Book Review: Scythe (Book 1 of Arc of a Scythe series) by Neal Shusterman

TL;DR – In a world where disease and death has been mostly conquered, over population becomes an issue. Enter the Scythedom, an organisation that is responsible for the selection of those chosen to be gleaned (killed) in order to maintain a population level that can be sustained. They provide a necessary service… or is it really necessary?

Summary

Humanity has created an artificial intelligence known as the Thunderhead. It has evolved to the point where it creates a near-Utopian society. Everyone has a link to the Thunderhead, a relationship that allows the AI to serve and protect them from sickness, disease, violence and even self harm. People now have the ability to live forever. This leads to the problem of over population.

The Scythedom came into being as a means to cull numbers, and it was decided that this could only be performed by humans. It also is the only organisation that the Thunderhead has no jurisdiction over. Along with a licence to kill, scythes are also given a ring that allows them to grant immunity for a period to the family members of those that they glean/kill; this immunity means that those family members cannot be gleaned themselves for a year.

With this as the backdrop, the story follows Citra Terranova and Rowan Damisch, two teenagers that are chosen by Scythe Faraday to be his apprentices. Both grab his attention for demonstrating a level of moral fiber that he believes is a requirement to become a scythe. He explains to them that the Scythedom meet three times a year at a great assembly known as conclave to discuss the business of gleaning and whether more scythes are needed. He has been given one ring to take on an apprentice. He decides to take on two and whoever succeeds in being anointed a scythe, the other will return back to their normal life.

But this gets turned on its head when Scythe Goddard (a rival scythe whose methods of gleaning, Faraday disagrees with) manipulates vernal conclave and obtains a ruling that whoever of Faraday’s apprentices gets ordained as a scythe, he or she must then glean the other apprentice. Thus sets the stage for book 1 of the Arch of a Scythe series.

Review

Neal Shusterman has written an astounding young adult novel that is both fascinating and gripping. A world where living forever creates a whole different set of problems (not just overpopulation but stagnation in individuals living a life of meaning and purpose) and a system is established through the introduction of scythes to stem the tide of population growth, Shusterman achieves enough dystopian realism that you believe that if such a world existed, the world of Scythe would be it.

Both Citra and Rowan are immensely likeable, their personalities and motives for accepting their apprenticeship distinct. Scythe Faraday is the perfect foil for both of them until events tear the apprentices away from their master. This inciting incident leads to them going down very different paths before meeting up again at winter conclave where it will be decided who will be ordained the next scythe and in turn also end the life of the other.

I enjoyed the ending of book 1, and it sets the stage for a larger scale story in book 2. You sense there is far more to be told than the two lives of Citra and Rowan. Hints toward a much more complex tale between Scythedom and the Thunderhead. Yes, the Thunderhead intrigued me to no end. And that is what you want in a trilogy. For each book to have a satisfactory end yet tying together a bigger picture. Remarkable effort.

4.5 out of 5.

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