Book Review: The Toll (Book 3 of Arc of a Scythe Series) by Neal Shusterman

TL;DR – Scythe Goddard rules the new Scythedom. Greyson Tolliver is now ‘The Toll’ and the only one who can communicate directly to the Thunderhead. The Thunderhead seeks to secure humanity’s future but needs to do so without being interfered by Goddard who seeks to thwart any plans to create a world where Scythes are not needed. Citra and Rowan were critical to the Thunderhead in creating a future of hope but, with the sinking of Endura, they are now forever lost. Or are they?

Summary (warning: spoilers)

For my review of Scythe (Book 1 of Arc of a Scythe series) and Thunderhead (Book 2 of Arc of a Scythe series) by Neal Shusterman, and what has happened previously please click here for my book reviews page.

After the sinking of Endura and the deaths of the Grandslayers, the new Scythe order is declared with Goddard as Overblade. Under his rule, Scythes are allowed to glean without restriction. However, not all regions agree to Goddard’s authority.

Meanwhile all non-Scythes (i.e. the rest of humanity) has been declared unsavoury by the Thunderhead. All except Greyson whose previous unsavoury status was lifted and is now the only one who has a direct connection to the AI. The religious Tonists have now titled him ‘The Toll’ (a prophet who will guide the rest of the world).

The Thunderhead sees the bigger picture and aims to secure humanity’s future, a future that does not require Scythes that have become corrupt with power. To do so, it needs to set in motion a plan that will require assistance from those not aligned with Goddard but also evolve itself to a new level of existence (an existence that seeks only to provide hope for humanity).

Citra and Rowan were believed to have perished in the sinking of Endura. Goddard wants to make sure their bodies are never retrieved. But the Thunderhead has other ideas.


The dramatic conclusion to the Arc of a Scythe series is complex in its telling without being overwhelming. Shusterman is able to combine many threads of plot to weave a tapestry that provides the final picture of this gripping trilogy.

There are many themes explored in book three including power and responsibility, political and religious beliefs, sexual identity, tragedy and hope, mortal and immortal life and purpose, love and hate, reliance on technology, and what it means to be human. Shusterman blends these themes into an exquisite final book that concludes an epic tale of a dystopian (or utopian, depending on your point of view) earth.

I would love to know how much time Shusterman spent in mapping out the final arc. Not just the time taken but also how he went about plotting the concluding climatic scenes and tying together the numerous sub-plots. It is an achievement that has resulted in this trilogy deservedly winning numerous awards and has been picked up by Universal Studios to be adapted into a film.

Book three tells the story on a global scale. Shusterman had no choice (and likely every intention) to do this as book two expanded far further than the primary two protagonists in Citra and Rowan. To tell a story about humanity as a whole and the all-seeing, all-knowing Thunderhead required that the plotline went this way. This is both a strength and a weakness in the final book.

As a strength, it satisfied me (very happily) in terms of concluding what happens to the Scythedom, the Thunderhead, the Tonists and humanity’s future. All the large scale stuff is not left wanting and Shusterman ensures that he covers off on all bases. Hats off because this was no easy feat.

As a weakness, it means book three zooms out from the characters we love. Book one was all about Citra and Rowan, they are the pair that the lens focused on and their plight drove me to fully invest into the next two books. Book two still follows Citra and Rowan, but now includes the Thunderhead and Greyson Tolliver. I confess this made me struggle initially in the first few chapters of book two because all I really wanted to follow was Citra and Rowan. But the ending of book two was so brilliant that it blew my mind and I gave it a perfect score. In book three, Citra, Rowan and Greyson are all there but their roles while integral are only three pieces in a giant puzzle. Zooming out means you do not necessarily get the same emotion running through you when you read each chapter because Citra, Rowan and Greyson are already established. It is now about the world’s plight rather than just their individual plights and in this way, I felt book three did not move me in the same way as books one and two did.

But this is a very small quip in what is an outstanding creation of work. Fans of sci-fi and young adult fiction should devour this series.

4.5 out of 5.

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