My rating: 5 of 5 stars
You have your world, the way it is, you think you're ready for things to proceed exactly as they should, and then you suddenly understand the cracks in the pavement and all hell breaks loose.
The third book in Oliver's DELIRIUM series is titled REQUIEM, and given how aptly the second is titled, I'm eagerly anticipating the third.
The Writing: The writing in this matches Oliver's signature gorgeous style. Evocative, rich, sensory. I said in my review of DELIRIUM that Oliver's writing gives me hope that young adults will read rich prose when it's accompanied by as interesting a story as this. The writing makes this world real in a way that I've found few other dystopians reach—both in terms of the characters' inner journeys, and in the realism of the world they inhabit. In her new world, without Alex, Lena is still a runner:
But here's the thing: When I'm running, there's always this split second when the pain is ripping through me and I can hardly breathe and all I can see is color and blur—and in that split second, right as the pain crests, and becomes too much, and there's a whiteness going through me, I see something to my left, a flicker of color (auburn hair, burning, a crown of leaves)—and I know then, too, that if I only turn my head, he'll be there, laughing, watching me, holding out his arms.
Picking even one passage to show the writing in this an impossible task, but it's passages like this one that give Lena's inner and outer journeys in this book such solid grounding that it's impossible not to stay with her, worrying, thinking, wondering about what this world is and what it has in store.
The Plot: Pandemonium is told in two entwining story arcs. It suffers absolutely none of the slow-start problems which plagued its predecessor in the series. If anything, the reader meets Lena, in a chapter one titled "Now" and she's in a school, in a uniform, listening to a teacher, and getting called to the office. Immediately the reader is going, "What? Wait. Where's the Wilds?" and that question draws you forward into the second chapter, titled, "Then," and pulls you through Lena's journeys. The "Then" chapters track Lena's progress as an Invalid, learning to trust and work with the new friends in the Wilds as she learns even more truths about the world she's left behind ("Zombieland" as the Invalids term it.) The "Now" chapters track Lena as part of the Resistance, the Invalids who, like Alex in book 1, have re-infiltrated regular society and are creating change from the inside.
I found the back-and-forth of the narrative style not only to increase the tension in the novel, but also to reinforce the feeling of utter helter-skelter of being an Invalid. Delirium feels more plodding, and while in spots that hurt the book, when considered in contrast to Pandemonium, it makes sense. In Book 1, it is Lena who is plodding, indecisive, still doing what she's told. In Pandemonium, the world is exploding around her and everything about the way the story is told reflects that.
There wasn't a single plot point in this story that I didn't find completely predictable, right down to who betrays whom and when. However, it didn't lose any of the tension for me, and I chalk my predictions up to good plotting and foreshadowing on Oliver's part.
The Characters: As predicted, Oliver delivers with an entirely new cast of characters who are easy to fall for. This is honestly quite a feat—no one but Lena is brought forward from Book 1 (well, until the very end, but if you're like me, you saw that one coming), and so the readers' attachments to every primary and secondary character have to be built from scratch. There are characters in similar roles as Book 1 (Blue, for instance, is very reminiscent of Grace), and the juxtaposition of characters to their "counterparts" in Book 1 gives them more life. Comparing Raven, the Invalid leader, to Hana, or the new boy interest hinted at in the cover copy, Julian, to Alex—considering how these people are different from the friends Lena had in Portland and why leads to some very interesting realizations about the characters themselves.
In addition, there are some new twists and turns which introduce new forces and counterforces whom Lena doesn't, at first, understand, and just like in Book 1, she ends up having to swim a bit to figure out who is trustworthy and who isn't—right up to the last moment of the last chapter.
And still of course, there's Lena. She continues to be a character worth rooting for, if, at times, she seems a little dense in this book. At the same time, that she doesn't cotton on to things quickly, or that she is selfish in the Wilds makes sense—many of the things which are serious character flaws for Lena are a direct result of the coddled, careful way she was raised in Portland, and watching her shed those flaws is a process of watching her reject her eagerness for the cure and gradually come to realizations about what the Deliria-Free world really stands for. If anything, at the beginning of Pandemonium, Lena is still very much the naïve girl who fell in love with a rebel; by the end, she's come into her own as a rebel herself.
Overall Impressions: I thought this book was a perfect second trilogy book. Unlike book 1, I felt that there was much more of a story arc in this book alone, one which relied on Lena changing her own views and becoming a different person than she was in Book 1. Oliver ratchets up the tension in the story here immensely, and the world in which Lena lives continues to unravel.
I continue to find this world thought-provoking. It raises a number of questions about what we consider a problem, what we do with those who don't behave as they ought, what we think of as pathologically "out of control" and how far people are willing to go to keep the peace. (Spoiler in white text)
My final rating: 4.5 stars, rounded up for the quality of the writing and the intelligent way this story is told. If you didn't quite stick with DELIRIUM or are on the fence about going on with the trilogy, give this one a try. It will likely surprise you.
Want to give it a read? PANDEMONIUM is out in US stores tomorrow, but I'll do you one better. These books are definite hardcover keepers for me, so I'm giving away my ARC! For a chance to grab it, comment below before midnight, Eastern Standard Time on March 5. Did you read DELIRIUM? What did you think of it? What are you looking forward to most in the sequel? I'll also add one additional entry to the pot for anyone who tweets the link to the giveaway (don't forget to mention @jsschley so I can see you and include your twitter in your comment so we can all follow you back!). ARCs are paperback, so non-US/Canada entrants are welcome. And no, you don't need to be a follower of the blog or my twitter, to win, but of course, I'd appreciate it if you did.
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