Synopsis: Two teens must learn the "art of killing" in the first in a chilling new series from Neal Shusterman, author of the New York Times bestselling Unwind dystology.
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.
Scythe is the first novel of a thrilling new series by National Book Award–winning author Neal Shusterman in which Citra and Rowan learn that a perfect world comes only with a heavy price.
--From Simon & Schuster
In the future, the human race has learned everything. In the process of gaining this knowledge, the Thunderhead came into being. A sentient cloud of knowledge who runs the world, keeping track of everything and everyone. We no longer get sick, accidents no longer happen, crimes, famine, and poverty are things of the past. Oh, and no one dies. To offset the ever-growing population, a new cast of people are created: Scythes. Unregulated by the Thunderhead and beyond its control, the Scythes are responsible for culling the ever-growing herd of humans. This culling is called gleaning.
Adhering to a set of commandants, scythes are barred from wearing black (too morbid), must keep a daily journal, can live forever (if they choose), can hold no prejudges and exact no revenge on those whose lives they glean, have no families, and never marry. Scythes are held to these commandants via a checks and balance system overseen by all the Scythedom. Meeting four times a year to discuss all matters of death, any scythe not observing the commandants is severely punished.
The Honorable Scythe Faraday, a monastic old-guard scythe who takes no pleasure in gleaning, recruits fifteen-year-old Citra Terranova and Rowan Damisch as his apprentices. It is unheard of for a scythe to take on two apprentices simultaneously, so only one will be receiving their scythe ring at the end of the year-long training.
Both Citra and Rowan are disgusted by what scythes do, and that is exactly why Faraday has chosen them. A scythe should take no please in gleaning. To do so would make them a monster.
Being a fan of the YA genre, this book surprised me. Along the lines of Hunger Games with its grit, frank language, humanity element, politics, and violence, Scythe isn’t your typical teen novel. Something I found very refreshing.
Neal Shusterman fills this novel with twists and turns, keeping the reader guessing as to what could possible come next. Part mystery, part coming of age, part dystopian sci-fi, Scythe offers up complex characters, intricate political intrigue, philosophical debates, and page-turning action.
Scythe is the first book in a trilogy, and I am thoroughly interested to see where it goes. How will Citra and Rowan affect the Scythedom and their world at large? They are a key to something, something the world isn’t every aware is happening.
If you are a reader who enjoys a good mystery, original story telling, sudden plot twists, and great character development, I urge you to give Scythe a try.
In the 2002 movie Tuck Everlasting (I never read the book as a child, and still haven't gone back to do so), one of the main characters explains his immortality like so:
What we Tucks have, you can't call it living. We just... are. We're like rocks, stuck at the side of a stream.
This quote kept popping up in my mind as I read this tale of a world far in the future, when mankind has almost completely defeated death and even those who launch themselves off of tall buildings are able to be reassembled - the anti-Humpty Dumptys of the future. People are able to reset their lives, so to speak, and "turn the corner" on their bodies - essentially becoming as young as they'd like to be. To keep global population from going completely out of control, the Scythes were created to kill (or glean, as it is referred to here) enough people to offset immortal humans who still have children. Citra and Rowan, the two main characters, are apprenticed to a Scythe and must learn the intricacies of this bizarre system.
The oddities of the future Shusterman has created were my favorite parts of the novel. The Thunderhead - a cyber cloud that is basically the Internet with sentience, and has all human knowledge, directs everything with the exception of the Scythes. It also speaks to people like the old Office Assistant Paperclip character that would pop on the screen and say "I see you're writing a letter..." It was sort of amazing to think of the Internet morphing into a sentient being. Then there was the cult based on sounds and smells, because what religion can people truly cleave to in a world that has no death? Or how in this book Scythes name themselves after famous people in history - Marie Curie, Michael Faraday...there was even a mention of a Scythe Rand. And then there was the different types of Scythes, and their reaping styles - ostentatious, humble, with or without premeditated thought. All of this attention to detail made for fun moments of realization and a very rich world.
Throughout reading, my mind kept asking logical, philosophical or existential questions. Why on Earth wouldn't humans simply stop having children? Is our biological imperative that ridiculously persistent? And after one set of children, why turn the corner and have yet more? Why would marriage still be a thing? Why wouldn't we have developed interstellar travel by then (this one is actually answered in the book)? How is the Earth feeding this many people? Wouldn't the sheer boredom of not being able to die unless you happened to be targeted by a Scythe become old after a time? After a couple hundred years, would life be so terrible that you'd try to find a way to kill yourself and not be brought back? Or would each day still mean something - would you adjust to the new timeline, and simply live as you would? After all, the difference in lifespan between a mayfly and a shark is substantial, but both seem to put full effort the entire time they are alive (though I suppose a 300 year-old shark might suffer from bouts of ennui). From the perspective of these questions, the unique future envisioned, and the diverse cast of characters the reader meets, I loved this book.
I found the love story to be a tad unnecessary, and, at times, even distracting from the plot. But the romantic bits were so few and far between however, that this did not impede my enjoyment of the novel badly at all. And overall - this was a strikingly good novel. Prior to Scythe, I had never read anything by Shusterman, but I am quite glad that this fact has changed.