Book Review Science Fiction

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Title: SCYTHE
Author: Neal Shusterman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 9781442472433
Genre: YA Science Fiction

Back Cover Blurb

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. They learn living in a perfect world comes only with a heavy price.

What I Thought

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!

The premise for SCYTHE is a really good one. It comes across as being unusual—here we have people who train to deal death as a means of culling the growing population in a world were everyone is, technically, immortal. This is a story that should have everything going for it. Sadly, however, the author fails to deliver on a rich promise in a satisfying or fulfilling way and the awful black and white view on morality is absurd for a so-called utopian vision. 

Which brings me to the utter lack of world building. There is none!

The author has decided his audience is savvy enough to know when he says death has been conquered through technology, he doesn’t then have to explain how, he just mentions everyone has ‘Nanites’ in their system that takes care of everything … including death. But there is no science to back this up, nor how the ‘Cloud’ now called the Thunderhead, became self-aware after amassing the sum of all human knowledge.  We just have to accept that this is already canon.

Why, for example, are the Scythes allowed to ‘glean’ at random, with any weapon they choose? And by what mechanism did the Scythes come into being, as a group, to begin with? 

Also, let’s take about the main characters of Citra and Rowan. Here we have two stand-ins that could have been lifted from the pages of either DIVERGENT or THE HUNGER GAMES. Neither of whom stand out in any way. Lacklustre at best, paper-thin at worst, they are a vapid means to an end when it comes to vague storytelling. 

Oh, and don’t get me started on one of my pet-peeves: insta-love. The pair are devoid of any chemistry, but that’s okay, they still ‘fall’ in love anyway. This is just sloppy, lazy writing. 

Then there are the secondary characters, who come across as animated caricatures. Take the buffoon High Scythe who, despite programable nanites to take care of his health, decides he wants to be middle aged and overweight. Then there is the psychopathic serial killer bad guy, Scythe Goddard, whose Harry Potter blue robe glittering with diamonds, goes around murdering gleaning at will—en-masse—with impunity. Because these people have no depth of character, no background, or emotive context, their actions come across as simply crude and shocking. 

Like the teens who think it’s funny to leap out of tall buildings to ‘splatt‘ on the pavement below, because they’ll get great ice cream at the revival centre. And besides, they’re not really dead, just almost dead. You know, because of the nanites. Who in their right mind thinks this is okay? What’s also sad is that this kind of senseless writing is gifted praise and garners prizes.

In the end this came across as a pointless, overly long story, full of plot holes, aided and abetted by a lack of characterisation, with dull plodding prose, and utterly no world building whatsoever. While the best parts of Scythe—the journal entries and the two scythes, Faraday and Curie—to my mind, were never fully-realised, which is a shame because I think I would have liked their story better.

This is one weird-assed dystopian-utopia that went ‘splatt‘ on the pavement from utter ennui!

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