Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

Pandemonium is the sequel to Delirum, which I read last year and loved. In this dystopian society, love is seen as a disease, so everyone is required to have an operation at 18 to render them incapable of loving. Nice place, right? In Delirium, first person narrator Lena falls in love with Alex, and they make an attempt to escape the society. Pandemonium, like most sequels, is about what comes next. It’s told in alternating chapters of “then,” the time just after Lena’s escape, and “now,” about six months after that, when she’s re-infiltrated “zombie” society. I mostly prefered the “now” chapters, because I like daring escapes and budding relationships more than hardship and camping.

The novel is definitely action-packed, with lots of chases and intrigue, but Oliver mixes the action with an attention to language that you don’t often find in YA novels. Lena’s pain comes out in poetic interludes and asides.

We learn more about the inner workings of the regime in this book, mostly through the introduction of a new character, Julian Fineman, whose father is a leader. The society turns out to be as mean and duplicitous as you’d expect. As we often see with dystopian books, a main conflict is whether the rebellion will maintain its high ideals or become just as cruel and oppressive as the previous system.

The novel ends with a great cliffhanger that brings the first book back to mind and makes you wish the third were coming soon. The series has turned into a love triangle, a common YA romance structure. But I’d like to compare this series to Twilight and The Hunger Games, two other YA series with love triangles. For the most part, I think Oliver’s books fall about halfway between Meyers’ and Collins’.

The main focus of Twilight is definitely romance. In The Hunger Games, the main focus is whether or not Katniss will survive and how being forced to kill will change her. Romance is a side note. In Delirium, the regime is oppressive because it takes away people’s right and ability to love. So the romance is directly tied to larger issues, questions and plotlines. The focus becomes how this couple can escape and find a safe place to be together. It’s romantic, but it’s romance made political, romance for a purpose.

Bella Swan is a weak character completely ruled by emotions, to the point where a breakup sends her into an immobilizing several-month-long depression. She’s surrounded by supernatural creatures who must defend and protect her, because until the final book she’s pretty helpless. Katniss Everdeen is cold, emotionless, starved into survival mode and thus unable to access her feelings. She’s the best hunter and fighter in the Games, independent and fierce. She makes choices and ultimately controls her fate, outwits the Capitol, and finds a measure of happiness. Lena is not a ball of raw feelings, but she does feel what she feels, even when she is focused on surviving. Her feelings don’t immobilize her; they propel her to make choices in line with her values. Lena has no training or practice in fighting, but she’s pretty scrappy when threatened or cornered.

It seems Oliver has found a sweet spot, a happy middle ground where a heroine can be strong and decisive, enjoy healthy relationships, and fight injustice, without losing herself in a vampire’s “velvet voice,” or freezing out a sincere suitor. Good for her, and lucky us.


11 thoughts on “Pandemonium

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