Review: Pandemonium – Lauren Oliver

pandemonium - lauren oliver

I’m pushing aside the memory of my nightmare,
pushing aside thoughts of Alex, pushing aside thoughts of Hana and my old school,
like Raven taught me to do.
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.

Lauren Oliver delivers an electrifying follow-up to her acclaimed New York Times bestseller, Delirium. This riveting, brilliant novel crackles with the fire of fierce defiance, forbidden romance, and the sparks of a revolution about to ignite.

After reading Delirium, that ending had left me feeling completely unhinged. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t the complete, emotional chaos I encountered. I spent the next few weeks going over the final scenes in my mind, screaming, “WHYYYYYY?!” to myself (and to all of my friends or random people on the street anyone who would listen), just knowing that Lena and Alex and their heartbreaking story would stay with me for months to come, or at least until I could finally get my hands on Pandemonium.

One of the main things I was dreading about this novel was the love triangle. I had heard from friends who had already read the book that it, like so many other series and dystopians, implemented one, and I dreaded how that would affect the story, and especially the characters. Love triangles are a huge pet peeve of mine, not only in YA, but also in film and television, and in my experience, they tend to make characters fickle and relationships shallow, overrunning the actual plot with so much unnecessary drama. Thankfully, Pandemonium manages to sidestep most of these issues, and the implementation of a love triangle — if you could even call it that — actually manages to make the story stronger. I’ll leave out his name, so I don’t ruin the relatively surprising yet completely natural turn of events, but I ended up appreciating this new character in a way that I didn’t think possible.

Like my friend Angel @ Mermaid Vision Books said to me moments before I had even started reading, Lena’s relationship with this boy allowed her to explore a different side of love. It was not the same whirlwind of deliriously enthralling emotions, like it was with Alex. This time, everything was spontaneous and slow and hesitant, something that Lena didn’t even consciously realize was happening, and something that she did not want to happen at all. But it did, and she ended up caring in a way that she hadn’t since Alex, and it was terrifying. I knew, after the way the last book ended, that I’d hate Lena if she simply forgot Alex’s sacrifice that way. He didn’t help her escape, just so she’d easily fall in love with someone else. Those feelings were real. And this is why, as conflicted as I was initially, I liked the way Pandemonium approached this new development. It wasn’t a love triangle in the sense that Lena was spending her every waking moment agonizing over which guy to be with. There was little romance in this book, and the romance that did occur is again, slow and soft and tentative and… natural. A completely different kind of love. Though I’m not over Alex, and neither is Lena, I couldn’t completely hate this new character. He was innocent, he knew next to nothing about Lena’s past, and his feelings for her sneaked up on him just as much as hers did. And in a story about love, the beauty and the hardships, it makes sense for Lena to experience and understand all kinds of love, even the kind that was soft, neither earth shattering nor all-encompassing (but undeniably present).

In addition to the Boy-Who-Shall-Remain-Nameless-(Just-Because), I loved most of Pandemonium‘s vivid characters. I adored everyone in the Wilds, from Raven and Tack to Sarah, Blue, and Hunter, and each of them imprinted their own personalities and quirks onto my heart. I also loved how significant every character was — the way Sarah helped Lena adjust, how Raven was the “adult” figure in Lena’s life (but not as omniscient or perfect as Lena imagined she was), Tack’s stoicism and reliability, the way Blue reminded Lena of Grace and reminded Raven of everything they stood for.

The settings in this novel truly stood out for me. Every amazingly crafted detail about the Wilds, the system in the homesteads, and their nomadic journey I could see picture perfectly in my mind. I also loved how Lauren Oliver contrasted this setting with the Portland Lena remembered, the Wilds she visited with Alex, and most importantly (because most of the story takes place here) the New York City of Lena’s world. As a resident of New York and someone familiar with the sites in this book — from the streets to the subway stations to Javits Center — it was interesting to imagine these places I know relatively well as they are in this dystopia. I did, however, nearly scream when my imagination worked a little too well (Lauren Oliver’s descriptions are just THAT amazing) and I fell into step with Lena as she was trapped in trainless subway station tunnels with many creepy (*shudders*) rats.

The biggest surprise for me while reading this book was the dual narrative structure, and how much I ended up enjoying it. Pandemonium is constantly going back between “then” and “now”, illustrating how Lena adapted to the Wilds and evolved into the girl we meet “then” (from the girl she was in Delirium) and eventually into the girl we meet “now”. Books with multiple narratives or shifting perspectives usually don’t work well and often make things confusing. Though Pandemonium‘s narrative also took some getting used to, once I did, I was able to appreciate its creative structure. I love the way the “thens” and “now”s work together to tell Lena’s story. There is a subtle parallelism to it. Every scene is connected and relevant, despite the time difference, and it was interesting for me as a reader to see how Lena fared in the realm of the Wilds and as an undercover agent for the resistance. There were obvious differences in her character in each time, and a history behind each of the ways she changed. And naturally, aspects of Lena from each of her “lives” stayed with her, emerging either when she needed them to, or when she couldn’t stifle parts of her true self any longer.

Spoilery Scribbles

I love what Pandemonium adds to this dystopian story. Alex spoke about the Wilds and introduced Lena to his cause, the truth behind the Invalids she was taught to fear, but in this book, we were actually able to see everything from his side – the meticulous planning, the system of communication, the way they survived and grew stronger, their migrations, the bombing, etc. I thought it was clever to point out that there weren’t only two sides to the politics, but several, some of whom only want to keep to themselves. Scavengers, the resistance, the DFA, the people who live underground – the political climate in this book resembled the political climate in any place today. There were people who agreed with the government and people who didn’t, but not everyone protested, and not everyone cared enough to make a stand, and some who do didn’t do it in an orderly fashion or for a particular purpose. The shades of reality in Lauren Oliver’s world were startling.

One of the things I wondered about this dystopia after reading Delirium was about “Unnaturals”, which Lena had only mentioned once and in passing. I’m so glad Oliver threw in a gay character. Though I missed him in the later half of the book, I absolutely adored Hunter, and I love how personable and friendly he was.

I thought the way Lena encountered the disfigured people in the subway stations was brilliant. I didn’t even wonder what this government would do to babies born with birth defects, or how they’d spin that to create propaganda against uncureds and the types of children those illegal relationships could bring, but I’m glad they were discussed. I think it’s amazing how the people and places Lena encounters slowly reveal more about the world she lives in without cluttering the narrative with unnecessary explanations.

There is a scene very reminiscent of Lena’s evaluation for the cure in the beginning of Delirium. I thought of Alex laughing on the observation deck moments before the exact thought went through Lena’s head. I don’t know if this means I’m very attuned to her character’s thoughts, or if I just really missed Alex.

As a lover of all things historical and textual, “The Book of Shhh” fascinated me since Delirium. I thought it was fantastic the way Lauren Oliver took a common religious story (“Abraham’s Sacrifice”), and warped it as a tenet of her dystopian society. I also thought it was amusing how earlier in the book, Lena mentioned the way the “old religions” were cluttered with (positive) words about the deliria, only to take this story — originally about love and faith — and distort it to prove that infected children (Isaac) needed to be eliminated for the benefit of society. It’s not a pleasant message by any means, but it is still intriguing the way this world uses pure, lovely aspects of our world as sick propaganda.

After Delirium, I had a feeling that future books would mention Lena’s mother. However, during the wait for Pandemonium, this thought completely slipped my mind, so when she was mentioned and we were given more information about her, I didn’t expect it at all. I can’t wait to discover even more about her (and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a reunion in the final book).

The ending felt even worse (yes, it’s possible) than Delirium’s. This time, it’s an actual cliffhanger that will make you go through a range of emotions within the span of thirty seconds and then wonder what in the world just happened, and how much longer it will be until Requiem is published.

Pandemonium is a gripping installment in Lauren Oliver’s dystopian trilogy. Lena’s journey (both figurative and literal) will leave readers grasping for more, wondering where she’ll end up next and hoping beyond anything that she and her friends somehow make it.



8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Christa Seeley (@ChristasBooks)
    Jul 16, 2012 @ 10:35:28

    This is such a fantastic review of this book! You really hit on a lot of great points and made me think about some things that never occurred to me when I was reading. Although this is such a fabulous book it wouldn’t kill me to re-read it 🙂


    • aimee
      Jul 16, 2012 @ 19:34:57

      Aww, thank you so much! I remember being left with so many questions after reading Delirium that I was excited that Pandemonium went deeper into all these different facets of the society. And haha, I feel like rereading it too (though I probably won’t until closer to Requiem’s release, otherwise I’d go crazy asking MORE questions and wondering about Lena and Alex.


  2. megtao
    Jul 18, 2012 @ 19:20:10



    • aimee
      Jul 19, 2012 @ 16:45:18

      I kind of suspected, since Angel told me an estimate of when Alex would show up, that it would be terrible, but I still can’t believe that it ended the way it did.

      ….How long is it until Requiem is published again? *fingers crossed for Lena and ALEX*


  3. Trackback: [Top Ten Tuesday] Top Ten Books I Read in 2012 « penmanshipsmitten
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