Tuesday, November 8, 2016

[Review] Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Scythe by Neal Shusterman
Rating: 4.5 stars 
Version: ARC Paperback
Release Date: November 22nd 2016

Goodreads Synopsis:
In a world where disease has been eliminated, the only way to die is to be randomly killed (“gleaned”) by professional reapers (“scythes”). Citra and Rowan are teenagers who have been selected to be scythe’s apprentices, and—despite wanting nothing to do with the vocation—they must learn the art of killing and come to understand the necessity of what they do.
Only one of them will be chosen as a scythe’s apprentice. And when it becomes clear that the winning apprentice’s first task will be to glean the loser, Citra and Rowan are pitted against one another in a fight for their lives.

"Immortality has turned us all into cartoons." - Scythe Curie

So I've had friends telling me how great Neal Shusterman was, how different his books were compared to other YA they've read... and when I got an ARC of his upcoming book, Scythe, I went into it with pretty high expectations.

Those expectations have been met. Scythe takes the controversial topic of death and brings it to life (hey, irony!). It even takes the dystopian genre and takes it to a different spectrum. I've tried to stay away from dystopians for fear of redundant and overused tropes and plots akin to The Hunger Games, but Scythe was compelling without any love triangles and drama to mar its story.

The book takes place in the future, perhaps a hundred years later, after mankind has eradicated disease and all the unpleasant things that cause a person to die. Now, the bigger problem has become, how does one control the population? To cope with the slowly rising population, a group of individuals are trained in the art of killing in order to glean people, without bias or malice. These are the Scythes.

Funny thing is, Scythes don't wear black

Scythes are chosen not because they want the job, but because they appear to have a moral code that the rest of humanity now lacks. Upon completing a year of training and hopefully passing, they join the Scythedom and chance their name to match a person who has made an impact in the world (before the world was free of death). 

Scythe Faraday picks not one apprentice, but two - Rowan and Citra. He trains them in the art of death and morality, and helps them understand what society has turned into. Every four months, he takes them to the Scythedom conclaves, where fellow Scythes take tests that determine if they are worthy of their position. At the Vernal Conclave, they meet Scythe Goddard and Curie. Goddard has turned gleaning into a game, creating mass killings for fun and pleasure. Curie has more holistic approach - glean those who look "stagnant", those who look like their lives have lost value. 

As the months continue on, Rowan and Citra are put against each other - the one who does not get the Scythe position must be gleaned by the other. 

That was a mouthful. I haven't even described this book's summary in full. There's so much to do this book that describing it in one review can't do it justice. 

The characters, particularly Scythes Curie and Faraday, were spectacular. They bring up very thought-provoking opinions on how we view life and death. Now that death has been destroyed, life can be played with, so you can become "deadish" but never fully dead. You simply revive a few days later. In a world full of people who no longer fear dying, people like Faraday and Curie were my favorite. They were also badass (technically) old people and I pictured them as Bernie Sanders and Maggie Smith, respectively. Basically they were really cool and overshadowed the main protagonists in my opinion. 

She wanted to tell him how much she admired him for what he had done. Choosing compassion over obligation. There was a lesson to be learned in every gleaning, and today's was one she would not soon forget. The sanctity of the law... and the wisdom to know when it must be broken. 
Scythe Curie signed. "There is an image to uphold, dear," she said. "You defied me in public, so I had no choice but to publicly put you in your place. In the future, you need to hold your opinions until we are alone."

The villain, Goddard, is controversial and complex. His values are hedonistic and his actions are certainly bordering on anarchical. He is definitely a character that you would love to hate. 

The romance was perhaps the weakest link, and the only critique I can find. It seemed... unnecessary? I did not seem much connection between Citra and Rowan to warrant any love beyond platonic. They shared a common goal, yes, but they seemed to harbor a more familial relationship if anything. 

For story itself was so intricate and full of tension. Violence is rampant in this one; after all, this is a book on death. The world building was really spot on, as well. No Hunger Games style story in this (hooray!).

I feel as though Scythe is not really YA, and probably suits a more NA category, for its themes of death and suicide. It does make us question how we value life and how we treat death.  

I highly recommend it, if you want a thrilling, existential-crisis questioning sort of book. I also definitely want to look into Shusterman's other works. 

I also hope this isn't a standalone because it ended on such a cliffhanger. Why would you do this to me? 

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