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"I should not have loved my daughter as I did. Not in this world in which nothing lives for long. You children are flies. You are roses. You multiply and die." —Fever
Chemical Garden #2
by Lauren DeStefano
Escaping with Gabriel was supposed to be the hard part, but as Rhine travels the country in search of her brother, she realizes that escaping the mansion was easy compared to what is coming next.
Captured by Madame, a woman of dubious sanity who wants Rhine to become one of her scarlet girls, Rhine starts to wonder if leaving the mansion was the right course of action. It seems there is nowhere she can go to reclaim her freedom. Would it not have been better to die in comfort at the mansion, forced to wed one man, than to spend her last years forced into prostitution in Madame’s decrepit carnival?
Hundreds of miles away, Housemaster Vaughn continues his twisted plans, in which Rhine unknowingly still has an important part to play.
While Fever’s pacing is not as smooth as Wither’s, interesting characters are introduced that will keep the pages turning. DeStefano does an excellent job at creating an atmosphere of urgency and weaving a perpetual feeling of captivity. Rhine struggles with many mature issues, such as how far she is willing to submit herself, sexually, in order to survive.
- Rhine is captured by Madame, who runs several scarlet districts. “Filthy girls are peeking out from a slit in the rainbow-striped tent, blinking like bugs. And I know immediately that this must be a scarlet district—a prostitution den.”
- Rhine spins a lie to placate Madame. She says her husband was malformed, and she had an affair with her attendant. “He might have turned into a beast around me, but it didn’t matter. Nine times out of ten, he couldn’t do anything about it. And like you said, women have needs.”
- Rhine and Gabriel are forced to have intercourse while being watched by Madame’s paying customers. This act is described briefly. “I didn’t let myself look outside my cage. Rather than the rustles and the murmurs, I focused on the brass music playing in the distance. After a while it all blurred together . . . Gabriel kissed me, and I parted my lips, closed my eyes. It felt like one short, murky dream.”
- When Rhine stays the night in a stranger’s home, the man sexually assaults her. “He kisses me. It’s a hard, forceful kiss, his tongue prying my mouth open, attacking me with salt and cheap liquor and hot, coppery breaths . . . I feel like his tongue is slithering down my throat, choking me. His other hands moves past the drawstring of my sweatpants . . . gripping the fleshiest part of my thigh.”
- Silas often brings girls home. In one scene, Rhine finds “Silas pressed against the wall and tangled in the arms of a new girl.” He asks Rhine, “Come to join us?”
- When Rhine is captured by Madame, Gabriel is beaten. “The sick sound of bone hitting skin. Gabriel lands a perfect punch . . . but then there are others grabbing his arms and kneeing him from all sides.”
- Madame beats and almost kills Maddy, a little girl, for ruining a sale. Her mother hides Maddy; she tells Madame her daughter died and her body was incinerated.
- Madame’s son shoots a Gatherer who tried to steal Rhine instead of paying for her. “Then another shot, this time from Jared’s gun. For the second time in my life, I watch as a Gatherer crumples and falls down dead in front of me.”
- Madame’s daughter and husband were killed in a bomb before the beginning of the book; this is mentioned in hindsight.
- When Rhine returns to her home, she finds it has been burned. In the basement are dozens of dead rats.
- Rhine sees a dead girl lying in a gutter. “It’s too late. I’ve already seen the dead girl lying face up in the shallow water, her eyes full of clouds . . . I do not see this girl’s features, the color of her hair. A bizarre thing happens. I see her bones instead. I see right through her skin, to the blood and tissue that’s blackened and still. I see the torn muscle that used to be her heart. That’s where the Gatherer’s bullet hit.”
- Rhine attempts to cut Housemaster Vaughn’s tracker out of her thigh with the shard of a broken pitcher. “Hands try to stop me. My name is being shouted . . . it’s Cecily’s brown eyes I’m staring into. Blood on her shirt . . . she’s trying to take the glass from my fist, and then she’s trying to stop the bleeding with her open fingers.”
Drugs and Alcohol
- Gabriel’s captors forcibly give him angel’s blood, which is a sedative. One of the prostitutes says, “It’s just a little angel’s blood. The same stuff we take to help us sleep.”
- Rhine and Gabriel are exposed to aphrodisiacs by Madame to make them put on a show for her customers. “It’s making me greedy, making me tilt my head so that his kisses to my neck reach my lips, and making me take him with me as I lean back into the pillows that clatter with beads . . . the smoke of the incense is alive. It traces the length of us. The heady perfume of it makes my eyes water, and I feel strange.”
- Rhine is drugged to keep her from fighting. “It feels as though the world is a giant bubble about to pop, spilling forth bees and words.” A girl tells Rhine that she was given “angel’s blood mixed with a depressant to keep you asleep.”
- Gabriel goes through withdrawal from angel’s blood. “His rattling gasps are made all the more terrifying by the fact that I can’t see him. ‘Gabriel?’ The response is a pitiful groan . . . ‘It’s like someone wrapped twine around all my organs, and pulled.'”
- Rhine starts dying from withdrawal from a treatment Housemaster Vaughn had been secretly giving her. She faints, feels weak, and vomits.
- Housemaster Vaughn starts experimenting on Rhine. He pumps her full of drugs that cause her to hallucinate. “I lose the distinction between dreams and reality . . . I see my father, pale and lifeless, standing in the doorway watching me . . . I hear Rose in the ceiling start to scream.”
- Rhine sees a fortune teller, who says, “It’s a good card. . . It means everything will fall into place. Your world will come together.”
- Some people think the human race is doomed, and there should be no more experiments on children to try to save themselves from extinction.
by Morgan Lynn