…because I want to know what happens but I’m not sure whether I’m willing to read on.
I felt really torn while reading Scythe. I have seen so many glowing reviews for it plus the premise is so tantalising: in the future Age of Immortality there becomes a need to control the population through an organised system of official execution *ahem* gleaning through the Scythes. But it fell a bit short for me.
There are three things you need to know about this world:
- Everyone has the chance of immortality – you have nanites in your body that get rid of pain, speed healing and fight diseases. You can become ‘deadish’ but you can be revived.
- The Thunderhead, a future version of the Internet which has gained consciousness, takes care of everyone like a benevolent, omniscient God.
- The Scythedom, the only thing separate and immune from the Thunderhead’s rule, is in charge of population control. Death at a Scythe’s hand is permanent.
The story follows two teens, Rowan and Citra, who are chosen by Scythe Faraday to be his apprentices, training in martial arts, weapons and poisons in order to one day become Scythes themselves. There is political conflict within the Scythedom too – how should people be killed? Scythe Goddard and his followers wear flashy robes with gems sewn in and perform mass killings whereas Scythe Faraday lives a simple life and chooses who to kill based on old stats. Rowan and Citra find themselves in the middle of this conflict as they compete with each other for one position in the Scythedom.
I liked the questions and ideas this book presented. What would happen if you could live forever? What’s the meaning of life then? There’s a contradiction at the heart of this world: people can live forever but your death might be as random, unfair and unexpected as it was before so actually people can’t live forever. Death is supposedly less common than it was in the previous era known as the Age of Mortality but, depending on the Scythe and their method of delivering death, it may be just as awful. And that’s kind of cruel and a fascinating concept.
There are journal entries throughout the book so we see the perspective of different Scythes. The Scythedom itself is really interesting and as an organisation it is just as political and corrupt as the official leaders that have been banished in this world, and just as ritualistic as the old religions that they scoff at.
But there are problems too. Although I sped through Scythe I didn’t didn’t feel like much happened at all. I couldn’t tell where the plot was going, not because it was unpredictable but rather because it didn’t feel like there was going to be a real sense of conflict. In a world where people can be revived from death if the Thunderhead chooses, the stakes are low. I think the beats of the story are really off too with a very slow beginning. At 75% there was a turn in the story that then resolved itself within the space of a couple of chapters. (And I guessed the twist…)
I also felt that the characters needed more fleshing out and if the relationship between Rowan and Citra is supposed to be romantic then it just didn’t work for me. Their trust in each other comes from nowhere and we don’t see enough of their relationship blossom for the kind of risks they take for each other. Plus Rowan faces an inner conflict on whether or not he enjoys killing and whether he’s a good person. I felt like that could have been explored so much more deeply than it was, but ultimately it feels like Shusterman wants you to be on Rowan’s side for the next book and remind you that he does everything he does with good intent. I like my characters to be a little bit more complex than that.
Good fiction will make you suspend disbelief in any scenario and I was almost convinced that this dystopia could come into being. You want to limit population growth? Why is this the only method? No one-child policy a la China, no one in, one out system? If it’s official execution, why is death allowed to come from any method? Why are they allowed to essentially be assassins and professional murderers? (I’m also not quite convinced that good people would want to be benevolent assassins either but that I could get past.) Are there no safeguards if the Thunderhead malfunctions? Also, what happens to other criminals and other criminal activity? Surely in a world of perfection, the thrill of crime is more appealing?
At the moment I’m still interested in what happens next as the premise for the second book is so much more interesting. So can someone please tell me what happens in Thunderhead? And when the final one comes out I’ll seek out a book summary on that too.