Dystopian fiction is generally taken as a deconstruction of the idea of a utopia, where the society is flawed on a fundamental level. Scythe takes a different approach and portrays the consequences of a genuine utopia – the world is at peace, humanity has conquered death, everyone is free to pursue whatever they choose to pursue. It’s not a dystopia, because from a perspective, it actually is pretty idyllic.
Because there’s no longer a natural lifespan for humans, someone has to keep the population under control to avoid overcrowding the planet. That someone is the Scythedom, an order of people known as scythes whose job is to kill people to prolong the existence of humanity. The book follows Rowan and Citra, who are chosen to be apprentices of Scythe Faraday, despite the fact neither of them really wants the job. Their exposure to the inner workings of the scythedom leads them to understand the darker side of their world.
The Thunderhead, a benevolent AI that runs the world, takes care of every citizen’s needs, resulting in people losing the drive to improve and doing things to try to stave off boredom than out of interest. Horrifyingly, this extends to the scythes: “gleaning”, as they call it, is supposed to be an honour and responsibility, a serious and important task handled with compassion, but younger generations of scythes start enjoying the power stemming from their position and seeing themselves as gods, killing huge numbers of people for the fun of it.
- Interesting world building that avoids many of the most common tropes in the genre.
- Engaging characters with clear motivations and different personalities.
- Solid and entertaining plot.
- Avoids sequelitis – Thunderhead manages to improve upon most of the flaws of the first book.
- Rowan and Citra are both reasonably compelling characters, but they didn’t get much development until the sequel, world building taking precedence. Their romance was one of the weakest parts of the story. It felt unnecessary and a bit out of place, but fortunately, it was a minor enough aspect of the book that it didn’t detract too much from the rest.
- The timeline didn’t seem to make much sense, especially in regards to Scythe Curie’s past – a shame, considering I found her to be the most interesting character.
- Predictable plot twists.
Scythe is a refreshing take on a genre that’s been increasingly characterized as books that are all rehashes of the same thing – the YA speculative fiction genre. YA fiction includes a lot of great books, but it’s such a broad category that it also has a lot that’s not as well thought out or written. This could well just be my perception, but it seems that publishers think that YA readers are less inclined to be choosy about what they read than adult fiction readers and will instead be okay reading countless variations of the same book, published in rapid succession. That’s not to say adult fiction doesn’t have trends – clearly it does. But for whatever reason – because a YA book can often go in and out of fashion faster than an adult one, maybe? – they’re much less obvious than in adult fiction. In Scythe, Neal Shusterman does a great job on trying new things instead of just relying on the expected archetypes for YA speculative fiction. Because of that alone, I’d recommend giving it a try. Everything else is just a bonus.
It’s not exactly what I would call great, but Scythe was good, entertaining read. Its sequel, Thunderhead, is even better, with more moral ambiguity and character development. Give them a read and see what you think!