Book Review: Thunderhead (Book 2 of Arch of a Scythe Series) by Neal Shusterman

TL;DR – The Scythedom is experiencing internal politics between two groups; one that wishes to move away from the old laws surrounding how they glean and the other that seeks to uphold the established principles. There is much afoot including Citra who is causing quite a stir with her revolutionary approach to gleaning and the ongoing hunt for Rowan who is targeting Scythes he deems as corrupt. All the while, the Thunderhead seeks a way forward for humanity.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

For my review of Scythe (Book 1 of Arc of a Scythe series) by Neal Shusterman, and what has happened previously please click here.

When last we read about Citra and Rowan, they both started journeys down different paths. Citra is now Scythe Anastasia. Though she does not see herself as any kind of revolutionary, her approach to gleaning is a significant leap outside of how scythes normally operate. While most scythes execute their duties in efficient and no warning type fashion, Citra gives those she chooses to be gleaned one month to get their affairs in order and to express how they wish to be gleaned. This causes quite a stir among the Scythedom and is of particular interest to the Thunderhead (the all-seeing artificial intelligence in the cloud), who monitors closely all of Citra’s movements.

Rowan’s path is less one that he has chosen and more one that has been forced upon him. Calling himself Scythe Lucifer, he seeks to weed out corrupt scythes and is a ‘most wanted’ figure by the Scythedom. Going rogue is tough business and as such he has to stay under the radar. But Thunderhead sees all and is also monitoring Rowan’s actions too.

Enter Greyson Tolliver, a person essentially raised by the Thunderhead, who wants to give back not only to humanity but to the Thunderhead himself… herself… er… itself. He feels compelled to become a Nimbus agent (the Thunderhead’s human counterparts that operate out of the Office of the Authority Interface (OAI) in regions all around the world and who help maintain a state of order). He enrols in the Nimbus Academy as a student to go through all the necessary courses and training to become an agent. His life is mapped out and on track. That is, until he gets called into the OAI headquarters and has a strange conversation with an Agent Traxler. A conversation that will change his life.

Review

Chapter 8 of the Thunderhead makes it clear in black and white: “The Thunderhead was power without hubris”. It is an interesting idea given we, as humans, have been designed with an instinct that centres around fight or flight. Our existence has survived the centuries because we are built with a defence mechanism. When confronted with a potential danger, our survival instinct will kick in and assess the situation that will drive us to either fight or flight.

To varying degrees this extends to how we live today. From crossing the road at a busy intersection to making business deals or buying/selling stocks to living in a country torn by war, our mind and instincts assess risks and make choices based on accepting or not accepting those risks.

When it comes to technology, there are many people who have a genuine fear of it. Aptly named ‘technophobia’, some have an inherent mistrust in advanced technology; the reasons are varied and complex. So to imagine an artificial intelligence that has achieved consciousness that has no guile, no malice, and no agenda other than to care for humanity sounds like an impossible idea. But that is what Neal Shusterman imagines when he refers to the Thunderhead in the ‘Arc of a Scythe’ series.

It is an impressive achievement for the Thunderhead becomes an integral character that is explored in book two of this stunning trilogy. The world is without death and disease and everyone can rely on the Thunderhead to serve and help them. In fact, at any point in time, the Thunderhead can communicate to a billion people simultaneously and it will not tax its resources (to the individual, it will feel like the Thunderhead is only talking to them). There is no ability for the Thunderhead to be corrupted by the power it wields.

Even those individuals who wish to rebel against the establishment, who want nothing to do with the Thunderhead, and seek to disrupt the Utopian society (and/or break the law) are unable to do anything significant because the Thunderhead is aware of such plans ahead of time and are caught. The Thunderhead labels these individuals as ‘unsavory’, who meet with human peace officers weekly and are unable to communicate to the Thunderhead.

The Thunderhead is not so much a ruler as it is a facilitator to assist humans in living their lives. However, there is one area that the Thunderhead cannot intervene and that is in relation to the Scythedom. An organisation with the responsibility to cull human population to ensure overpopulation does not become a problem.

This is the trigger that drives the story in book two because when the Thunderhead becomes aware that there is a plot involving the assassination of Citra and her teacher, Scythe Curie, it cannot intercede as it has no jurisdiction over Scythe affairs. In fact, the Thunderhead goes to great lengths by instructing Nimbus Agent Traxler to meet with Nimbus Academy freshman Greyson Tolliver and reiterate the rules between the Scythedom and the Thunderhead. Agent Traxler goes so far as to say that even if the Thunderhead became aware of a plot to murder Citra and Curie, it would not be able to do anything. Further, should a Nimbus agent (or even say an Academy freshman) were to take matters into their own hands and meddle with Scythe affairs then the Thunderhead would have no choice but to impose penalties on such an individual.

In this way, Greyson is informed of a potential plot and being (indirectly) asked to act without being (directly) asked to act. The Thunderhead has done nothing to breach its laws, but it understands who Greyson is and how he will react. In the end, it is Greyson’s choice whether to act on this information. And we, as the reader, knows he will.

Much to his dismay, even though Greyson saves Citra and Curie from being killed, he is marked unsavory for his actions by the Thunderhead and can no longer converse with it.

What follows are a series of events surrounding all the main cast from book one and now including Greyson, the Tonists (a post-mortal religious group), and the search for an island that supposedly contains a fail-safe in the event the Scythedom go off the rails.

The middle book in trilogies can sometimes be challenging, but Shusterman has somehow written a second book that exceeds the first. The ending of book two blew my mind.

And I am not talking about the climactic scene at Endura involving the wiping out of a whole heap of Scythes including the leadership in the Grandslayers.

I am also not talking about the eventual death of Scythe Curie and what appears to be the final curtain coming down on Citra and Rowan.

I am talking about the Thunderhead’s reaction and what happens to Greyson at the very end. I know this review has spoilers, but I cannot bring myself to spoil that by revealing what happens. You will have to read it yourself.

Mind… blown…

5 out of 5.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Thunderhead (Book 2 of Arch of a Scythe Series) by Neal Shusterman

    1. If you enjoy young adult sci-fi/fantasy fiction, then this series will hopefully not disappoint. I certainly was engaged throughout. Thanks for leaving a comment and come back again 🙂

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