In case you don’t already know, Pandemonium is the second book in Lauren Oliver’s Delirium trilogy. If you haven’t read Delirium, you probably don’t want to read this review or it will be totally spoiled for you. (You can read my review of Delirium HERE.)
I’m going to go ahead and assume you know what Delirium is about rather than waste paragraphs summarizing it. Pandemonium picks up right where Delirium left off – with Lena narrowly escaping over the border fence into the Wilds, with Alex stuck on the other side and quite possibly dead. The book is told in alternating chapters on two different timelines – one follows Lena during the time directly after her escape, as she settles with a group in the Wilds. The other is Lena’s “present,” where she is working undercover for the Resistance (an anti-government organization) in New York.
It’s an interesting idea, and I think Oliver was smart to use this technique. I will admit that the Wilds chapters were far less interesting to me than the New York chapters, and I’m fairly confident I’m not the only one who feels that way. There isn’t much plot involved in the Wilds chapters, which makes them feel a little unnecessary. Except…they are totally necessary, for two reasons. One is that the Lena in New York is much different than the one we knew in Delirium, and the time she spent in the Wilds is important for developing that character change realistically. The second one, which is a bigger deal in my mind, is that Oliver set an expectation in the first book that readers would get to see more of the Wilds, and not providing that experience would seem like a cop-out or a disappointment for many readers. So, while I didn’t find the Wilds chapters as engaging as I might have liked, I understood why they needed to be there.
When we’re with New York Lena, we learn there have been many recent developments with the Resistance, and you get a sense that the government is becoming more unstable. Lena is initially acting as an information-gatherer, posing as a member of the DFA (Deliria-Free America) and keeping an eye on Julian Fineman, the teenage son of the DFA’s leader, Thomas Fineman. Through a series of events, Lena and Julian end up spending some seriously stressful time together. It’s difficult to go into detail without a least a little spoiler action, but I don’t think it will come as a surprise to anyone that Julian and Lena’s relationship quickly becomes complicated, despite Julian’s strict DFA-influenced upbringing.
The role reversal is interesting – it’s fun to see Lena taking some initiative, being more honest and brave. She was so timid in the first book; it’s nice to see her evolution. The dynamic with Julian is also quite nice to read, since initially Julian is very similar to the “old” Lena. There are a few other new characters introduced, most notably Lena’s allies from the Wilds, Raven and Tack. Raven was thoroughly developed and worked well in the story, but I felt like Tack was left a bit of a mystery, and maybe that was done on purpose. He seemed to exist mainly for functional purposes, but sometimes those types of characters are necessary.
The big question on everyone’s mind is probably Alex. What happened after Lena left him at the border fence? Well, I don’t know that I can say anything without ruining that mystery. So I won’t say anything in this paragraph, but I’ll say a little in the next one. Skip it if you don’t want to know.
Alex is not a main character in this book, but that has nothing to do with whether he is alive or dead – either way, he’s just not a part of this portion of Lena’s journey. Personally, I felt that was how it should be given the circumstances…and that’s saying something. Let’s face it, YA readers tend to get pretty attached to their characters’ love interests; it’s a testament to Oliver’s skill that she was able to make me feel that this book benefited from not having Alex as a main character.
The tone and pacing of this book were quite different than Delirium. Delirium had a sort of dream-like (or sometimes nightmare-like) quality to it. Lena was very poetic and thoughtful, but not much for action. The plot moved slowly and gradually and focused on Lena’s changing perspectives on Deliria and the government and life in general. Pandemonium feels much more mobile and immediate. Things are happening, and even though Lena still has some poetic tangents, for the most part she is much more focused on getting things done, whether that means surviving the Wilds or resisting in the city.
Thanks to the back-and-forth chapters, the pacing struck me as a little off. Since they are intermixed, and since the Wilds story doesn’t really have a climax, there are constant ups and downs. I ended up getting about 2/3 of the way through the story and feeling like I hadn’t really read much, then a lot happened all at once. In actuality, plenty happened earlier in the book during the New York chapters, but I think the Wilds chapters in between threw off my perception of what was happening. I don’t know how to explain it, I just know that when I got to the end of the book I felt a little unsatisfied, like the ending came quite abruptly.
Speaking of the ending, I’m not the first and I won’t be the last to say it was not at all unexpected, but is still quite a cliffhanger. Not on the level of Delirium, but it’s there. And honestly…it’s a little disheartening for me. Even though I expected it to happen, I get a little worried about the direction the next book will be forced to take. But I think that’s usually the mark of a good cliffhanger.
All in all, I was satisfied with the book. I reread Delirium recently so it would be fresh in my mind, and I have to say I preferred the style of writing in Pandemonium quite a bit, and I appreciated the motion of the plot. I am not someone who LOVED Delirium – I thought it was good, and I was interested to see what happened next. I think that mild indifference served me well, as I didn’t really have a specific expectation for Pandemonium. And ultimately, my feelings are pretty much the same as what I felt for Delirium – it was good, and I’m interested to see what happens next.