Scythe is a book I was instantly interested in as soon as it came out. First of all, MAJOR COVER LOVE. But secondly and more importantly, the concept of the dystopian world sounded so gripping and psychological chilling that I couldn’t resist giving this one a go! When I saw additional review copies being released prior the Thunderhead (book 2) coming out I overenthusiastically put myself forward. Thank you to the publisher for providing me with a review copy!
Thou shalt kill.
A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.
Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.
The psychology of the world Shusterman has created in Scythe is absolutely fascinating. It really feels like he’s thought out every aspect and eventuality, fleshing out this futuristic future with precision. In a world where people can live forever due to new advances in medicine and technology (including the ability to revive people after death and allow people to ‘reset’ their ages) there’s a population problem. Here enter the Sycthes who ‘gleam’ people, a less emotionally charged way of saying murder. Each Scythe is tasked with gleaming 260 per year by whatever mode of choice (guns, drowning, medieval weaponry, strangulation, you name it) to get the job done. Scythes are supposed to be unbiased gleaming equal numbers of genders, ages and ethnicities, but ultimately, they are in control of who they gleam. This means they have a very lonely life, as people either find excuses to avoid them or are overfriendly to them hoping to avoid death. *
* Oh, have I also mentioned they get to wear epic cloaks?!? They get to choose whatever colour or design they like, some even add sparkly gems – I think there’s a big job opening in this world for an amazing cloak retailer, and I would like to offer my services. Yup.
As the book progresses, we get to meet a number of Scythes and learn how they justify committing murder. This was 100% the most interesting part of the book for me. There is a term in psychology called cognitive dissonance, which is the uncomfortable feeling you get when your beliefs and actions don’t match up or contradict. We strive for psychological consistency to feel content within ourselves and this often means either changing our behaviours or finding ways of justifying them. In Scythe, we see those in the occupation constantly battling internally with finding ways to feel comfortable with what they do – some try to reflect the natural order, looking to statistics to decide how and why they gleam, someone, (e.g. drowning, car crashes, stabbings), some act as almost holy guides giving people time to come to terms with their fate, while others strike randomly with no warning believing it a mercy. The book could have been about this alone and I would have absolutely loved it, so fascinating!
The point of conflict in Scythe comes from two main areas, the first is a political battle between the old and new schools of thought as to the philosophy behind the Scythe way of life. Some feel the occupation should almost be holy or a calling, while other’s feel scythes should revel in and enjoy the act of gleaning. The second point of conflict is a competition between two apprentice’s Citra and Rowan who are hand-picked to dedicate their lives to learning the ways of the Scythe, from weapons training to poison study. As Citra and Rowan’s knowledge of the Scythdom grows, they find themselves caught on the knife’s edge of change.
Despite my love of the AMAZING world building in Scythe, I really struggled to connect with the two main characters. It’s very telling that I had to look up the protagonist’s names before I could write about them. For a novel with such an immersive world, the two protagonists were surprisingly flat and while I did get invested in their journey towards the end… there was nothing memorable or tangible about these two for me to grip onto. Nothing about them interested me. It’s actually hard for me to reconcile in my head how characters in such a vibrant world and situation could be so bland. It really does feel like Shusterman puts the characters through the motions as an excuse to write about cool stuff. I’m really gutted I couldn’t get invested in these two!
The author also tried to create a romance between Citra and Rowan …which felt SO forced and unnecessary. Just no? There was no chemistry at all, and a lot of the characters actions and big decisions in the book were based around their conflicting feelings for each other, the problem with this is if you don’t feel the relationship is geniune, the characters actions then seem kind of strange! If Shusterman characterization was better, this book probably would probably have gone straight on my favourites pile. SO MUCH FRUSTRATION.
On the plus side, the secondary characters were pretty epic. Scythe Faraday, Curie and Goddard kept me invested and grounded in the ‘human factor’. It was their tales that drew me in – their backstories of how they became Scythes, why they adopted the gleaming approaches they did, and how some of them became twisted in the name of doing ‘good’. One character in parrticular was a wonderfully overt psychopath which was great fun.
Like with most dystopian books, at the end of Scythe we see the world shaken up by new ideas and the potential for change. I am extremely interested to see what happens in book two Thunderhead. Although I am also concerned as to whether I will like it as much when the novelty of the worldbuilding has worn off and the tale naturally becomes more character driven. I really hope Shusterman can up the characterization in book two to keep this story awesome!
Writing Style: 4/5
Character Development: 4/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes