Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

Lauren Oliver is a very good writer. I know this because the premise of this series of books is ludicrous, but she is able to make me believe it. She’s made me invested in a story that could never possibly happen, rooting for the characters and feeling their heartaches right alongside them. Part of me wonders if she thought to herself “I wonder what the most ridiculous premise for a dystopia would be, and if I could somehow manage to sell it to my readers anyway,” and boom, Delirium was born.
Anyway, it’s clear that I think the premise is kind of stupid. Enough about that. I read and enjoy the books anyway. Here’s why.
Pandemomium alternates between two time periods: Lena immediately after escaping from the repressive loveless society, taken in by members of the resistance, and Lena as a full-fledged member of the resistance on her first real mission. The “Then” portions don’t really do much plot-wise, but they do a good job of establishing setting, the background of the resistance movement, and a few key characters. I know some readers didn’t care for those parts, but I found them interesting. The “Now” portions are more riveting, and also introduce another teen male character – who (of course) becomes Lena’s new love interest.
Much of what happens in this book will not surprise you. The massive revelation at the very end of the book will most certainly not surprise you (though I was kind of hoping it wouldn’t happen). But there are still a few twists that I didn’t see coming, and it’s all written in such an engaging way that it doesn’t matter as much as it would in another book. I realize that I’m cutting Oliver a lot of slack for what would be a rather lackluster book in another writer’s hand, but good writing matters. It can elevate a middling story into something pretty good.
I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the first. I think it’s too much of a standard middle-book in a dystopian trilogy, in that the hero or heroine joins the underground resistance and starts to fight for a better future, discovering secrets and being betrayed along the way. As an adult, I have less patience for the romance that blossoms between Lena and the new boy, too. They don’t share any common interests, though I suppose they are both good-looking and kept together in a confined space for a period of time. I guess that’s enough. I do know my teen self wouldn’t have minded so much, and again, it’s mostly due to the writing (it always comes back to the writing). The romance doesn’t make sense intellectually, but Lena feels it and so I do, too.
I’m hoping the third book (which I do have) will give me a few more surprises than this one did. I have no doubt that the excellent writing will be there, but that knowledge hasn’t been enough to send me digging into its pages yet. Of course this is a stellar example of what readers crave in their dystopian romances – equal parts dystopia and romance, anchored by good writing. Personally I wanted a little more, but it will certainly satisfy many others.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
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  1. says

    That twist at the end killed me. I thought surely that it wouldn't happen because of how this book progressed. But I was wrong, and I built up a lot of anxiety about Requiem because of it. I'm reading Requiem now, and I'm still not completely satisfied (thought the writing is excellent). I'm looking forward to your review, once you read Requiem.

  2. says

    I preferred Pandemonium to Delirium. I'm reading Requiem right now too. I'm only half way through, but I'm enjoying it so far. Like you said, it all comes back to the writing.

  3. says

    I absolutely loved Pandemonium. I thought that the Then and Now was brilliant. Could your confusion have something to do with the fact that you were listening to the story rather than reading it?

    Requiem is totally different. I love how the author can come up with different styles for each book. In book 3 there are two narrators. I really liked it.

    I thought it was an excellent dystopian series.

    Marlene Detierro (Alaska Fishing Lodge)

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