Book Review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

28954189Thou shalt kill.

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.

I’m really glad I finally got around to reading this. I feel like it’s been on my TBR forever, and those are always the most intimidating books. And it’s the first YA dystopian I’ve read in something like forever! So there were quite a few expectations going in. But Scythe didn’t disappoint. The concept was intriguing and well executed with well-integrated social commentary, the two lead characters had very distinct and strong personalities, the supporting characters (especially the other scythes) were also very interesting, and it was a page-turner. Why didn’t I pick this up sooner?

When I first heard about Scythe, I was surprised that it was being described as dystopia, not sci-fi. (Although those genres do have a lot of overlap.) However, after reading it, I completely understand why. Scythe felt fresh and relevant. The philosophical questions about power and who should wield it when were thought-provoking, and the stagnancy of life when nobody can ever die felt like a very apt parallel to a world where it sometimes feels like being alive is defined more and more by its purposelessness. One particular passage about the use of fire was a very clear parallel to the debate on gun control. This is how dystopia should be done, folks. Nuanced, intelligent takes on unique topics.

Character-wise, Scythe was also very strong. Citra and Rowan were incredibly well-written, and it was really interesting to see their characters evolve as their new lives took their toll, especially Rowan. His acceptance of his role as the unimportant “lettuce” at the beginning was drastically different from where he ended up at the end, but his character progression never seemed to be anything but natural. On Citra’s side, her blunt honesty was believable and distinctive.

The side characters were equally well-drawn. Scythes Curie, Goddard, and Faraday all felt very alive as characters, and I like how Neal Shusterman really took out the time to explore Goddard. A lesser writer could have made him very one-dimensional, but he was frighteningly familiar and all too believable.

Finally, the pace. I read this in a day. In fact, I need to apologize to my group in one of my classes because I kept on picking it back up at every available second. I was truly invested in what was going to happen to Citra and Rowan and what they would become in their new jobs. My only qualm is something I can’t really explain. Sometimes a book really clicks with you and, while this one was excellent and I’m sure it will click for some people, there was just something that I couldn’t put my finger on that kept it from clicking with me.

But that’s a small, small thing. You’ve got an inventive premise that actually delivers (quelle surprise!), fully fleshed-out characters, and a gripping story. What more could you want?

Verdict: worth borrowing from the library

What was the last dystopia you read? Do you think that it’s good for humans to live forever? Have you read Scythe? What did you think?

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