Even Stevens’s #CBR4 review #8: Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
This feels like the hardest review I’ve ever had to write, and not because I loved or hated the book. Much the opposite, actually – I felt indifferent to it most of the time. There’s a line in 10 Things I Hate About You (shut up) where Bianca’s friend Chastity asks “I know you can be overwhelmed, and you can be underwhelmed, but can you ever just be whelmed?” That’s this book; it was whelming (incidentally, spell check doesn’t take issue with ‘whelming’ so I guess you can just be whelmed. NOT THE POINT. Can you tell I’m procrastinating this review?).
Anyways, this book picks up right after the events of the first book. I’ll stop here to say SPOILERS ahead. Lena (you guys, I actually had to look up the character’s name. I could not for the life of me remember it) has made it into the Wilds, but Alex is presumably dead and Lena’s life is essentially upside down. She is also in bad shape physically from the dangerous cross into the Wilds, but luckily (or conveniently) for her, a group/commune of people take her in and nurse her back to health. We flash back between present day, which is six months after Lena’s crossing into the Wilds, and to the time when she was taken in by Raven and the rest of the group.
I have a lot of thoughts, but I’m having trouble putting them into a coherent structure, so screw it, I’m just throwing them out there as they come. One, some of them have really stupid names. Apparently in the Wilds everyone picks their own name and leaves their old name behind with their old lives. Fine, but Raven, Tack, Blue? Blech. Also, speaking of Raven, she’s kind of a bitch. Not in the fun way where she’s delightful to read and you know she’s a bitch and you just want more. She’s the kind that makes you think “alright we GET IT you have opinions, now STFU. Why do people listen to you again??” Or maybe that was just what I thought.
I was pretty distracted by the flashback format, too. I think this was mainly so because the present was so much more interesting than the past. In the present, Lena gets tangled up in a kidnapping scheme and becomes one of the victims herself. She is trapped with Julian, the very nice and attractive young man, who also is the son of the biggest public supporter of the Deliria treatment and is supposed to be her sworn enemy. Gee, I wonder where this will go! Ahem, sarcasm aside, Oliver does manage to turn in some pretty good action scenes and Lena herself is not a bad character, if not a bit of a blank canvas. Still, the kidnapping plot at least held my attention where the flashbacks to the homestead which mainly involved, cooking, cleaning, walking, and Raven being a bitch, were alternately annoying and boring.
This all sounds pretty negative, and yet I tore through this book. I don’t know what it is, I truly cannot come up with a reason, but I had this book done in about a day. There’s some good action to be had, and there’s a pretty good setup for the last book (which, let’s be honest, I’m totally going to read), although anyone’s who has read any literature pretty much ever can see the ending/set up coming about a mile away. Probably more like ten miles. And yet.
I know Oliver can deliver a good story; her first novel Before I Fall remains one of my favorite books, ever. Perhaps that’s where my ambivalence comes from – if I had not read Before I Fall, I might have dismissed Delirium (and subsequently Pandemonium) as mediocre and not continued, but I desperately want this trilogy to be good because I know what she can do. But again, I digress. Bottom line is, this is better than much of the dystopian fiction out there right now (I’m looking at you, Ally Condie), but it isn’t the best. It’s a time filler, something that passes the time without challenging your brain, and sometimes that’s ok. But if you want to go read some great YA fiction, I’ll steer you toward her first book, Before I Fall.