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Colorfully Moral Grey – A review of Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Dystopia, science fiction in general, has never been a great point of interest for me. The Hunger Games never appealed to me, I found the first book in the Divergent series solid but not captivating and I grew up with a dad who had an unhealthy Star Wars obsession. If I would pick up a science fiction book, it would more likely be a dystopian.

Why? I find it the most insightful within the science fiction sub genre. In books such as those we learn far better about the human condition than a space opera, for example, and I find great value in that.

Therefore, Scythe is worth its mass in gold.

Humanity has achieved a state of immortality and perfection, aside from one aspect. Population growth. Nobody dies of old age or disease or accidents anymore. Only the Scythes have control over who dies, a group of specially trained humans who statistically cull the population to meet the demands of resources and match the statistics of the A.I. the Thunderhead. Two teens are taken under the apprenticeship of a Scythe, and Citra and Rowan soon learn of the responsibility and the moral grounds held by these people. But these beliefs are not shared, as the two soon find corruption within the Scythedom that threatens a seemingly perfect balance. And soon, they are put under a fate no Scythe’s apprentice has ever gone through before. One apprentice may become a Scythe, but the other shall live no longer.

From the very first page this was filled with insights deeper than oceans. I was so here for it! Shusterman perfectly captured concepts and insights surrounding suffering, mortality and privilege in this world to the point where this future version of Earth was so alien and yet so familiar. These comparisons being made really emphasised it, sometimes a bit too on the nose but in a young adult novel that is just fine. It was especially fascinating to see such varying perceptions of death and how it compares to a very linear perspective today – they use statistics, religion and sympathy in the Scythedom variously to determine how one in “gleaned”. In a world like that in Scythe, it really puts into perspective how much weight we put on death today in all that we do. Fascinating stuff.

Let’s talk about our main characters, Rowan and Citra. They were clearly written as Everyman characters – ones with personalities easy enough to relate to everyone while still able to be described. Like Luke Skywalker. I was fascinated at how my perceptions on them shifted over time, how I favoured Rowan over Citra initially but by the end of it I favoured Citra more. I think it was because I liked Rowan’s character more but Citra’s arc and journey better. I was glad to experience both of my favourite character experiences in one book – liking a character the moment they’re introduced and falling in love with a character by how they grow. This is what I love to read!

I also enjoyed how far this novel strays from the typical sci-fi and dystopia that brought along its popularity in the early 2010s. This isn’t about teens overthrowing an unfair system, but teens working and learning to make the system fair from the inside. At least that’s what the conclusion lead me to believe. I’m not saying I will be mad if this turns into another government overthrow narrative, because I know that Shusterman will make it work. His main focus and theme in this novel surrounds morality, but the spectrum of it instead of a right and wrong. I think that’s what makes this novel appeal to me so much. I may be cutting this review short, but I think I can summarise all the is complex and valuable in this book in such a short few paragraphs without spoilers.

And as soon as I finished reading this book, I bought the rest of the series. I am looking forward to 2022 solely from the fact that I will be reading the other two books Thunderhead and The Toll. The hype is real!

Scythe gets a score of 5/5. Nothing better explores the human condition than death.

Yours in writing

Amy

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