There are so many things wrong with the world building in Wither that I don’t know where to start. DeStefano struggled to build a world that makes any sense. Firstly, and I think most importantly, genetic engineering today is extremely expensive and only really available to the very wealthy. And that says nothing of the fact that just because someone has access to genetic engineering doesn’t mean they’re going to want it. Yet, in DeStefano’s world, genetic engineering was not only available to everyone, but everyone wanted to have genetically engineered children. There’s no discussion of how things like class play into this at all. I also don’t believe that someone who’s been healthy for the first 19 years of their life would suddenly contract a deadly virus once they turn 20. Viruses don’t care about your birthday like that, folks.
After Rhine’s parents die, she and Rowan hide their valuables and take turns guarding the house each night from people who might break into their house at night. I can understand why this is a concern, but I don’t understand why this only became a concern after Mr. and Mrs. Ellery died. Why did the danger of people breaking into their home only come into existence after their death? But anyway, the bulk of Wither is set in the Ashby mansion, so let’s talk about that for a bit.
I’m willing to believe that a certain segment of the population is eager to make babies. I’ve across teenagers today who are actively trying to have children. Really. In the world of Wither, I’m willing to believe that people are willing to force people into relationships they don’t want in part because they want to have children. But I think the larger issue is the desire to have power and control over other people. Exerting control could be a way to cope with a world in which they otherwise feel powerless. They – or someone they care about – are going to die young and they can’t do anything about it. Someone like Linden’s father, Housemaster Vaughn – who’s a first generation – is blessed with a long life but cursed with the reality that he’s going to watch his son die at a young age. So I can believe him wanting to exert control over his son’s wives and whatever children they have. What I don’t buy is the necessity to bother with a wedding ceremony. I mean, biology doesn’t care whether there’s a ring on your finger or not. It might make sense if religion factored into this society, but the characters seem to shun religion rather than embrace it. What’s happening is that women and girls are being locked up and it’s not only allowed but encouraged that a male member of the household rape them. Why bother with a wedding ceremony and any pretense that this is something that all parties want?
And then there are things like the climate. The Ashby mansion is located in Florida after the polar ice caps have melted. Florida has a fairly warm climate right now and it rarely snows. If the ice caps melt, the climate is only going to become warmer. Yet, for some reason, it snows quite a lot in Wither. This makes absolutely no sense. Also, all continents besides North America have been wiped off the earth because there was a world war and North America had the superior technology. If what DeStefano is suggesting is that North America nuked everyplace else, I’m not sure I buy that said nukes obliterated all the other continents.
And let’s talk about Rhine. I found Rhine to be especially annoying. She keeps going on and on about how strong and smart she is. She insists she wants to gain Linden’s trust and then escape. But she purposefully says things that she knows will hurt him and then lies to him to him to smooth things over when she remembers that hurting him isn’t going to win his trust. And we don’t see Rhine being very proactive in actually formulating a plan for escape. In fact, there are several instances in DeStefano’s book when Rhine has a chance to make a run for it (like when sister wife Cecily goes into labor or when Linden takes her to a party) but doesn’t seize the opportunity. So basically, Rhine talks a good talk, but when it comes down to it, she’s not very resourceful.
In the end, I was pretty disappointed by Wither. I guess there have been books I’ve liked less, but DeStefano’s world building was such a mess here. Honestly, if you haven’t read Wither yet, I wouldn’t bother – I’d recommend reading The Handmaid’s Tale instead.
I leave you now with some of my favorite quotes from Wither.
Love is natural. Even the human race can’t claim to be natural anymore. We are fake, dying things. How fitting that I would end up in this sham of a marriage.— , Wither
In this place—no, in this world—it’s impossible for a child to be just that.— , Wither