Title: Scythe (2016)
Series: Arc of a Scythe – Book 1
Author: Neal Shusterman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Dystopian Fiction
Extent: 448 pages
Release Date: November 22, 2016
In a world where disease has been eliminated, the only way to die is to be randomly killed (“gleaned”) by professional reapers (“scythes”). Citra and Rowan are teenagers who have been selected to be scythe’s apprentices, and—despite wanting nothing to do with the vocation—they must learn the art of killing and come to understand the necessity of what they do.
Only one of them will be chosen as a scythe’s apprentice. And when it becomes clear that the winning apprentice’s first task will be to glean the loser, Citra and Rowan are pitted against one another in a fight for their lives.
So, funny story: I started writing this review quite a few weeks after finishing it, fully intending to give it a half-star lower than what I ended up, and as I was writing, I realised just how much I really enjoyed this book. The flaws I thought were flaws began to minimise, while things I loved expanded and took centre stage. Somehow, Scythe is the book I always wanted to read but never knew I wanted to read. Interesting, isn’t it, how a book can do that to you? 🤔
Scythe is set in a future world where human life is as close to ‘perfect’ as it can be: disease no longer exists, government has been replaced by an all-knowing, neutral AI called the Thunderhead, and humans live forever… that is, unless they are chosen to die by ‘scythes’, humans chosen to be professional reapers.
To date, the oldest living human being is somewhere around three hundred, but only because we are still so close to the Age of Mortality. I wonder what life will be like a millennium from now, when the average age will be nearer to one thousand. Will we all be renaissance children, skilled at every art and science, because we’ve had the time to master them? Or will boredom and slavish routine plague us even more than it does today, giving us less of a reason to live limitless lives? I dream of the former, but suspect the latter.
Pardon my inner geek for anything futuristic, but this is so cool, you guys. I could poke loopholes in the premise, but why would I want to? I enjoyed what it has to offer so much that I took everything in stride. It’s pretty much the dystopian utopia I had always imagined — it’s dark, violent, and morbid, and yet also rather tongue-in-cheek, and it made me feel unsettled yet also incredibly, incredibly intrigued.
Our main characters are Citra and Rowan, two teenagers chosen by Scythe Faraday to be his apprentices. We follow them as they learn to become killers and realise both the benefits and consequences of being one. Throw in some politics and deception, some journal entries written by scythes, some humour, and a sprinkling of romance, and you’ve got Scythe. Also, the future is not so different after all:
“The Scythe Archive is open to everyone.”
“Yeah,” said Rowan, “like the Thunderhead. People can read anything, but no one does. All they do is play games and watch cat holograms.”
Scythe is what I would call ‘cheerfully gory’. It’s a book where murder is a sport, and murderers are given somewhat of a godly status hailed above everyone else, and so is surprisingly philosophical, bringing to light questions about human nature and life and death. In a world where death is necessary but no one dies, is murder still ‘wrong’, especially if it’s mandated and encouraged by an all-knowing being? Things like morals and law may not be so fixed, after all.
What I wish was better were the characters and the romance. While I like the main characters, they felt… simple, for lack of a better word. They were predictable in what they did and thought and never once surprised me. They were also, unfortunately, kind of black-and-white in a way I didn’t expect characters in such a grey book to be. The romance also felt shallow and young, but that’s probably on me. (It was cute, though. 😂)
“I haven’t fallen in love with you, Rowan. And now I want to keep it that way.”
Rowan got up and moved to the safety of the threshold before turning back to her. “It’s all right, Citra,” he told her. “I haven’t fallen in love with you either.”
Thankfully these flaws were inconsequential enough that Scythe overall was intriguing and entertaining for me. While predictable at parts, the plot is fast, gripping and action-packed, and the world-building felt futuristic yet plausible — I simply enjoyed it. ❤️