A fascinating new book with a creepy-cool concept, Scythe by Neal Shusterman is definitely a very different book than anything I’ve read in recent memory. Here’s what it’s all about:
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.
Scythe is the first novel of a thrilling new series by National Book Award–winning author Neal Shusterman in which Citra and Rowan learn that a perfect world comes only with a heavy price.
I wouldn’t say I loved this book, but it definitely kept me hooked. Here are some thoughts I have about the book:
1. Creepy-cool premise. A world that’s eliminated death? And the only way to control the population is through controlled murder? WHAT?! It’s a really wild concept, and I thought Shusterman tackled it really well. Much of the book deals with the challenges such a premise poses — deciding who dies and how they die. The whole ethics and morals involved in being a Scythe is the heart of the book (along with the unavoidable corruption that comes when humans are involved in such an enterprise), and that was perhaps the most fascinating part of the book for me.
That concept, and the discussions surround it, are really what kept me reading — not so much the characters themselves. In many ways, the characters felt like vehicles for these discussions, and their stories alone were not as compelling to me as the politics, logistics, and ethics of the Scythedom.
2. Life, uninterrupted. One of the other topics of this imagined world is what happens to humanity without death. Though featured in the book, it played second fiddle to the Scythedom, but in many ways was just as interesting — if not more so — to me. After all, what is the meaning of life if it never ends? What motivates you? What inspires you?
At one point, one of the Scythes shares with the apprentices that art and music and literature used to be so much more meaningful in the “mortal era,” when lives were limited in their scope and length. When you never knew if this day would be your last day. And I love this topic of consideration; what gives meaning to the things we do and create if life stretches on endlessly?
3. So much to discuss. Scythe offers up a wealth of philosophical questions to contemplate and discuss, even beyond the dialogue and exposition Shusterman offers within the pages of the book itself. For me, that was the most rewarding part of the book. And while I found the political plot of the book interesting, the characters themselves did not completely engage me. They fell a little flat; honestly, their Scythe mentors were far more fascinating characters, and I wonder if trying to put the focus on teen protagonists weakened the overall plot of the book.
This is touted as the first in a new series, and I can definitely see it going to some interesting places, but I don’t know that I’ll stick with it. Like I said, the characters just didn’t quite suck me in. But if you’re curious about the premise — and it is a fascinating read — then check out Scythe for yourself. It’s in stores now.
UPDATE: I take it back. I LOVED THIS SERIES. I ended up reading the second book Thunderhead when it was released, and it blew me away. While Scythe was an okay read for me, Thunderhead completely sucked me in and blew my mind. I greedily devoured the third and final book, The Toll, upon its release. I can’t recommend this series enough now!