Sever, the conclusion to Lauren DeStefano’s Chemical Garden trilogy simmers slowly and then fizzles out to a completely unsatisfying ending to what could have been a much more interesting “dystopian” trilogy. I use dystopian in quotes here, because in general, for something to be considered dystopian, it has to deal with political systems, or at the very least, power structures in society. DeStefano ditches most of this in favor of exploring weepy, sleepy, indecisive Rhine’s thought process for constantly oscillating between running away from and going back to her opulent prison, where the evil Headmaster Vaughn reigns supreme.
For reasons that never really gel with his established character, Vaughn allows Rhine to be released from the hospital after she escaped his basement of horrors and cut a tracking device out of her thigh. The still oblivious Linden and child-wife/mother Cecily inexplicably go with her and help her out, sort of. Linden takes her to his heretofore unmentioned uncle, whom he has secretly been hanging out with since his uncle’s exile from the Mansion 10 years earlier. Apparently it’s no secret to Vaughn, who shows up not long after and tries to get everyone to come back home with him. I really can’t remember how many times everyone went home and then left and then went back. The motives and or reasons for this don’t really make much sense either, given what a terrible prison we’ve previously been told it is. I also can’t remember why anything about the characters is remotely important or worth the hours it took me to read this book.
Part of the reason there’s so much going back and forth is that there’s really nothing else going on in the novel. Rhine’s journey to find first Gabriel (who gets mentioned now and again solely so that the reader won’t forget him) is constantly delayed (because of all the back and forth), and partly because this is just a lazy and sloppy excuse for a novel. The term “chemical garden” first gets mentioned more than half way through the book, and we don’t really find out what it even means until the last 50 pages, and even then it’s dealt with in a rather off-handed manner. It’s not until the last 10 or 20 pages that anything even remotely interesting happens, and even so the novel just fizzles out and dies, like all the characters who pose a problem to the novel’s attempted neat but ultimately sloppy resolution. Major spoiler alert: no one leaves the mansion and they all live happily ever after.
Oh yeah, Vaughn really wasn’t such a bad guy; he really was only trying to help, in his demented way. Oh wait, he really is an evil bastard and deserves to die. End of the only character who gave this overly long, overly angsty novel any steam. By the end of it, I didn’t care about Rhine, her brother, either of her lovers, or anyone else really, except Reed, Linden’s uncle. But he was just a necessary foil to Vaughn and is only barely sketched in.
On the whole, this a shite excuse for a teen dystopian novel, and especially a trilogy ending one. Don’t bother with it and read Marie Lu’s newest, Prodigy, instead. It’s still got plenty of angst and a love triangle, but at least decisions are made and actions are taken (in other words, there’s a plot). Plus, explosions and government collapse. Now that’s what dystopian novels are all about.