In a world populated by humans who have conquered mortality, population control must come in some form. Right?
Hello lovelies. I just finished reading Scythe by Neal Shusterman and man alive was it good. A little predictable at times but overall a pretty good read. Humanity exists, ever growing and never dying, in an age where, once you reach your height of outward age, you “turn the corner”. Refreshing yourself body and keeping all of your mental faculties the same. Thus, someone you meet who is 98 might look like they are 25. Over and over again. The age before is known as the Age of Mortality where things like antibiotics were necessary and falling off a building wasn’t sport it was suicide. The characters in the book are far enough removed from this age to find the concept of a headache beyond imagining.
Citra Teranova and Rowan Damisch are our primary threads throughout the course of the novel. However, there is input from Honorable Scythes that separate the chapters, taking the form of journal entries (more on this in a bit). When we open, Honorable Scythe Faraday has separate interactions with both of our hero(in)es. Due to these meetings, both subsequently become apprentices to the scythe. At this point you might be asking what exactly does that mean? Why do I keep repeating that word? Well, scythes are the only people allowed to kill in this reality. Because of the ever growing, never dying population, control must be extolled in some manner, right? Scythes are legally sanctioned to kill and they have quotas to meet (just like all of us in our real jobs! Scythes are just like you and me!) (Except they’re really really not.). Citra and Rowan say good-bye to their families and begin their training in the arts of killing.
One of the things that I like about this tale is that even though these people are not able to die (they call it “splatting” after which they are taken to revival centers which do exactly what’s in their title), they still view life as precious. Taking it permanently gives them reservation. They are not impervious to their consciences. The same cannot be said of all characters. Those peeps are juicy and crazy in equal amounts. Anyway, Rowan and Citra are training under Faraday when some mischief happens and they are sent to be mentored elsewhere. What I haven’t told you is that not all of Scyethdom is happy with the fact that the scythe has taken on more than one apprentice. In fact, it is something that has never been done before. As such, it is determined that they will not both be accepted into the fraternity. One will have to glean the other. These humans have become so detached from societal killings that they are no longer referred to as murder but as being gleaned.
All of this happens pretty quickly in the novel and it is mystery and intrigue and life lessons from then on. The pair are made to part and train with different scythes. What is interesting here is that we see the training style of not just one scythe but three (potentially more…read and find out). These three scythes are the ones who make the journal entries between chapters, mentioned above. This give us a chance to see not just Citra and Rowan’s views of this vocation, new and inexperienced, but also the older generation who have been doing this for many years and have a very different perspective.
What transpires from there in the story is too good to spoil. Just know that these characters, in particular Citra, are very relatable. Readers get to experience so many different thought processes about what it means to be legally authorized to kill. When you think about what they are doing and the fact that they are in their mid-teens on top of that, it really gives you pause. Not only are they teens but they are teens amongst elders centuries old. Society has gotten to the point where the Thunderhead (having graduated from a cloud) is the foremost authority on societal control. There are no more cops because the Thunderhead prevents crime. There is no more government because it was proven they were all too corrupt to lead and the AI could do it better. Countries are now regions, continents grouped in accordance with geography. The world that Shusterman creates has an explanation for all of the ways the world has evolved.
At first I was worried that it wasn’t going to be good and be really predictable. But there are a couple of twists that throw you off course and make you recalibrate how you view this world. For example, the scythes to which Citra and Rowan are transferred both operate very differently not only from Scythe Faraday but also from each other. The moral dilemmas that they face independently turn out to be really fascinating to read through. It is very obvious to me why this book was on so many Best of 2016 lists last year. Pick it up and give it a read. Would you be able to kill for the greater good?