“The Seeds of Wither” is yet another 1.5 moneygrab of an ebook, and it’s perhaps the most shameless one yet. It makes up for it by being more horrible than Wither itself.
It advertises itself as containing a brand new story featuring Rose, the first wife of Linden who encouraged him to remarry and then coolly told Rhine that oh, she’d get used to being a kidnapped prisoner and come to love him. It actually contains the first six chapters of Wither, then, in the pdf form I converted the ebook too because I hate all other formats, three pages worth of Rose, followed by three pages of Fever. It was sold for two dollars, so that’s $.66 per page of unique content. It does have a slightly different cover, so maybe four pages of new content at a mere fifty cents a page. There’s also a floorplan of the wive’s floor…you know, the one and only part of the book that gets anything resembling a description of its layout in the first place. Still don’t know how many floors the place had total, what was on the second floor at all, if the kitchens made up the whole first floor, if the basement was actually a bizarre twisty concrete maze the way Rhine made it sound…
It’s hard to comment properly on the story because, like so much of Wither, the biggest part of it is what it’s not saying. It’s just quietly horrifying and if it was intended to be, it’d be a haunting tale.
At age eleven I found myself in the strange predicament of marriage.
This is our opening, and I do applaud that the author has found a way to make this even more horrifying than I remembered. This really puts marrying thirteen year old Cecily in perspective, doesn’t it? When we learned that Rose was attempting to escape at a young age, I didn’t realize she was already married by then. I thought that came much later, that it was just a matter of her adoptive father thinking she was better off stuck on the estate.
Linden, my husband, was barely twelve, and while I had made up my mind that we would be enemies, it was hard to be hateful once I first saw him. Wiry and round-eyed, he was as frightened of me as I had prepared to be of him. His hands shook as he placed the ring on my finger.
And here we go with the Linden-chan apologism. This is the distilled essence of Wither – Linden-chan is hapless and innocent, so he isn’t to blame for any of it.
Did he ask his father why she was there, or why he was marrying her, or why she didn’t like him? Did that even matter to him?
So she stays in her room with the door shut and he’s so magnanimous he doesn’t come in, even though she can’t lock the door so he could if he wanted to. It’s important the door doesn’t lock, because if he doesn’t have power over her, how can we be impressed he doesn’t use it?
The book goes on to say that he paces outside, unable to work up the courage to knock so it isn’t even that he’s trying to respect her space. He’s just intimidated by her. But this is supposed to prove he’s nice, because niceness is about being harmless due to weakness, not actually due to niceness. It’s like how Linden sleeps in Rhine’s bed without fucking her – it’s not because he doesn’t want to push her, it’s because he’d rather sleep next to her her and imagine she’s Rose, and it’s his misery that marks him as supposedly worthy of sympathy. This is the only kind of safeness the author can imagine – not a guy who won’t, but a guy who has no interest.
Of course she doesn’t stay inside forever. She’s eleven, her parents are dead, and there’s no one else. She goes out and the book tells us they become friends and goes on and on about how pretty things are. It doesn’t mention her parents are dead, or her crushing isolation. It doesn’t mention that she’s never allowed to leave. It doesn’t mention her escape attempts, because even the soft-focus misery of the first book is too much and the author is quietly retconning even that away.
A year later, which is to say when she’s twelve, she kisses him and says she finally knows she loves him, and undoubtedly it’s intended to show they’re something like equals, as opposed to Stockholm. syndrome.
He was smaller than I was, and he was timid; I wanted to be his protector.
Textbook Stockholm, even.
It glosses over the rest of the relationship – when did they move beyond kissing, did she take the initiative there as well or did she just go along with whatever delicate Linden-chan wanted? There’s no mention of her desperation not to have a child, of her vicious fights with Linden’s father, only how beautiful things were the day of the birth. In fact, there’s no mention of his father at all until later.
We never saw our daughter take so much as a breath.
Rose swore she’d heard her daughter cry. But we can’t possibly mention the terrible parts when it’s a viewpoint character and not background. That’s too close to focusing on it for real. There’s similarly no mention of Linden’s father taunting her by saying that isn’t this what she wanted.
“I won’t let you die.”
I worried for him.
But of course, it was herself she should have worried about. She’s the one who’ll die, and she’s also the one who suffers because Linden won’t let her go.
She mentions the shortened lifespan and society crumbling.
sometimes I’m grateful to be locked up in his mansion, where it’s just Linden and me
This is the only admission she’s locked up at all.
A little later, she at last mentions her father-in-law. For most of the story, even the line above, the man didn’t even exist. She complains briefly that he’s terrible, and evil, and regularly draws blood to study. Unlike Linden-chan, who loves her so much and spends all his time with her, Linden’s father easily notices that she’s declining.
Soon he’ll want to put me on some sort of torturous regiment of pills and IVs. He’ll want to plug a monitor into my skin, force me to breathe when my body decides it’s over.
Oh, it’s Linden that wants that.
We can tell, you see: if he merely wanted to try to practice keeping someone alive, he has plenty of other subjects, like all the servants. And we know that in fact, he’s quite happy to kill off another of Linden’s wives because he isn’t too attached.
At last, Rose realizes it’s the end. She leaves for the orange grove, planning to die there.
The saddest part is she’s not doing this for herself.
It will be done by the time Linden finds me here. He won’t have seen the grotesqueness of it. He won’t spend weeks panicking at my bedside while his father prolongs the inevitable.
She was trying to kill herself and he stops her. That’s why she suffers. Because he won’t let her go. He doesn’t care if she’s happy, he doesn’t care how much pain she’s in, only that she’s there with him.
I hate seeing Linden like this, so serious and sad. He’s not brave enough to be angry with me. I’ve broken our promise to never keep secrets from each other. It’s been weeks of torturous medications and IVs and steam baths, when I can barely draw a breath.
And she blames herself. She thinks he has the right to be angry. She’s in agony and all she can think is how she’s hurting him.
It can still get worse from here, because this series can always, always get worse.
I want to have this conversation on the verandah while the sun is still shining in the winter sky, or at the very least over dinner. But I’ve been too dizzy to get out of bed, and that only reinforces what I need to say.
“Linden? I think it’s time to consider the other bedrooms.”
He’s lying beside me, staring at the ceiling. He stops breathing.
“No,” he says.
“You have to remarry, love,” I say.
Not that she wants to die. Not that she’s suffering, and that the medication is prolonging that while hurting her further. Not to ask for it to stop. Even her tiny request to be alone has nothing to do with her own desires at all.
He’ll be happier if he has new toys, and that’s all that matters to her.
There’s no way to tell here if she understands what remarrying means any more than Linden – if she understands that she’s asking him to order a dozen or two girls kidnapped, to pick three and have the rest shot. But even if she doesn’t know the details, she understands there’s no consent from the women (or children) he’ll have for wives, because she’ll understand Rhine hates Linden and is forced to be there. She must think it’s normal – it’s what she experienced herself – but we know she hated it when it was done to her, and yet she’s willing to do it to more people if it’ll make Linden happy.
(And if any of the girls he gets are older than sixteen, they’ll reach their cutoff date before he will, and his father will do to them what he’s doing to her now. And then he’ll destroy yet more lives ordering another one.)
But it doesn’t matter how much they’ll suffer, because it’ll make Linden-chan a little happier. If that means girls being shot and left to die, if that means other kids being made orphans like she was, if that means a thirteen year old being raped…
Even her own suffering doesn’t matter before his, so why would she care about how much anyone else suffers?
She tells him she doesn’t want him to be alone. They start to argue, and then she’s sick and throws up.
It’s all so pathetic and frustrating, how powerless we both are.
Again and again, the book comes back to this idea that there’s some equality here. They both can’t make her healthy, so what does it matter than he has the power to let her die and she doesn’t? The power to leave the house, the power to order more wives, the power to do anything he wants?
If Linden hadn’t found me in that orange grove, if he’d let me go, he wouldn’t have wasted the past several weeks keeping bedside vigil.
It is, always, all about him, even in a story about her.
“You need a muse,” I say.
He kisses the top of my head. “Oh, yeah?”
“To get you drawing again. You’ll need a pretty one. Blond. Lots and lots of blond hair.”
“What shall I do with this blond muse, then?” he asks.
“If you get a real one, you won’t have to do anything. The magic will just happen on its own.”
And that is literally what he does. He gets one.
And Rose knows that’s what it’ll be. It isn’t clear if she knows about the fallout, about the fact most of the girls will be killed or, at best, sold to be raped in brothels. But she knows it will be about “getting” one, against her will, and locking her up for the rest of her life, because she’ll be nothing more than Linden’s property. And knowing this, she wants him to get three.
It’ll take more work to convince him to fill the three empty bedrooms that are reserved for more brides. And even more time for him to adjust. He might never adjust. But girls have a way of filling up a space, making it bright, full of chatter and perfumes and life. And surely that’s better than silence.
And because of this, they dump the bodies of Jenna’s sisters and all the other girls by the side of the road. The survivors, except for Rhine, are raped by Linden. Because it’s better than the rooms in Linden’s house being silent.
The story concludes with her dreaming of falling into his eyes and being dead and wishing she could explain that’s what she wants. She doesn’t even try, though, knowing it’s impossible to convince him. And of course, he’s the one who gets to decide what happens to her.
The real story here is told in all the things that can’t be said – aside from one paragraph, the entire story takes place in a world that’s only her and Linden, and yet at the same time she never acknowledges he has any agency. She is married at eleven, but she doesn’t say how she’s forced into it, that she doesn’t even speak at her wedding because there are no vows to exchange, only that she’s angry and realizes shortly after that she was wrong to be because she has to think about his feelings instead. She then spends the rest of her life locked up in his mansion, but she only references it in passing. She’s dying and he’s hurting her and she never, ever thinks that she should be allowed to make her own choice. She never hates him for everything he’s put her through.
I kept the door to my bedroom closed, and though it didn’t lock, my husband never entered.
She never admits the reason there’s no lock is because she’s her husband’s property. The doors do lock, remember.
But only from the outside.