkling of 1980s harem romance trash. Rhine, the heroine, lived just above the poverty line with her twin brother, Rowan, until she was kidnapped by the Gatherers who make a living selling girls to be either wives or whores. You're lucky if you end up as a whore. Some of them just decide to shoot the girls in the head.
In this world, most of the world has been decimated by WWIII. All of the other countries except 'Murrica have sunken into the sea. (Haha, whaaaaaat?) Genetic manipulation has caused a degenerative disease in the newest generation that kills girls at 20 and guys at 25. The older generation is healthy but slowly dying out, and they're encouraging the younger generation to breed, taking wives as young as fourteen. Haha, gross. Some people are trying to cure the disease but other people, naturalists, think humanity should just go ahead and die out because clearly, this is a sign. There are good scientists, like Rhine's parents, and bad scientists who might resort to thinks like murder and body-harvesting to have new subjects for tests.
I think it's the whole child bride element thing that put so many people off this book and yeah, I totally get it. The first time I read this book, I got so squeamish, I put it down. Rhine is just one of three brides to her new husband, Linden. The other is eighteen and the other, I think, is thirteen when he marries her. And of course, he ends up having sex with all of them except Rhine and the youngest one gets pregnant. *vom* There's definitely some Bertrice Small vibes in this book, but I think if you read bodice-rippers, you probably won't be shocked by anything in here, even if you are disgusted. The descriptions of sickness and death in this book are also pretty intense for YA. You really have to be in the right frame of mind to deal and I think it helps knowing what you're getting into right out of the gate.
What makes this book tolerable (for me) is the narrative voice. Rhine isn't quite as annoying as other YA heroines can be. She actually resists but in a realistic way, even if other people probably aren't going to see her actions as particularly effective. Her slow challenging of the world she lives in does kind of follow the sort of progression a real teen's doubts might take. And even though there's an annoying love triangle between her, Linden, and one of the servants, Gabriel, most of the focus is on Rhine's new gilded prison and her relationship with the other brides, including Linden's dying first wife, Rose, who has reached the deadly age of twenty. In some ways, this kind of reminded me of a dystopian REBECCA, only it's about a heroine who really couldn't give a crap about living up to the first wife, she's way more concerned with the unholy science experiments happening in the basement.
So yeah, overall I liked it!
4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars