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.


Sapphique (Incarceron #2)

Incarceron, the living prison, has lost one of its inmates to the outside world: Finn's escaped, only to find that Outside is not at all what he expected. Used to the technologically advanced, if violently harsh, conditions of the prison, Finn is now forced to obey the rules of Protocol, which require all people to live without technology. To Finn, Outside is just a prison of another kind, especially when Claudia, the daughter of the prison's warden, declares Finn the lost heir to the throne. When another claimant emerges, both Finn's and Claudia's very lives hang on Finn convincing the Court of something that even he doesn't fully believe.
Meanwhile, Finn's oathbrother Keiro and his friend Attia are still trapped inside Incarceron. They are searching for a magical glove, which legend says Sapphique used to escape. To find it, they must battle the prison itself, because Incarceron wants the glove too.
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I must say this book was better than the last one. I enjoyed it more -- it had more depth, and the plot was more interesting, the characters more believable, and all that jazz. That said, it still had a definite flavor of the first book that kept me from being eager to see what happened next. The Prison itself is a marvelous setting, where practically anything could happen -- it's a giant, sentient computer, with a whole life-system inside; and not only that, but it's deeply flawed and in every way a very dangerous place to be. No matter where you go or what you do, the Prison is always watching you, and it's always in control. Inside Incarceron, you're utterly at its mercy.
Outside, however, the world was much less interesting. The plot was rather two-dimensional -- the story of a prince who came back from the dead and is suffering from bouts of insanity and general moodiness, the daughter of a disgraced father trying desperately to help him regain his place, and the imposter whom everyone believes is the real thing. There's the whole idea that the world is slowly crumbling while everyone is caught up in their games of politics, but even that was only mildly exciting as far as things went. All the tensions, all the twists and dangers seemed dropped there without any real thought put into them. Outside was far duller than Inside.
When the grand climax comes and everything is resolved, I hardly felt satisfied. The storytelling gave sort of a dreamlike quality to the book's events, and it was one of those wandering dreams where you just seem to be stumbling from one idea to the next with no real clue what's happening or why.  I assume everything turned out as well as it could for the people involved, yet I find I couldn't care less what actually happened to them in the end. The prince becomes king, the enemies are defeated, the Prisoners are no longer trapped forever inside. Huzzah huzzah, sound the trumpets and scatter confetti. The world is a ruin but we're ready to work together and fix it now, right?
So yes, this book was better than the first, but in no way lived up to what it might have been. I read both once and that was enough for me. The series was not a shining example of great or even good storytelling. I would just as soon not have read either Incarceron or Sapphique.
And yet the one thing that truly stands out in both books is the Prison itself. It's a fantastic invention of the author, and the one biggest reason I say I liked the series. And the cover artwork is beautiful -- I could look at it forever.