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Literature / The Chemical Garden Trilogy

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

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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:
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    • 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.
  • Arranged Marriage: Rhine is kidnapped and forced to marry Linden.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Rhine is a blonde, Jenna is a brunette and Cecily is a redhead.
  • Creator Provincialism: Extreme example; everywhere except America has been destroyed offstage. Sever suggests this might not be entirely true, though.
  • Designer Babies: In the backstory, humanity turned to genetic engineering to eliminate diseases and genetic defects. While it succeeded in creating a generation of perfect children, it also gave rise to the virus currently ravaging the world.
  • Eye Scream: Rhine gets needles stuck through her eyes in Fever.
  • Extreme Doormat: Linden goes along with all of his father's wishes. He eventually starts to grow out of it after becoming a father himself.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Vaughn makes a big show of being a gentleman, but it only takes the slightest provocation for him to drop the act and reveal the rage-fueled madman beneath.
  • 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.
  • Mad Scientist: Vaughn seems to be one. It turns out he's been chopping up dead bodies in an attempt to find a cure to the virus.
  • Mad Scientist Laboratory: There's one beneath the house where Vaughn conducts his experiments in an attempt to find a cure to the virus.
  • Mama Bear: Cecily, who shoots Vaughn, partly to protect her baby from him.
  • 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. The women all die at age twenty, and the men all die at age twenty-five.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Because women die at age 20, this is the only way for them to have children.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Vaughn actually wants to cure the virus affecting humanity, but his method of doing it is pretty nasty. He also genuinely loves his son and thinks that his iron-handed parenting style will make Linden into a better person.
  • 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.

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