Book Review: Scythe (2016)

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Scythe (Arc of a Scythe, #1) by Neal Shusterman

This was my second attempt at reading Scythe and this time I flew through it! It wasn’t that I didn’t like it the first time around, but I had the audiobook and I started it before going on a trip and then I fell asleep and thus I remembered absolutely nothing other than Citra and Rowan get picked together and a little bit of Faraday. So I put it on pause until I had more focus. And I went ahead and picked up the paperback because even though I adore audiobooks, I have more trouble focusing on some than others. And I’m really glad I finally picked it back up as it’s very, very well done. So dark, so creepy, so eerie.

I’m honestly very impressed by how Shusterman set up this world and developed the characters and posed the moral questions to the reader. It’s truly a creepy, macabre set up, but it’s utterly absorbing – a future where everyone is immortal, almost any wound can be healed, and human death has become regulated to control population. I did wonder about the part where they say space settlement never worked so they just gave up as a society. Like, surely if they can be immortal, they’d have people suggesting going on trips through space to find other planets? It’s not, like, an annoying plot hole or anything, but I was like – you guys just GAVE UP ON SPACE?! If the society can regenerate their bodies forever (was it nanotech? Is that the word?) then why not keep looking at space? But I digress … To address the problem of overpopulation, the society has created an information hub called Thunderhead (it’s compared to like next-stage cloud tech or something, but I’m not actually sure what that means? I don’t quite understand the Thunderhead yet, but I’m sure it’ll be clearer to me in the next book. Like it’s AI or something but it can get inside your mind?? How??) ANYWAYS, Thunderhead controls and monitors everything except for the Scythes, because previous groups decided that people should take this final step upon themselves. So the Scythes have, for generations, taken life on a quota basis that they have to report back to the others, but at their own whim. It’s so chilling. While some of the Scythes abide by statistics, or their own moral compass, others completely exploit the system. Scythes train other Scythes and select them at their own discretion, so there aren’t, like, hard checks on the types being brought in. At one point one of the characters compared the antagonist to Jack the Ripper. So an (implied) serial killer is one of the ones selecting people to be ‘gleaned’ (their word for killing). This particular Scythe, Goddard, is filled with bloodlust. He wants Scythes to have no quota at all and have free reign to ‘glean’ as many lives as they can. He is a terrifying villain and the violence he revels in is horrifying to watch unfold. He blackmails, manipulates, terrorises, controls and abuses everyone around him.

I thought the theories about how bored humanity would become with life was very sad to read about, but Shusterman’s story weaves a compelling thread as Citra and Rowan are selected to train as apprentice Scythes and are subsequently drawn into this dark world of rota-dispensed death. Taking the job will make their families immortal and off the ‘gleaning’ list for as long as they serve (which is what ultimately pushes Citra to consider the training, as she’s horrified by the prospect and wants to turn the offer down immediately). Rowan is more reserved on the matter, but the bullying he faces at school and his family’s indifference to his life as ‘the lettuce’ (Rowan’s term for being so forgettable in his family), ultimately lays the foundation for him joining the training.

Both are taken in by Scythe Faraday, an unprecedented move that no previous Scythe has done and what that puts both Citra and Rowan’s lives at risk. Citra’s storyline became so different from Rowan’s towards the middle and it left me so worried when they were forced to part ways. I just wanted them to be reunited! But the ending was absolutely brilliant. And very satisfying. I cannot wait to read the rest of the books in the series.

Check out my master list of book reviews here, and my indie book reviews with the genres labelled here.

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