Thou shalt kill.
A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.
Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.
Rating: ★★★★★ (4.75/5)
Concept & World
I actually loved this book way more than I thought I did. I have heard mixed reviews with most people leaning towards loving it before reading this book, but I didn’t really know much about the book other than it is about people who killed for a living. I’m personally a fan of Neal Shusterman, I read Unwind a long time ago, more than once and I loved it. Shusterman has a habit of writing (imo) incredibly intellectual books, that makes me think of Black Mirror because it’s thought-provoking, and Scythe was not an exception. Shusterman includes many dark and complex ethical concepts of life, death, what is fair, what is human and how technology can affect our lives and our way of living so tremendously.
While Scythe was very character driven in terms of looking into the development of two main characters, Citra and Rowan, much of the book included journal entries by fellow scythes that gave an insight into their thoughts and feelings, which are wise and captivating. The ethics of being a scythe and gleaning/killing are almost another main character. I loved the journals, I loved the stimulating and intriguing aspects of this dystopian world, and I loved that for once the massive all-seeing and all-knowing online machine that controls much of this world isn’t a bad guy. There are so many books and movies where the technology goes rogue and everything goes wrong but in this instance, it’s really looking at how the Thunderhead is actually extremely helpful, and it’s the humans – well scythes – who are corrupting society (again).
When it comes to the amazing world-building many other interesting things came to mind, like how gleaning/death is twice as painful and feared because it is just not something people expect any more when age and disease are abolished from the world. Other points include how the strange concept of killing for good is almost foreign to us (insert the archaic word ‘murder’), the idea that living forever would be kind of boring after a while, how even without religion humans will always find something seemingly greater than they are to worship and how much some are willing to do to keep their neverending life.
The main characters of Scythe, Rowan and Citra, didn’t really interest me at first. The premise was intriguing but Rowan felt a little all too perfect, whereas I related more to Citra who was more ambitious and determined. They both did eventually grow on me and it was frustrating having to feel like I had to pick one of them when I liked them both quite equally for many parts of the books. I found myself switching in my head – “Rowan can die, no Citra can die.” In the end, I did like Citra more. The fact that they were quite dull and ordinary (minus Rowan’s annoying bravery) was also kind of like a good idea that in this world, you didn’t have to be special but simply have good values and ethics or be more HUMAN to mean well and help change for greater good.
The best thing about these characters is that for once in a YA novel, love isn’t about lust. Except for one awkward and weird kiss to get things done and over with, I liked that Rowan and Citra loved each other through the development of their companionship and friendship as they trained as apprentices. From tentative admiration of developing skills to learning each other’s personalities then finally to real feelings. It was an old-fashioned love that didn’t involve fawning over the guy or checking out the girl cause she’s so hawwwt. It’s a bit ironic considering for the latter half of the book, I imagined that this might end in a retelling of Romeo and Juliet and those 14-year-olds were all about fawning according to Shakespeare.
Faraday and Curie were by far my favourite characters. They were so old, wise and clever and brought so much intellectual thought as well as comedy with their witty remarks. It always felt like they were one step ahead and nothing was spontaneous or unpremeditated. Despite how long they’ve been gleaning, they were so human and lovable – I just want to hug them.
Pacing & Writing Style
The third person writing had an odd tone of voice. In my head, it was very matter-of-fact and calming despite all the death and action. Towards the end, I realised that it was as if Shusterman was Thunderhead and stating everything that had happened – Thunderhead watching despite not being able to do anything about it. This style of writing and the plot it told made the pacing very even and calculating. Even with the shorter chapters sometimes I felt like it was going quite slow because of how it was written. It either made me want to read it faster to get to pinnacle points or put it down cause I couldn’t be bothered waiting and reading on. So I can see why some people thought it slow and annoying or even DNFed it cause they couldn’t get into it. But I do understand how those slow bits were like little breadcrumbs for the characters’ development and the overall pieces of the plot’s puzzle. I still thoroughly enjoyed the writing, it flowed pretty well, the smaller chapters were like tiny satisfying bites and the calm and neutral voice was nice to read.
It definitely lost that .25 stars because it was a little slow for me, Rowan and Citra could’ve been a tiny bit more interesting but that’s possibly a reflection of how boring people are in this dystopia when there have everything. Overall I would recommend anyone to read this 🙂 I really enjoyed it! Even with this rating, I think of it as one of my favourites.
Not all the twists and turns I could see beforehand (and I usually do) which was refreshing and exciting. Many times it was quite action packed and I was hypothetically sitting on the edge of my seat. I thought it was an excellent read, I’m excited to read Thunderhead when it’s published in Australia and I can’t wait for the movie when it’s finished and out of development!