Scythe by Neal Shusterman
Published by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers on November 28, 2017
Genres: Young Adult
Format: Hard Cover
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Two teens must learn the “art of killing” in this Printz Honor–winning book, the first in a chilling new series from Neal Shusterman, author of the New York Times bestselling Unwind dystology.
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.
Neal Shusterman’s Scythe is the first book in his Arc of a Scythe series, which takes place in the future after the “cloud” develops intelligence, becomes the Thunderhead, and takes over as the supreme moderator of life on Earth. With diseases practically eradicated and ageing a factor that can be reset, humans no longer have to die, but they soon realize that is not good for Earth. So an elite group of killers called scythes are tasked to keep the population under control. These scythes live by a specific set of rules:
The Scythe Commandments:
- Thou shalt kill.
- Thou shalt kill with no bias, bigotry, or malice aforethought.
- Thou shalt grant an annum of immunity to the beloved of those who accept your coming, and to anyone else you deem worthy.
- Thou shalt kill the beloved of those who resist.
- Thou shalt serve humanity for the full span of thy days, and thy family shall have immunity as recompense for as long as you live.
- Thou shalt lead an exemplary life in word and deed, and keep a journal of each and every day.
- Thou shalt kill no scythe beyond thyself.
- Thou shalt claim no earthly possessions, save thy robes, ring, and journal.
- Thou shalt have neither spouse nor spawn.
- Thou shalt be beholden to no laws beyond these.
Each scythe must kill a certain number of people each year or be punished. When those people are killed (“gleaned”), they are not revived by the Thunderhead. The Thunderhead also does not interfere with anything happening in the Scythdom. It’s not even allowed to speak to scythes or their apprentices.
Shusterman’s story follows two teenagers, Citra and Rowan, as they find themselves invited to become scythe apprentices to Scythe Faraday. Neither one of them truly wants to be a scythe, but both know that there are advantages to becoming one, including immunity for their families and a life outside the usual humdrum of living forever. The catch is that only one will be chosen to be appointed and awarded a scythe ring. The other will go back to their normal life.
Written from two points of view, the reader follows along with Citra and Rowan as they learn the value of death and the role they must play as a scythe, if they are chosen. They learn to master weapons and poisons. Then, they’re advised on how to choose the people they will glean. Just when they start to believe their biggest challenge will be returning to their old life, the High Blade (head scythe) of MidMerica decides the scythe chosen will glean the loser. After all, taking two apprentices is unheard of and there must be more at stake to make it a fair competition. That’s when Citra and Rowan begin to learn that the 10 Commandments of Scythdom are not as clear cut as the scythes would like outsiders to believe. There are some scythes who know exactly how to bend those rules to their own needs.
The book is well-written. The story flows beautifully and is filled with intelligent observations of life as spoken by those in our imagined future. The characters aren’t straight black and white, and we see Citra, Rowan, and satellite characters struggle with what they could become with the power of the Scythdom at their disposal. It keeps the story interesting. But, as expected, there is a lot of killing and there were a few moments where I found myself holding my breath and asking, “He [Shusterman] wouldn’t, would he?” as I waited to learn the fate of certain characters. Due to all the death, it will be some time before I read the next book in the series. I need some happy reading before I subject myself to that again.
Still, if you’re looking for something insightful and thought-provoking, I suggest giving Scythe a chance. Just don’t read it all at once or you may need to seriously detoxify your mood with 8 hours of binge-watching Marvel movies or the “Big Bang Theory”, or reading a light-hearted romance or two.