Pandemonium is the second in a trilogy by the young-adult novelist Lauren Oliver. The vivid first instalment, Delirium, painted a dystopia with hints of The Handmaid's Tale, 1984 and Brave New World.
Romantic love (amor deliria nervosa) has been declared the root of all evil, and banned. Thanks to a dubious operation (a lobotomy rendering flowers, chocolates and Mills & Boon all but obsolete), the government has dried even the sweatiest teenage palm.
This was the fate that awaited our heroine, Lena, who was sleep-walking towards her "Cure" when she met dreamy Alex. Tutored by his melting eyes and wandering hands, Lena began to suspect that love wasn't the malevolent force the authorities made it out to be, and the couple eloped to the Wilds, the sort of pastoral refuge that graces many a dystopian fantasy, only for Alex to be shot down on the verge of freedom.
Pandemonium continues by exploring Lena's shredded nervous system. Waking to find she has lost her beau, her bearings and her sense of self, Lena is nursed back to health by a band of "Invalids" – freedom fighters who reject government control for a diet of nuts, non-existent central heating, thrift-store fashion and limited health insurance.
Lena recovers sufficiently to be trained as an insurgent. Having infiltrated an anti-love youth league (they don't believe in sex after marriage, much less before), she is promptly kidnapped alongside the movement's poster-boy, Julian Fineman. Fineman by name, Fineman by nature, Julian wastes little time in getting soulful with Lena, and an attraction forms. But are Julian and the Invalids all that they appear to be?
As clever as she is, Oliver is no more an Orwellian socio-political critic than Stephenie Meyer is a bona fide writer of Gothic horror. Both specialise in tasty generic hybrids - love stories wrapped inside other literary forms. So, when Lena glimpses Julian showering, the prose gushes too: "I'm transfixed by the sight of the rain coursing over his back – broad and muscled and strong ... the rolling landscapes of his arms and shoulders."
Nevertheless, Oliver is a considerably better writer than the Twilight creator – an adept and occasionally courageous storyteller who can shock and awe with a well-placed twist. Granted, Pandemonium is somewhat exhausting: Lena is an admirable narrator, but I wondered that she didn't explode from feeling so intensely all the time. Then again, that's love for you.