Scythe by Neal Shusterman has “best read of the year written all over it.”
What a way to start a review, right?
Nothing like cutting straight to the chase.
I was blown away by this book and I’m kicking myself for letting it sit on the shelf for so long.
I’d planned on reading this book when it came out all the way back at the end of 2016. (That’s strange to say isn’t it? It’s been a little over 3 years already).
For some reason, I never got around to it. And I’ve been missing out. But in some ways, I’m lucky, because I get to read the whole series in one go now.
Within seconds of finishing Scythe, I immediately began Thunderhead, Book 2.
I was warned the beginning of Scythe was slow, but right out the gate I felt an immediate draw to the characters, to the plot, and to the world of Post-AI America where the overlord computer doesn’t immediately want to kill everyone.
You read so many books and see so many movies these days about bad AIs and if the robots take control, but it was refreshing to discover a world where the AI actually improved life and brought humanity to a point where we can no longer die.
Yes, you read that right.
I loosely knew the plot of the book from the blurb. Two teens are selected to become a Scythe. A person whose job it is to kill people.
And sure, you might infer that if it’s someone’s job to kill, then perhaps there’s a reason death doesn’t happen naturally. But it doesn’t really prepare you for just how well developed this dystopian world is.
And make no mistake, this book is a Dystopian novel more than it is Fantasy.
Don’t let that designation dissuade you though.
I know Dystopia is so 2012, but Scythe is really a gem of a book and worth reading for any avid fantasy fan. YA or otherwise.
But let’s get into the meat of the book.
Scythe Book Review
Scythe starts off with a scared family as Honorable Scythe Faraday appears on their doorstep.
It is quickly explained that Scythes all take the names of important historical figures of the Mortal Age to honor the great influence they had on society and remember what mankind used to be.
HS Faraday of course chose Michael Faraday. The scientist from the 1800s, not Daniel Faraday from Lost, lest any of you be confused.
In any case, this family is afraid he’s there to “glean” them. A dolled up word for killing which you will become quite familiar with as you read the story.
It was mentioned toward the end that they were named Scythes to be signified as the weapon or tool of death instead of Reapers which would more portray agency.
It is customary for people to provide for Scythes and feed them, so this family cooks him dinner all the while wondering which one of them will be dead by the end of the night.
They can’t resist.
They can’t fight him.
To resist gleaning would bring death upon your whole family, not just you.
If you submit graciously, your family is granted immunity from gleaning for one year to consul you for your loss.
In their perfect society where death no longer occurs naturally, some people can live to be hundreds, if not thousands of years old, should they avoid gleaning for so long. At a certain age they “turn the corner” which seems to be an analogy for flipping over the hourglass and resetting their age to somewhere in their 20s.
Thus Scythes are sent to quell the population, lest it get out of control.
So here sits Scythe Faraday eating in this family’s home when he gets up and asks to borrow a butcher’s knife from their knife block.
He then goes next door and gleans their neighbor.
When he returns, he hands the knife to Citra Terranova, our main character. She makes an impression on Scythe Faraday and in just a few early chapters, she is invited to become his apprentice.
Does any of that sound interesting to you? Because wow it really grabbed me.
I’m in love with Scythe so much.
Before too long, we’re introduced to some unsavories.
What’s a good book without some unsavory characters right?
You need someone to hate, and boy does Scythe present you with a good one.
There’s really not much to hate early on. You feel a bit uncomfortable at a few select scenes, but nothing that screams “I’m a bad guy, hate me!”
But you quickly come to discover that one of the Honorable Scythes is not so honorable at all.
He gleans for pleasure and he desires to do so in spectacular form with what they call Mass Gleanings, much like a mass murderer. This is no mere coincidence, as it’s Shusterman’s intentional way of telling you he’s bad early on.
There still doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of conflict, though, for our main characters until just about the 30-40% mark of the book.
I’m not positive on when that happens exactly as I read this book via audiobook. Don’t get me started on whether audiobooks count as reading.
But when the point comes, you’ll know it. And it will all be orchestrated by Mr. Not-So-Honorable-Scythe.
What happens next is a whirlwind of change, emotions, and blood pumping action.
Nothing will happen as you expect it.
Sure, there’s a few twists the astute can spot, but Shusterman knows how to keep you on your toes. Just when you think the story is going one way, there’s another gut-wrenching turn that throws you for a loop.
Did you love how I slammed all those colloquialisms together?
Sorry for any readers who aren’t native English speakers. That reminds me of my Korean roommate who thought we meant it literally when we said we had butterflies in our stomachs…
Annnnnnd let’s get back on track.
Oh, the ending!
Remember I told you I was reading this via audiobook?
The audiobook is so slow. So very very slow. Reading every word (how rude, right?) at the same speed with which the whole book was read, preventing me from skimming and speed reading.
It was torture! But glorious torture.
The ending of this book was so fantastic, so phenomenal, I literally devoured the last 3-4 hours of this book in…well 3-4 hours of course.
But whereas I normally listen to audiobooks only during my daily commute to work or while I’m on my lunch break, when I reached the end of this book, I was finding myself excuses to do mundane data entry tasks just for the opportunity to spend more time with my headphones plugged in so I could listen during work.
I just could not get enough.
Did I guess some of the twists? You bet I did.
Was I still surprised? Absolutely.
Early on in the story, you wonder if Shusterman was going to pull a Hunger Games, and while he sort of does, it’s not in the same manner as Hunger Games.
I can’t say any more than that because I don’t want to ruin anything for you. But I mention Hunger Games so that maybe some of you will be so intrigued to find out how it’s like Hunger Games that you’ll run out and buy this book right now.
Buy it now.
I’ll even provide you with a button. Here you go:
Scythe by Neal Shusterman gets a solid 5/5 stars from me. I’d give it 6, 7, hey maybe even 8 stars if I could.
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