Literature: The Chemical Garden Trilogy

The Chemical Garden Trilogy is a post-apocalyptic dystopia series by Lauren DeStefano. The books are Wither, Fever and Sever.

A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males born with a lifespan of 25 years, and females a lifespan of 20 years—leaving the world in a state of panic. Geneticists seek a miracle antidote to restore the human race, desperate orphans crowd the population, crime and poverty have skyrocketed, and young girls are being kidnapped and sold as polygamous brides to bear more children.

Three of those girls, Rhine, Jenna and Cecily, find themselves married to Linden Ashby, a wealthy young man whose first wife is dying of the virus. Though she's only sixteen, Rhine has four years left to live, and she's desperate not to spend it in captivity. Instead, she decides to escape the mansion she's now living in, and the father-in-law she fears, to return to her home, and her brother, Rowan.

This series provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: Vaughn towards Linden, who he emotionally controls to an extremely unhealthy extent. Sever makes it clear that ultimately, he really does love his son deeply, and the abuse is well-intentioned, but it doesn't excuse his actions.
  • Artistic License Biology:
    • Men outlive women, which is the reverse of what is biologically inclined to happen. This is especially egregious because the reason for the shortened lifespans is a virus — women, having an extra X chromosome, would have more genetic material to copy from and would therefore be less vulnerable to a virus altering their genome.
    • The book can't seem to decide if the cause for the Depopulation Bomb is a virus or genetic engineering, which are two very different things.
      • Furthermore, the nice thing about genetic engineering is that it's almost always reversible, since there's always a copy of the original genome floating around somewhere. It would be easy for the geneticists to reverse the changes after people started dying.
  • Artistic License Geography: Apparently, among other things, World War III caused the ice caps to melt and now everything but America is underwater. However, Manhattan and America's coastline are somehow completely fine. Furthermore, all of the countries and continents are rubble, destroyed during the war. Rhine mentions that all that's left are tiny uninhabitable islands and the continent of North America. All of this destruction has absolutely no ill effects on the ecosystem, weather, sea level, or anything else in America. Sever hints at this not being entirely true, however.
    • Antarctica is also included as a casualty. Antarctica. The one place where a nuke would be completely unnecessary under any and all circumstances.
    • Writers Have No Sense Of Scale: Rhine mentions that the remains of the destroyed areas are so small they can't be seen by satellite. Satellites can actually see really small things — sandbars, for example.
  • And Now You Must Marry Me: Happens to the kidnapped women.
  • Arranged Marriage: Rhine is kidnapped and forced to marry Linden.
  • Abduction Is Love: Actually seems to work.
  • Big Bad: Vaughn
  • Bittersweet Ending
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Rhine is a blonde, Jenna is a brunette and Cecily is a redhead.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Cecily, until Character Development kicks in.
  • The Chew Toy: Cecily.
  • Cozy Catastrophe: Sort of; after Rhine is kidnapped, the world is still falling apart, but she's insulated from it all.
  • Creator Provincialism: Extreme example; everywhere except America has been destroyed offstage. Sever suggests this might not be entirely true, though.
  • Disposable Woman: How all women are treated in the setting.
  • Distressed Damsel: Rhine and her sister-wives.
  • Eye Scream: Rhine gets needles stuck through her eyes in Fever.
  • Extreme Doormat: Linden.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Vaughn.
  • Happily Married: Cecily and Linden in Sever.
  • Idiot Ball: Despite the looming threat of humanity's extinction, Gathers run around killing hundreds of girls for not being pretty enough for marriage or prostitution.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted to ridiculous levels; kids die more often than adults.
  • The Jail Bait Wait: Horribly averted.
  • Let's Read: One for Wither, one for Fever, and one for Sever.
  • The Lost Lenore: Rose is this to Linden.
  • Love Triangle: Rhine with Gabriel and Linden, sort of.
  • Mad Scientist: Vaughn seems to be one.
  • Mad Scientist Laboratory: There's one beneath the house.
  • Mama Bear: Cecily, who shoots Vaughn, partly to protect her baby from him.
  • Marital Rape License: Weirdly, seems to be a Type B.
  • No Transhumanism Allowed: Genetic enhancement is causing the extinction of the human race.
  • Old Man Marrying A Child: Standard in this world — all the Arranged Marriages are to older, rich men. In particular, one of Linden's wives is 13.
  • Only Fatal to Adults: The disease that plagues Rhine's generation.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The Gathers, and arguably the society in general. All the women in this world drop dead at the age of 20, and all the men at the age of 25. Rather than keeping every woman alive for as long as possible so they can reproduce and keep the human species from going extinct, the Gatherers, for some obscure reason, kidnap as many young women as possible and then kill all those who aren't chosen as brides for their employers.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Cecily
  • Took a Level in Badass: Cecily who shoots Vaughn near the end of the series..
    • To a lesser extent, Linden, who stands up to his father where his (Linden's) son Bowen is concerned.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Vaughn is revealed to be one in Sever, in regards to both his son and the virus.