Author: Lauren Oliver
Publisher: Harper Collins
Series: Delirium #2
Other Reviews for This Author: Before I Fall; Delirium
My love for Lauren Oliver is both as a fanboy and as a wannabe writer. Since reading her debut novel, I've consistently been amazed at how well her prose translates to a reader's vision - and how versatile said prose can becoming, expanding to include dystopian fiction and middle grade fiction. Oliver's dystopian novel Delirium was one of my favorite reads from 2011, as it was perhaps one of the most accessible dystopian works for me as a reader. It represented the emotional end of what it's like to be in a dystopia where people believed the concept of love to be a disease that hindered the intellectual development of modern society. Pandemonium is the second book in Delirium's trilogy, and to say that my expectations on an emotional level for this novel were high is an understatement. Oliver doesn't quite hit the same notes that she did with Delirium, but Pandemonium is an accomplished novel and a solid step forward in both this series and Oliver's career based on some of its strongest aspects.
*Note: Major - MAJOR - spoilers for Delirium are after this point. Do not read if you'd like to avoid them.*
Prior to meeting Alex, Lena had been on the path to getting cured of the amour deliria nervosa. She, like every other person of age in society, would no longer be subjected to the disease of love, the destructive force of caring eradicated from her system with a high-tech surgery developed to improve society's individuals. Alex changed everything, though. He; a silent protester; a rebel with eyes of fire. He made her feel love, lust, and attraction. He unlocked feelings that she hadn't known since her childhood. That type of unregulated feeling hadn't touched Lena's soul since her mother was alive. The secrecy and the passion between them led to Lena faking her surgery and going on the run with Alex until they got over the walls of their city into the wilderness, the one place where others like them could survive.
So, when Alex is no more, what happens to Lena? There is more to her than Alex, but in the aftermath, Lena can only think of him. He was the person that introduced her to the world of rebellion and emotion, and her memories and feelings all seem to tie back to him. Life is about more than Alex, though, as Lena learns soon after. She gets involved with a group of rebels who are like her. They all carry their emotions with them, the baggage of past lives without surgeries to mask the pain or the pleasure of having loved. They all work together as a community to survive. They live off of the land and what supplies their supporters from the city can send them via the river. Lena becomes more than a survivalist. She becomes a true part of the rebellion, and it gets her into more trouble than she could ever imagine.
Rebellion comes with a price; a risk. Without Alex, Lena's entire emotional state is based on the need to survive and to grieve, although revenge and regret forever hover at the edge of her thoughts. This makes aiding the rebellion paramount. Lena doesn't just start contributing to the daily needs, but she helps them with their political plots that aim to send a message to the world - a message that, if said loudly enough, may cause people to question the rightness of getting rid of love. The only problem is that they also have to prevent the obsession with eradicating the emotion from growing, and that involves working undercover, following orders, and risking their lives. Through this, Lena meets someone else. Someone who is flawed and brainwashed by the system, but who manages to make her feel things that she hasn't felt since Alex died. Could the memories of Alex be fading? And will any of it matter if Lena dies, too?
Whoever thought that heroines in series like this couldn't get an attitude overhaul was dead wrong. I loved Lena as a character in Delirium, yet Pandemonium shows a majorly progressive shift in her personality that, oddly enough, made me love her as a character more. The general idea is that, because of Alex's death, Lena is left completely on her own. She has refused to take the cure. Her life on the run means total survival, yet she immediately opens the story by showing how coddled she was in the beginning. Oliver doesn't make Lena into a character that can fend for herself at the drop of a hat. She notices that she is detrimental to the other survivors that live outside of the city walls, and slowly helps out and learns how to do the manual labor needed. That part of Lena's journey is what is the most rewarding as a reader. There is a lot of growth in her character on a physical level and, in turn, on an emotional level. Her maturity is enhanced to the point where she no longer comes across as a girl that, while intelligent and daring, is a bit too easily swayed by others and her emotions. This Lena is trusting but with an edge, and that makes all the difference as the reader gets a feel for her in the later parts of the narrative. Lena's emotions are by far the most accessible part of her character because of their drama and intensity - all of which are helped by Oliver's signature writing style - and they come in at full speed as the story progresses and the reader gets an idea of the loneliness, the grief, and the determination to move on that Lena possesses in spades. These sections of the story are more in line with the post-survival aspects of the plot, and the shift in tone and attitude in Lena is necessary in order for her character to make sense emotionally in that portion. Seeing the heroine of Delirium go from an aspiring rebel to a jaded rebel with a widow's heart is interesting and extremely sad, yet it's a step for her character that shows just how real Oliver wants her trilogy to be.
The other characters, as per Lena's example, are either new and deep or fleshed out beyond their initial faces. Pandemonium primarily features new figures in Lena's life, as it revolves around a change in setting that goes from an isolated city experience to the unmarked refuge of love-marked rebels in the Wilds and, later, to undercover work in a bigger, more expansive city. Raven is one of the best of the bunch; a hardcore girl who has toughened up after years of living in the Wilds and working for the rebellion. She basically becomes Lena's new mentor character, and her brand of friendship with Lena is one born of necessity. They don't have any of the closeness or tenderness that Lena has with Hana from the previous book, yet it's a friendship that manages to keep the two girls accessible to readers. The other members of the group of survivalists range in personality. Some are distinctive and entertaining, like Hunter, while others are just background characters that don't get any page time. The one new character that is really developed is the new love interest, Julian. Julian is the son of a politician campaigning for people to administer the Cure to a lower age bracket despite the increased health risks, his own story of sickness and devotion to being cured a martyrdom for his father's political platform. Julian and Lena get caught up in extenuating circumstances that cause them to be confined together for a long period of time. Their time together isn't remotely the romance of Alex and Lena. Nothing is quick and passionate, nor is it really wanted or convenient. Julian isn't strong like Alex. In this relationship, Lena is the strong one, the destroyer of ignorance, the temptation. Julian is the ignorant. His lack of awareness as to the feelings of love and desire make his meeting with Lena internally explosive. They are constantly reluctant and vaguely despise each other, yet their relationship arises out of a combination of confinement, necessity, loneliness, and subconscious attraction. There's a good guy in Julian that makes the reader want to see where it goes - yet, personally, I will always be an Alex fan, no matter where the plot goes (and, with the way this is going, this may be the first series where I can't predict the couple that gets together at the end).
Take a moment, readers, and remember that this is the section of the review where I praise the writing. Oliver's writing has gotten better, perhaps. It's hard to say. I still haven't had the chance to review Liesl and Po, which is arguably her strongest writing in terms of style mixing with tone and character, yet Pandemonium manages to keep the beauty of her prose with improved pacing and consistency. Oliver had a potentially boring book on her hands - Pandemonium is about confinement and learning, and in both cases the story has the potential to lull. She could have written it linearly and had a chunk of boring time in the middle along with a lack of a balanced character arc, yet she chose to alternate between 'Then' and 'Now' chapters to better highlight the character growth found in Lena's story. It also kept the book from getting boring, as the alternating times in Lena's recent life allowed for the plots of both storylines to remain exciting. Oliver's writing was as beautiful and emotionally resonant in Pandemonium as it has been in other books, if not more so because of the heavy subject matter involved with Alex's death. She captures every emotional shift in Lena with a sense of grace. Every emotion is explored, and the prose reflects it all with poetic turns-of-phrase that read with a cadence all of their own. Yet...despite all of this greatness that I come to expect from Oliver (and at this point I feel completely fair in saying that, as a fan, I have certain expectations when it comes to her novels), I didn't get as emotionally involved as a reader with Pandemonium. Lena's struggle to feel and cope with Alex's death makes this a hard narrative to get behind completely because of the introduction of Julian. No matter how well done it was, it was hard to see it done without a bit of reluctance and disappointment. Nothing that ruined the novel as a reading experience, but it did prevent my hardcore love of the book the way I loved Delirium - although I still very much love the series as an entirety. The world building is just as strong as in the first book, but this also means that any reluctance regarding the concept of the series as a whole will still be around if you had it.
Will Pandemonium rock your socks off? If you liked the first book, the chances are yes. If you were ambivalent because of Lena's past behavior, you might find this a different experience that's worth it. If you hated the concept, though, it won't change. Oliver is an author that thrives on consistent excellence in her prose, characterization, and plotting. This book reflects that and avoids the dreaded second-in-series syndrome that other books suffer from. It blew my mind in some places with the plot revelations. Nothing about it was expected, and so much of it involved challenging my perceptions about how far Oliver would go as an author. Trust me when I say that, if you are a fan of this series, it is worth it to continue - and the wait for the third book, Requiem, will be devastating. The ending of this series will be extremely sad because of how wonderful it is as a reading experience for me, but I'm so glad that I finally read Pandemonium.
Cover: Eh. I preferred the original Delirium cover. The color scheme and the fierceness of the model's eyes are striking, yet conceptually it doesn't stand out as being very different from other YA novels out there.
Rating: 4.5 Stars