Review of “Pandemonium” (And A Reconsideration of “Delirium”) by Lauren Oliver

Note: There are necessarily spoilers for Delirium in this review, but no significant disclosures for Pandemonium

Since Pandemonium (book two) is a sequel to Delirium (book one), I reread the latter before starting on Pandemonium, and I have to say, I liked it much better the second time. Or perhaps I should say, after reading a gazillion other dystopias in the interim, I appreciated it much better. I would even go so far as to say I didn’t understand Delirium correctly the first time I read it. I was hung up on the idea that it was absurd to outlaw “love” without seeing the larger picture of love as just one aspect of passion, which would impact society’s ability to control its citizens.

Delirium is the story told by Lena Haloway, age 17, of what happened when she met a boy, Alex.

In Delirium, all citizens upon turning age 18 submit to a “cure” by the government lest they fall victim to the “disease” of passion. Their affects are essentially neutralized. Thus, there are no more revolts, revolutions, violence, wars, or even dissent, but there is also no more love, and no more pain. As Alex presciently says to Lena, “That’s when you really lose people, you know. When the pain passes.”

In the first book, just weeks from her cure, Lena decides to run off with Alex, with whom she has fallen in love, into “The Wilds” to become an uncured “Invalid.” She manages to escape, but Alex is apprehended in his effort to draw attention away from Lena. His last word to her is “Run!”

Though the book ends there, we know that Lena will carry with her snapshots in her head “as fragile and beautiful and hopeless as a single butterfly, flapping on against a gathering wind”:

“Alex smearing chocolate ice cream on my nose after I’ve complained I’m too hot; the heavy drone of bees circling above us in the garden, a neat line of ants marching quietly over the remains of our picnic; Alex’s fingers in my hair; the curve of his elbow under my head; Alex whispering, ‘I wish you could stay with me,’ while another day bleeds out on the horizon, red and pink and gold; staring up at the sky, inventing shapes for the clouds: a turtle wearing a hat, a mole carrying a zucchini, a goldfish chasing a rabbit that is running for its life.”

Book two, Pandemonium, is about Lena’s acclamation to survival in The Wilds. It is told in alternating chapters: “now” and “then” – “then” referring to when she first got to The Wilds, and “now” reporting on Lena’s current life. Lena begins her life in The Wilds with a group that is led by the teens Raven (a female) and Tack (a male). They expect Lena to pull her weight, and to learn how to live in conditions of severe hardship. Their training is invaluable.

In the “now” sections, we learn that Lena has gone undercover and joined the resistance, pretending to be a true believer in DFA – or Deliria Free America. When Julian, the son of Thomas Fineman, the movement’s founder, is kidnapped, Lena is inexplicably captured along with him. Although on opposite sides of the ideological spectrum and at least nominally enemies, they must combine forces to escape, or else die.

The time period between the “now” and “then” sections collapse as the book progresses and the tension ratchets up, until all is “now” at the end, and the story concludes [sic] with a giant cliffhanger.

Discussion: While the book’s broad themes are not markedly different from many others (and sequences in The Wilds correspond more closely to post-apocalyptic than dystopic stories), Oliver excels in above-average prose and in her in characterizations. Lena evolves in book two, but her personality remains recognizable. At her best, she is superlatively admirable, and at her worst (such as the times when even she knows she is “acting like a baby”), she is only human. Julian, a naïf who rapidly becomes more sophisticated under adversity, is fully believable as a young man who goes from delusion to enlightenment, and from someone who never has had much social contact at all, to a boy in awestruck but shy appreciation of the wonders of the opposite sex. In fact, all of the “uncured” characters are artfully nuanced, evincing determination, fear, love, uncertainty, pain, and joy with convincing verisimilitude. Only the “cureds” are one-dimensional, but in fact, that is exactly what the cure was designed to make them.

And about that cliffhanger: it seemed obvious to me from the beginning how Pandemonium would end, but that didn’t really detract from the story. The only thing it really did was make the interim until we get to book three seem all the longer!

Evaluation: Lauren Oliver has shown, in the four books of hers that I have read, that she knows how to create fantastical realms without losing her focus or sacrificing her writing skill. Her characters are people you want to know, and take care of, and sometimes cry for. Best of all, they are so realistic; they are not just people you would only encounter on a movie screen. Pandemonium is no different. I would not consider this to be a standalone book, but followers of the series will not be disappointed.

Rating: 4/5

Published by HarperCollins, 2012


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12 Responses to Review of “Pandemonium” (And A Reconsideration of “Delirium”) by Lauren Oliver

  1. Amanda says:

    I still don’t know if I plan to read this. I just didn’t like Delirium that much. I was too hung up in some of the world-building and such. I liked the way it ended, but that’s about all. Maybe I’ll just wait until the whole series is out, then if I’m still interested, read them all back to back.

    • tris prior says:

      that’s my initial reaction as well. I even find the story very dragging and dull. I hate bad endings! But i gained all the courage to read the 2nd book and it’s amazing, fast paced unlike Delirium.

  2. I think I’ll reread both of these later on. Especially, Pandemonium. The ending did seem predictable but I wanted it to happen soon in the book. I think I waited so long for the ending that I felt the pace was very slow. Great review!

  3. Sandy says:

    Oh I cannot wait to read this one. I have a couple of things on my plate at the moment, but it is close in the lineup. And might I just say that your review of this is excellent. My only worry (I guess it is a worry) is that I will not want Alex to be replaced. Alex and Lena, Lena and Alex. I can’t get all that chemistry out of my head from the first book.

  4. zibilee says:

    I haven’t read the first in this series, but have really wanted to, and now that the second book is out and getting a lot of attention, it makes me even more excited to grab both of these and give them a go. Ideally, I would wait until the series is complete to get started, but I don’t think I can ignore these books for that long!

  5. This just isn’t the series for me but I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying the series (isn’t it nice when you reread something and it improves?)

  6. Alyce says:

    The best thing to me about her books is that they are fun to read – the writing flows well and is exciting. I loved the second book up until the ending (and you know how I felt about that because I already told you). 🙂

  7. BermudaOnion says:

    I am so behind on all these trilogies – starting a trilogy just feels like such a commitment. This sounds like a good one to start.

  8. Julie P. says:

    I have yet to try any of these. There are just so many books out there. I get so overwhelmed.

  9. aartichapati says:

    I haven’t read either of these books, but on a completely superficial note, I vastly prefer the cover of the first to the cover of the second. What happened to the pretty font and hinted-at face? I think I am tired of all book covers aimed at YAs now having profile shots. Or just body shots.

    PS – This new WordPress commenting system blows. This is my fifth time trying to post this comment.

  10. Iris says:

    I’m glad to hear Delirium improves upon rereading it. Your review made me curious about picking up Pandemonium, while I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about it before.

  11. stacijoreads says:

    I must read both of these. I feel like it would be something I would enjoy and after reading your thoughtful and wonderful review I really want to jump into this author’s writing!

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