No spoilers in this rapid review of Scythe by Neal Shusterman. I loved it and give it 4.5 stars. I read so much fantasy that any book set in modern times feels like a breath of fresh air, and Scythe is no exception. It blends genres, but I’d say the predominant one is dystopian. The premise is unique, timely, and thought-provoking.
Scythe is set in a world where humanity has conquered every threat. All knowledge has been collected and stored in a database called the cloud (sound familiar?). 😉 The cloud—aka the Thunderhead—has used this cumulative knowledge to conquer all disease and prevent all accidents before they happen. Nanites in each person’s bloodstream control human emotions and can be triggered on a moment’s notice to curb spikes in anger.
Since crimes of passion, disease, and accidents are absent and since aging can be reversed as often as a person likes, the world population burgeons in a very short time. Something must be done to curb this growth, and scythes are the eventual answer. Scythes are the only people not monitored by the Thunderhead and can thus glean excessive humans as they see fit (as long as they stay within their quotas, of course). Most scythes abhor the task and do it with a great weight on their shoulders and with great sympathy for the families left behind. But there are rogue scythes who enjoy what they do and try to make their gleanings as glamorous as possible.
As the population continues to grow, more scythes are necessary. We meet our main characters when the honorable Scythe Faraday (who reminded me a bit of Dumbledore at times) takes on two new apprentices, Citra and Rowan. We see why Faraday’s drawn to them and then are immersed in the secret training and society of the scythes. Each chapter is prefaced with a journal entry penned by a scythe, so we get to be in the heads of a variety of characters in addition to our two mains.
Shusterman struck the perfect balance between keeping me entertained and making me think, which is the formula for great dystopian, right? And what a journey he took me on with this tale! He presented quite a moral dilemma: How does a person maintain a sense of right and wrong when he or she truly lives above the law? And how do the scythes handle what they’re called to do each day without breaking?
I enjoyed seeing both the inner turmoil and the rapid growth in Citra and Rowan as they go through their training. Their personalities are different, and they often respond differently to the same situation. Yet a bond slowly forms between the two of them. This bond is tested as they continue on the perilous journey to become a scythe. And all the while, they both question if this is something they even wanted in the first place.
This story resonated with me for a number of reasons. As technology progresses by leaps and bounds every year and mankind attempts to conquer disease, hunger, and the other problems of the world, I found it fairly easy to envision a society like Citra and Rowan’s. It was interesting to see that even if crime appears to be conquered, Shusterman believes there will always be those who bend or break the law. He displays how human nature ultimately shines through. And I couldn’t help thinking of Christian ideals as I read. Can humans ever truly conquer evil? Or disease? And as soon as one problem is seemingly conquered, won’t others creep up? Shusterman suggests this is the case, and I tend to agree with him on this point. It seems perfection isn’t within human grasp without help from a higher power.
Scythe was full of characters who are glaringly real. I loved Citra and Rowan equally. I enjoyed seeing the same new concepts through both of their eyes. And I liked their banter. So far my review has focused on the heaviness of the book, but there’s humor, too, and it often appeared in conversations between these two. Shusterman also presented some sardonic commentary on current American society and its frivolity (which made me alternately smile and cringe) as he built his dystopian take on the nation of MidMerica.
What else can I say? I loved Scythe and definitely recommend it. It’s an exciting ride from beginning to end, with plenty of twists and turns along the way. I was truly surprised multiple times, and I loved every minute of it. The climax was exciting, providing the drama and answers I craved plus setting up Thunderhead, which is sure to be a great sequel.
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