By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. She can thank modern science for this genetic time bomb. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males with a lifespan of 25 years, and females with a lifespan of 20 years. Geneticists are seeking 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. When Rhine is kidnapped and sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape. Her husband, Linden, is hopelessly in love with her, and Rhine can’t bring herself to hate him as much as she’d like to. He opens her to a magical world of wealth and illusion she never thought existed, and it almost makes it possible to ignore the clock ticking away her short life. But Rhine quickly learns that not everything in her new husband’s strange world is what it seems. Her father-in-law, an eccentric doctor bent on finding the antidote, is hoarding corpses in the basement. Her fellow sister wives are to be trusted one day and feared the next, and Rhine is desperate to communicate to her twin brother that she is safe and alive. Will Rhine be able to escape--before her time runs out?
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I've heard so much about this book, and I finally checked it out to read myself. Honestly, I wasn't impressed. It showed such promise at first glance -- the story of a teenage girl unwillingly taken captive and forced to become one of a veritable harem of wives in a rich yet undeniably sheltered man's estate. I think it was the very concept of "sister-wives" that first intrigued me, and I do believe the author, Lauren DeStefano, has done a good job illustrating that life. I liked all three of the other wives -- Rose, Jenna, and Cecily (Cecily was my favorite) -- and I liked their very individual stories and views of their new lives with a single husband. Besides that, however, the rest of the book felt transparent and unable to keep my attention. So many books start out as good ideas, but the actual product turns out to be a flop. Admittedly it's difficult to completely flesh out an idea so it lives up to all of its promise, but I think in Lauren DeStefano's case, she could have had all of the sister-wives, slave child-bride, desperate-bid-for-freedom story without the whole backdrop of a nearly post-apocolyptic dystopian reality with humanity dying like flies, and done a much better job of it. While that seems like an interesting scenario in itself, added to this book it made the actual plot seem thin and fake and much of the characters' behavior, in respect to their surroundings, was quite simply unrealistic. Either one of the core ideas would have made a great basis for a book on their own, but they were both used at the same time in this novel and that, I believe, dragged the novel down and kept both ideas from fulfilling their great promise individually. Perhaps it's just my opinion as well, but it seems that dystopian young adult novels are rather overdone in today's society, and I think this book suffered because of trying to fit into that genre. The novel has focused on Rhine's experience as an unwilling bride in a fairy-tale environment alongside other girls in the same situation, and I believe that if the author had written entirely about that alone, the book would have been brilliant.