In portraying the Invalids, Oliver really has done a fantastic job. I was impressed how each of them has a distinct character--although some we know more than others, with most of the Invalids taking a back seat to the main Invalid character of Raven. Raven is an intriguing character, and I think it is smart that Oliver has kept her mysterious. (No doubt plenty of fan fiction featuring Raven is out there and is being written as I type this.) There is so much I want to know about her. I think it’s a given we will find out more about Raven--and probably Tack--in book three.
Also excellent about Pandemonium is Oliver’s description of the brutality of life in the Wilds. The reader really FEELS Lena’s difficulties not only in adapting to life there on an emotional level (and Oliver portrays this well), but it is more than clear how physically taxing and dangerous day-to-day survival is for the Invalids. Description of the burrow is particularly interesting, as is the terrain above the burrow, with its stone and brick ruins and scraps of twisted metal. The Wilds is depressing, overwhelming, and scary, and I felt it.
But what I find most impressive is Oliver’s attention to Lena’s very fragile psychological state after losing Alex. It would have been easy for Oliver to gloss over that and rush along to the introduction of Julian and the set up for that all-important love triangle. Instead, she has taken the time portraying Lena’s grief over the course of almost the entire novel. To be more specific, six months later, as Lena is imprisoned with Julian, she has not moved on; she resists Julian for a good while out of loyalty to Alex. Her grief is still very much affecting her actions and choices. This seems realistic. Someone grieving over the loss of a lover is not going to feel instantly comfortable with the idea of a new romance, no matter how alluring that new romance may be. That Lena eventually does fall for Julian, however, is not entirely unrealistic because Lena does believe Alex is dead, and she wants so very much to be happy. I sympathized with Lena, and I understood her choice to get involved with Julian.
Nevertheless, Julian is not the strong male character Alex is. He is fearful, and his personality reads little-boyish (he asks Lena to “tell me a story,” for instance, and I couldn’t help but envision a four-year-old). One would think a boy of 18, who is the head of the youth division of such a powerful organization would exude confidence and initiative, yet he doesn’t. At all. He is resigned to his imprisonment; it is on Lena’s shoulders to figure out a way to save them. Alex would not have acted this way. Oliver has set up a love triangle, but—and this, I feel, is one of the book’s biggest flaws and the reason I can't give the book five stars—has failed to flesh out Julian to the same degree as Alex. I simply know Alex better, and I also find him more interesting. His past certainly is more interesting, from what we find out about his father being imprisoned, and the fact that he was born and raised in the Wilds. By contrast, Julian has lived a charmed, materially comfortable life. That has made for a rather bland character. Oliver has tried to imbue Julian with some of the tragic qualities that she does with Alex by having Julian relate the story of his brother’s heartbreaking death, but somehow, it doesn’t quite work. That story illustrates the psychopathy of Julian’s father (and of the cure, for that matter), but it doesn’t do more than that. For a love triangle to truly work, the two competing love interests need to be equally fleshed out, equally appealing. I think Oliver should have devoted 100 or so more pages to developing Julian and Lena’s relationship so that it can rightfully compete with Alex and Lena’s relationship. An extra 100 pages also would have made Pandemonium roughly the same length as Delirium. I personally felt a little gypped out of those extra pages of story. The depth of Alex and Lena’s love is believable because of the length of its development. Julian and Lena’s is hurried and therefore too close to “love-at-first sight.” If anything, given ALL that Julian has to lose by “contracting the deliria,” Oliver should have devoted more, not less, time to the development of love between these two. Furthermore, the extremely dangerous, often jaw-dropping, risks Lena takes to rescue Julian at the very end of the story are not believable given how tentative their romance is.
It is interesting that Oliver chose to turn the tables in Pandemonium and make Lena the “Alex” by having her take the lead and be the rescuer and resourceful Invalid. The Lena of Pandemonium mirroring the Alex of Delirium is striking, although at times I found myself not liking it. I found it hard to believe that Lena could have changed that drastically in only six months. On the other hand, I can’t truly judge since I have never been in Lena’s situation. Perhaps six months of wilderness boot camp would turn me into a bad ass who can attack burly bodyguards and has the guts to ride on top of a garbage truck in icy rain. Who knows? Lena’s transformation is just so dramatic that it is hard to accept at times, especially because she is such an obedient mouse in Delirium. If this series were all about Hana instead I could believe in this transformation wholeheartedly
On the technical level, Oliver’s writing in Pandemonium is not as beautiful as it is in Delirium. Her prose in Delirium jumps off the page at points; it’s that breathtaking. In Pandemonium, though, Oliver seems to have been more focused on action and character. In a way, this difference is good, because it can be argued that Oliver may describe TOO much in Delirium. At times that story can feel bogged down by description after flowery description. Perhaps Oliver thought this too and therefore avoided it in Pandemonium. Or maybe she was trying to achieve something else; Delirium has a slightly more leisurely feel to it, which echoes the lazy days of its summer setting, whereas Pandemonium has an urgent feeling, as it should, given the urgency everyone in the Wilds feels trying to survive day to day.
All in all, this is a superb follow-up to Delirium, as much of a page-turner as that book, although vastly different in so many ways. I am looking very forward to the third book. Of course, like Delirium, Pandemonium ends on a major cliffhanger, so waiting for the third book will be agony. The Young Adult literature market is over-saturated these days, and a good many seem to be throw-away YA series, but the Delirium series is not one of those. Oliver knows how to write and how to craft one heck of a story. These books do not disappoint.
I really enjoyed this second book in the Delirium trilogy. Because of how Delirium ends, it is clear Alex will not be with Lena for most, if not all, of Pandemonium, so I was unsure I would find Pandemonium as enthralling. Fortunately, I was wrong. This is a different book from Delirium, to be sure. The setting, for one, is different. Lena is now in the Wilds for half of the book, in New York City for the other half. The cast of characters also is completely different, as Lena now lives among the Invalids and is therefore an Invalid herself.