The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

Running Up That Hill (Review: Requiem by Lauren Oliver)

Requiem (Delirium, #3)Requiem
Lauren Oliver
Hodder and Stoughton 2013

Requiem is the final book in Lauren Oliver's Delirium trilogy. As such, this review contains spoilers for the previous two titles. You can find our reviews of Delirium and Pandemonium by clicking on the links.

Having escaped the clutches of Deliria Free America and the vicious Scavengers, Lena and Julian thought they were home free or that they at least had the freedom of the Wilds to explore together, while cultivating their growing relationship.  But the Resistance has been simmering for a while and the situation is now at boiling point.  With the rebels getting bolder and the response getting harsher Lena faces the beginning of the end.  To complicate matters, a face from her past – merely glimpsed at the end of Pandemonium – is back and he isn’t happy.  Elsewhere, Hana has been cured of the Deliria which she half believes led her to make a decision that haunts her and affects Lena to the present day.  Set to marry a Jekyll and Hyde Mayor, she can’t quite let the past go, and it scares her.  Requiem tells the stories of these two very different girls whose pasts and futures inextricably intertwined with that of the society around them.

Lena is a very different girl to the one first seen in Delirium.  While she certainly toughened up during her stay in the Wilds, her subsequent capture, escape and rescue of Julian from the DFA has arguably matured her more than anything.  While she’s still pretty young she’s gained a focus and determination that carries her through this last instalment in Lauren Oliver’s trilogy.  She’s not always nice and certainly not always fair but her actions are believable and she’s ultimately both a sympathetic and admirable character.  Requiem, however, is not all about Lena – a refreshing change from the relentless (although excellent) narrative of the previous two books.  Here, another story is told – that of Hana.  Hana has been Cured and so, to an extent, her voice is cool, remote and analytical.  Yet Hana still has feelings – it’s just that these feelings don’t rule her, even as she fears that their very existence might mean her Cure was unsuccessful.  She thinks often of Lena, and more of Lena’s family, with a vague guilt and as her own situation becomes increasingly untenable, she starts to wonder if Lena had the right idea.  She’s an absolutely fascinating addition to Oliver’s core story and her own personal journey is entirely compelling.

While the characters in Hana’s life are largely familiar, with the Cured’s oddly obsessive attention to image and detail, her future husband is frightening in that he has a temper.  Not something that would necessarily be unusual, but in a Cured adds a truly frightening aspect to an already deeply uncomfortable situation.  In Lena’s life is Julian, who is just so good.  He adapts well to his new life in the Wilds, works hard, loves Lena with an entrancing innocence and is thoughtful enough to give her the space that she needs.  And she really does need that space of course, because Alex – long thought dead – has returned.  Alex, like Lena, has gone through a bit of a metamorphosis. Gone is the loving figure of Delirium and in his place is a young man of hard edges, scars and bitterness.  He’s frequently cruel, often irritating and always entirely understandable.

The story that runs through Requiem is two pronged.  On one hand it is a story of rebellion, resistance and the road to war while on the other it is a study of love, relationships and the myriad of emotions that both create and end them.  These two aspects run seamlessly alongside each other being, as they have always been in Oliver’s beautifully realised world, so hopelessly intertwined.  One of the most interesting ideas touched upon is that Lena and Julian only know that there is Deliria – love – and the alternative Cure.  They have no idea that not all romantic relationships have to begin or end with love  because they have no frame of reference.  Lena, in her confusion, starts to realise that some relationships – some loves even – are different to others, something that very few in her life have had the opportunity to understand.  Alex, perhaps, having always been relatively free to love, understands it more than most, something that is perhaps at the heart of his bitterness.

The ending of Requiem has attracted much criticism, all of which is entirely unfounded.  Lauren Oliver has never chosen to make any aspect of this trilogy easy, or pretty, or anything other than complex, reflecting the fractured and bizarre society that she has imagined.  Perhaps readers have become too used to clear-cut endings, where all ends are tied up and everyone lives happily ever after.  Lauren Oliver has chosen, instead, to end her trilogy in a beautifully ambiguous manner, leaving the story almost unfinished yet filled with a sense of triumph and hope, even as it is tinged with sadness.  It’s not tied up in a pretty bow partly, one suspects, because Oliver respects her readership more than that.  If I recall correctly, similar criticisms were levelled at Suzanne Collins’s Mockingjay and it seems to have done alright regardless. Ultimately, the Delirium trilogy is a tour de force of great world building, strong characters and extremely accomplished authorship and if its ending allows that story to continue untold, then it is all the better for it.  Highly recommended.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird. Requiem is available now.

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