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Book Review: Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver Book Review: Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver


Lauren Olivers Delirium'(see my review) posited a world in which love is outlawed due to its perception as a dangerous disease whose symptoms result in all manner of illogical actions, and where a puritanical government has mandated what amounts to an anti-emotion treatment in order to stifle any sort of passionate response to stimuli. Its a sort of surgically applied Brave New World mixed with the heavy-handed government of 1984, but unfortunately with none of the context, let alone understanding of that context, that made these seminal dystopian works so memorable. Delirium, rather is a Romeo and Juliet'tale of star-crossed love, with the anti-love context providing little more than a brutal way in which to keep protagonist Lena away from her love interest Alex: in sum, its essentially a romance novel slapped against a flimsy dystopian context. After all, forbidden love is even more exciting when its illegal, right?

Pandemonium'picks up after Lenas flight into the Wilds, an area beyond the governments jurisdiction thats apparently full of fearsome individuals who still have the power to feel emotions. Lena, mourning the loss of Alex, is taken in by a group of such individuals who nurse her back to health and gradually train her up to get her anarchy skills on, and the narrative alternates temporally between her time in recovery and her'present-day efforts to infiltrate and take down a political organisation bent on extending further the already draconian application of the anti-love cure.

But Lenas efforts go terribly wrong, and she, along with Julian Fineman, the teenage figurehead of the anti-love group, is taken captive by another insurgent group. Secreted away in a cell, the two find themselves in a battle of ideologies. And by ideologies I mean sexual attractionapparently Julian, despite his chest-thumping and fear-mongering, isnt entirely sold on a future of physical or emotional abstinence. What follows is a series of escape attempts, inter-factional battles and quite a bit of reading of Dickens (cf Shakespeare, who was the bard of choice in the first book).

I had a number of issues with the world-building in Delirium, and Im afraid that those same misgivings persisted through Pandemonium. Despite being aware of the fairly puritanical religiosity of much of the US, I still cant quite fathom the reason behind the decision to create an emotionless world. Given that this cure seems to be applied only in parts of the USA, why hasnt an international organisation stepped in? Moreover, if the cure is so successful in dulling emotions of all types, why are there so many militant, forceful groups getting together in its favour? Given Lenas description of cured individuals as zombies, surely utter apathy would be a more believable approach?

Its not just the world-building that stymies the readers efforts to suspend disbelief, however. The writing style, for one, doesnt help matters. Its so painfully earnest, and theres absolutely no levity here whatsoeverI had to force myself through what felt like a rather extensive extract from the angsty journals I wrote as a teen, and for a book that comes in a close to 400 pages, its honestly quite a chore. The sharp, staccato-like writing combined with the use of present tense doesnt help matters, and nor does the confusing alternation between the past and present narrative threads, the purpose of which I dont quite understandperhaps its to distract from the fact that the past sections are much quieter than the explosion-filled present?

Moreover, the narrative itself takes a few turns that seem oddly glib given the seriousness of the writing style and the constant reiteration of the oppressiveness of the government. Certainly, love triangles are all but mandatory in young adult books at the moment, but the introduction of one here seems unnecessary and out of place with not just the characters involved, but also the direction of the book itself. In addition, the revelation regarding the circumstances behind Lena and Julians kidnapping raises all manner of questions, and the appearance of a certain person thought long lost to Lena and the re-entry of a certain key character on the very last page of the book are head-shakingly contrived. These plot elements would work in a book thats not aiming for such realism, but Pandemonium'is so determinedly serious in tone that theyre quite jarring.

While I did appreciate the development of Lenas character, overall I found Pandemonium'quite a challenge to finish. Theres something in Olivers incessantly grave writing style that just rings false to me, and which in tandem with the world-building issues prevents me from connecting with her books in the way that Id like.

Rating: star Book Review: Pandemonium by Lauren Oliverstar Book Review: Pandemonium by Lauren Oliverblankstar Book Review: Pandemonium by Lauren Oliverblankstar Book Review: Pandemonium by Lauren Oliverblankstar Book Review: Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver (okay)

With thanks to Hachette Australia for the review copy

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Other books by Lauren Oliver:

delirium lauren oliver Book Review: Pandemonium by Lauren Oliverbefore i fall oliver Book Review: Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver










  1. Ive not picked up this series and umm Im awful glad I havent. It sounds rather painful! Thank you for suffering through it and saving me the effort.

  2. Stephanie /

    I think Im the lone dissenting voice with this one, Amyits a hugely popular series. But the world building, premise, and writing style just dont work for me, Im afraid!