Book Review: Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
The old life is dead. But the old Lena is dead too. I buried her. I left her beyond a fence, behind a wall of smoke and flame.
*This review contains spoilers for Delirium*
Pandemonium, the eagerly anticipated sequel to Delirium, has been receiving some mixed reviews. Some fans loved it, others seemed to have been bitterly disappointed and the ending alone has certainly provoked a strong reaction one way or the other from most readers.
I wouldn’t say I was disappointed by Pandemonium, but then, I was, perhaps, a little less invested than a lot of fans. I’ve been a fan of Lauren Oliver’s writing since I read Before I Die (my favourite of her books). I liked Delirium, and I liked Alex, but had it had been revealed that he did died that day saving Lena, I would have admired such a bold move. I was more interested in seeing how Lena’s character copes with loosing Alex and the future choices she makes as a consequence. My enjoyment of this series has far more to do with Oliver’s writing, than any intense attachment to the characters. There were some lovely passages in the first book that have stayed with me, even if, in the year since I read it, I’d totally forgotten the protagonist’s names.
However, I know that there are many readers out there who simply love Alex and were desperate to know if he survived, not to mention anxious for a reunion. So I understand why some people may have been… upset by this second installment. Because Pandemonium isn’t about Alex. Nor do we find out what happened to him after he tells Lena to run. Unfortunately, fans are going to have to wait a whole other year to find out the answers to those questions.
Instead, we see Lena adjusting to life in the Wild, a life without Alex, and working within the resistance. There’s the introduction of a new romantic interest. The narrative in this book is also different, alternating chapter by chapter between ‘Then’, immediately following the events of Delirium and ‘Now’, months later, where we quickly learn that Lena has re-crossed the fence.
Lena has never been a particularly strong heroine for me. She’s gains some survival skills and is physically and mentally stronger in Pandemonium, but for whatever reason, I just don’t feel emotionally connected to her. Lena strikes me as a rather needy character. She can’t go it alone. She needs someone else guiding and reassuring her. In Delirium, her dependence on Alex was natural. In Pandemonium, however much the Wild has toughened her up, Lena still needs someone who can make the tough decisions for her. In the absence of Alex, Raven and Tack have become this for her.
I wouldn’t say Lena is a weak character, more that I find her a little insipid at times. There’s no fire in her. She doesn’t search for answers in regards to Alex’s fate. She never questions whether he is dead or alive. She doesn’t fight back. She eventually becomes part of the resistance (though the actually how, when or why is disappointingly skipped over), but only as an observant. It’s possible I have been spoilt by other authors who have written some of my favourite characters, undercover females with a wit, intelligence and fierce spirit that Lena just seems to lack. I felt the climax of the book epitomizes Lena perfectly. In the end, she doesn’t go back to attempt a rescue, she goes to say goodbye to someone. It is Raven who goes in fighting despite the overwhelming odds, and that’s what I really wanted from Lena. She is compassionate, capable and above all, a survivor. I’m just not convinced yet that she’s a fighter.
There are several new characters introduced, though I don’t feel we get to know them too well. Pandemonium is more about Lena’s personal journey. As the poster boy of the DFA (Delirium-Free America), Julian brings a potentially interesting new angle to the trilogy. He is very much like the Lena we know in Delirium: quiet, sheltered, prejudice and young. My main complaint with Pandemonium would be that Julian simply doesn’t have the presence that Alex had and his feelings for Lena felt rushed and unfounded.
Oliver also gives us a better picture of the political situation. Tensions are rising and things have drastically changed since Lena escaped. The Wilds and the existence of Invalids living outside the fence is no longer being denied by the Unified Church of Religion and Science. The resistance is getting louder and their strategic attacks have provoked a strong reaction from the Cured in the form of the DFA, who are now vying for the Cure to administered to children despite the dangers. Then there are the Scavengers who, like the resistance, want a Cure-free world, and are happy to resort to dangerous and violent means to get it. Throughout the book Lena’s world view is increasingly shaken up and expanded and it’s clear that Oliver is paving the way for a full-out rebellion in book three.
In many ways this feels a little like a filler book, with large parts of the story being somewhat predictable. Looking back, I think Pandemonium is setting up important plot lines for what I hope, and believe, could be a brilliant finale.
This is a solid read, let down by a halfhearted romance and the sinking suspicion that unavoidable angst will be rearing its ugly head in the future. The story feels a little rushed, I would have liked a slower, more intense plot, but the last page delivers a killer ending. A must-read for fans of the series, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that Pandemonium lacks that special something that really made Delirium stand out.