Scythe by Neal Shusterman
From Goodreads: 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.
Wow, there is so much I want to say about Scythe. I knew I was on to a good thing when I went to buy the book in my local Waterstones, and a member of staff walked by and got incredibly excited because it was in my hands. And it didn’t prove wrong either.
There are two incredibly strong components of the novel which make for such a riveting read: the world/premise and the plot twists.
The world was honestly a delight to read about, because it opened up so many philosophical questions. What would happen to society if death never comes? Whenever anyone in the book gets injured [unless they’re being gleaned] in a way that would have ended in death, they simply go to a revival hospital and wake up to ice cream. Which means some people entertain themselves with pastimes like ‘splatting,’ jumping off tall buildings for the sake of it. People don’t really care when someone pushes them in front of a car or anything, because it isn’t an ending of life, just a mild nuisance. So what does that mean for the world? Or even things like art and culture? If humans essentially live forever, then the need to be immortalized during your brief lifetime is suddenly not an issue. So what is a very small change in society [okay, it is actually pretty fundamental, but still only one change] causes this huge ripple effect that I loved seeing played out.
And then there are the scythes and what they believe in. There are factions within them, and although there are laws, there are also lots of loopholes which make for some interesting interpretations. The idea of the job sounds horrific, but again, there’s that brilliant spark of worldbuilding here, a neat solution to potential overpopulation. Shusterman has masterfully crafted a unique and terrifying world. People fear the scythes, but they also respect them and sometimes even worship them too. Scythes have jurisdiction over life and death, and so their ability to wander around gleaning people with very few limitations and checks is a truly astounding, and yet it makes for spectacular reading.
The pace of Scythe left me a little breathless, to be honest. There were so many plot twists and huge consequences for things that I literally could not put the book down once I started. The only reason I did is because I eventually fell asleep, still clutching it but too tired to continue. The characters obviously make these twists and turns all the more compelling; Citra and Rowan are both brilliant in their own way, and they both have a lot of personality [although, if I were to criticise this book at all, I would say much of their personalities seem to revolve around their apprenticeship and morals, rather than any hobbies or outside factors etc] and in some ways they are both incredibly similar, and yet markedly different. I think it raises some interesting questions about nature and nurture.
I was pretty confident I’d picked a winner when I bought Scythe and I really wasn’t disappointed. A hearty 9.5/10 for some stellar worldbuilding and plot, and I will be counting down the days until the next book in the series.