Review: Scythe

Hope in the shadow of fear is the worlds most powerful motivator.

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“Hope in the shadow of fear is the world’s most powerful motivator.”

Author: Neal Shusterman

Synopsis: In a post-mortal society, humans no longer have to fear death by natural causes. But population growth has to be kept in control somehow, so a group of people known as “scythes” are given dominion over life and death. When Citra Terranova and Rowan Damisch are both selected for a scythe apprenticeship, they’re plummeted headfirst into a world where they must master the art of taking life… or risk losing their own. 

Review: For the record, I really don’t like dystopian books. But when I say I loved this book… I’m being serious. Neal Shusterman did a fantastic job with Scythe, so even if you (like me) are not a fan of dystopian novels, you’ll still like it. 

Because Scythe is such a brilliantly-written book and I want to convince you, dear reader, to read this book without spoiling it, you can rest assured that the entirety of this review is spoiler-free and focuses on more of the nitty-gritty details of what I like about the novel, like the worldbuilding, character development, etc.

One of the things I appreciated most about the entire Arc of a Scythe trilogy is the worldbuilding. Everything from the names of characters to the names of places just makes sense. Even without going on a Tolkien-esque tangent that takes up two and a half pages talking about the history of a region (don’t worry, I still love Tolkien for that, I just know that not everyone has the patience for that sort of writing), it’s clear that Shusterman put a lot of thought into his story beyond just the plot. The books mention different regions like WestMerica, MidMerica, EastMerica, LoneStar, and Mexiteca, as well as other regions around the world. I love the names of those regions because (spoiler, but also not really since it has little to do with the plot) the story is set about 200 years in the future. And without giving too much away, society has clearly changed a lot since then, but the names of those regions sort of make sense. WestMerica is a region made up of current-day western America, MidMerica and EastMerica are made of current-day central and eastern U.S., the LoneStar region is current-day Texas, and Mexiteca is mostly in current-day Mexico and Central America. Those names are close enough to current areas of the world that one can easily guess where the characters are, but also different enough that it reminds the reader that they’re not in Kansas anymore, figuratively speaking. Plus, the names follow a logical development, so like a non-specific brand of aerosol spray, they just make sense (scents… get it?). 

But enough about names. Most people probably don’t think about that sort of thing while reading, so I’ll get into something people do think about: character development. This will be tricky to talk about without having major spoilers, but throughout the story, many of the character’s undergo clear character development. I only say “clear” because while character development is a staple of a good story, there are many stories that develop the characters, but not enough that it’s clear to the reader. Take Harry Potter, for example. While I love the books, I didn’t finish The Deathly Hallows and say to myself, “Wow, Harry is really a different person than when he first left Privet Drive in the first book.” Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I’m a bit of a sucker for that feeling I get when I finish a book/TV show/movie and have to take a few minutes to reflect how much the characters have grown since the beginning of the story. Even at the end of Scythe, which is only the first book in the series, it’s clear to the reader that after [redacted] and [redacted] happened to [redacted], both Citra and Rowan are different people than who they were starting out. 

Finally– and this is more of a personal preference than a true literary analysis– I adore the Thunderhead. Now, this is difficult to explain without spoiling anything, but I’ll leave it at this: I am sick and tired of the “evil robot,” “AI takeover,” and “cold, unfeeling, logical android” tropes in all forms of media, and Neal Shusterman does a fantastic job at writing the Thunderhead (the AI in the story) as a complex character rather than a two-dimensional stereotypical robot. I’m very much here for it. 

Verdict: Truly, I could go on and on about how much I loved this book (and the other two books in the series), but you could probably save time by just going and reading them for yourself. I would give the entire Arc of a Scythe series a solid 10/10. Whether you like dystopian, sci-fi, YA novels, or even if those genres aren’t normally your thing, you should give Scythe a try.