Sunday, May 12, 2013

Book review: Pandemonium and Requiem by Lauren Oliver

The very short, spoiler-free version of this review is: you will want to read the sequels if you’ve read Delirium, because you’ll want to know how the story ends. For this reason, they are probably both worth reading. A lot of what made Delirium such a strong novel, though, is lost in Pandemonium and Requiem: the pacing gets kind of uneven, and Oliver’s prose — which I have praised before and is still very lush and almost musical — starts to overwhelm itself sometimes, especially in the scenes in the Wilds. Some of the scene-setting is abstract and convoluted, and I ended up having to re-read sections a couple of times to figure out what she was talking about.

Pandemonium has these issues, but at the end of the day I still ended up giving it four stars on Goodreads, which is clearly not a “bad” score. We got some nice development on Lena, our protagonist, as she learns to cope with her new situation, and there is a lot of fun action and twisted revelations. The end, though, was telegraphed a mile away, which took me out of my enjoyment (my reaction at the end: “Come on, really? I was expecting this and I wish you didn’t prove me right!”) After the jump is the rest of the review, because that exasperation that began at the end of Pandemonium and continued into Requiem is spoilery. So – henceforth, THERE BE SPOILERS.

OF COURSE THERE IS A FUCKING LOVE TRIANGLE. Let me back up: I don’t hate love triangles. They’re a staple; you can’t hate them! But the tension in this love triangle rang so hollow that I stopped caring. In Pandemonium, the novel alternates between Lena’s POV at two different timepoints: one, right after she has escaped to the Wilds and encountered the Invalid group she stays with, and two, when she is essentially undercover back in regulated society as a fully trained and rehabilitated Invalid “freedom righter.” For this entire book, Lena thinks Alex, the boy who “infected” her with love, was killed in their escape attempt. In her current timeline, Lena is tasked with “monitoring” Julian, the young, handsome spokesman for “Deliria-Free America,” or DFA. So he’s the enemy, basically, but when he and Lena are captured together after a DFA rally gets sacked, they of course develop feelings for each other. Her timeline encompassing her entry into the Wilds essentially plays out like an inspirational training montage, but we get a good look at the emotional turmoil Lena feels at Alex’s death, both because she loves/d him and because she thinks his death is her fault. Juxtaposing these two timelines is supposed to create tension because even though Lena thinks her feelings for Julian are genuine, she is wracked with guilt over them because of her loyalties to Alex WHO IS PROBABLY DEAD.

In case it wasn’t obvious, what with Lena reminding us that ALEX IS DEAD for the millionth time, Alex isn’t dead. That’s what we find out at the very end of Pandemonium, and boy is he mad that his girl is already macking on some other dude. What continues into Requiem is basically Lena and Alex giving each other the silent treatment for literally 90% of the book while they each pretend to be into someone on the side.The person who Lena is pretending with is Julian, that guy that she supposedly was all moony about in Pandemonium, except now it’s devastatingly obvious that the one she really likes is Alex. For his part, Julian is very nice and understanding and supportive, and Lena basically treats him like crap and strings him along and I just wanted to slap her, firstly for being an asshole and secondly for removing all romantic tension from the love triangle.

The first time I read Oliver, I mentioned that she is good — exceptionally good — at writing adolescent angst. She’s so good at it, in fact, that as someone out of my teen years, it’s frankly sometimes a rather irritating experience, because teenagers — beautiful sparkling humans that they are — are fucking messy. They’re emotional, and irrational, and unpredictable, which makes simultaneously for explosive storytelling and really tedious drama. Lena and Alex, despite obviously wanting each other, aren’t speaking for most of the book because… why? Because they’re teenagers and they haven’t yet figured out how to sit down and have an adult conversation about their feelings. At first I thought my irritation with them was me hating their characters, but then I realized: no, these are two perfect adolescents, and holy shit am I so glad I don’t have to deal with that brand of bullshit anymore.

There are redeeming parts of Requiem: in this book we get POV sections from Hana, Lena’s best friend, who is now cured and engaged to be married to A Community Leader Who Is Secretly A Real Asshole. Even though Hana is cured, she still exhibits some rebellious tendencies that suggest the cure didn’t quite take. When her path finally converges with Lena’s, it’s bittersweet, and Hana ends up getting her moment. Honestly, outside of Hana’s sections and Lena’s boy drama, I can’t really remember what else happened in Requiem, and I only read it about a week ago. There’s a big showdown with the Real Asshole, and a lot of tramping through the Wilds, and some running from Regulators, and that’s mostly it. The political plot was seemingly rehashed from Pandemonium, so most of the tension and conflict is supposed to come from the triangle, which as I mentioned sucks. It’s just a very uneven book and unfortunately a let-down to conclude this series.

So, final star count for the trilogy: Delirium — five stars; Pandemonium — four stars; Requiem — two and a half stars.

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