Book Review: Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

Lena lost Alex in the woods after they escaped her village.  Now she must trek through the wilderness on her own and try to find her way to safety.  It isn’t long before she’s welcomed into a homestead filled with a ragtag group of survivors and is taught to be an insurgent to fight the supporters of the cure.  Will Lena ever be truly safe?

When I read Delirium last year, my biggest problem with the novel was its basic premise.  A world in which love has been eradicated is hard to swallow, not only because Lena’s world seemed to be based on the same Judeo-Christian values that define our society.  These values have love as a cornerstone (well, they do in theory, at least) to their existence, and to create a world in which that would so suddenly change was hard to accept.  Oliver has gone on record as saying that Delirium and Pandemonium take place in an “alternate history” world, which makes the pill less bitter going down, but I still think that there’s not enough evidence of this in the actual stories.  That being said, Pandemonium is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor in every way imaginable.  This one was surprisingly enjoyable.

Unlike many middle novels in a given trilogy, Oliver’s Pandemonium ups the action and suspense, expands upon the world in which Lena lives, and provides a realistic, absolutely stunning evolution of her character.  Over the course of this novel, Lena grows significantly as a character.  Instead of just being described as being strong, Lena actually becomes it.  It’s a logical growth that never feels unrealistic, and it’s an absolutely gripping transformation.

It helps, too, that Oliver introduces a much more interesting love interest for Lena in this story.  Julian Fineman is a much more realistic character who can elicit the sympathy of readers.  His back story, including his illness and his family situation, make him a much more authentic character and infinitely more compelling than the cardboardy Alex.  The chemistry and tension between the two characters is much better as well.

Oliver plays with the narration and the time line by alternating chapters with “Then”–right after Lena’s escape from her village and “Now”–after she’s become an insurgent and is captured during a rally.  This structure works exceedingly well here and helps propel the plot forward at a whip-fast pace.  The balance of action and suspense will keep readers turning pages long into the night.

The book loses its footing slightly with two extremely obvious and contrived plot twists near the end that savvy readers will see coming from a mile off.  I was so disappointed by the book’s final twist, in the last two pages or so, that I actually cried out in frustration (much to the chagrin of the other gym patrons).  These plot twists feel like Oliver is pandering to her audience, going for the obvious shock value over actual substance, and that’s disappointing, because Pandemonium is otherwise a pretty great dystopian novel in a sea of mediocrity.

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver. Harper Teen: 2012. Purchased copy.

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