Book Review: Scythe

Scythe by New York Times-bestselling author Neal Shusterman


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.

(Via Goodreads)

About the Author

Neal has made his mark as a successful novelist, screenwriter, and television writer. As a full-time writer, he claims to be his own hardest task-master, always at work creating new stories to tell. His books have received many awards from organizations such as the International Reading Association, and the American Library Association, as well as garnering a myriad of state and local awards across the country. Neal’s talents range from film directing (two short films he directed won him the coveted CINE Golden Eagle Awards) to writing music and stage plays – including book and lyrical contributions to “American Twistory,” which is currently played in several major cities. He has even tried his hand at creating Games, having developed three successful “How to Host a Mystery” game for teens, as well as seven “How to Host a Murder” games.

(Via the author’s website)

My Impressions

Never before have I read a Neal Shusterman book before picking up Scythe, but some of my friends who’ve read his Unwind series have told me how much they liked his work. As I wandered around the YA section at my library, aimless and not even expecting to find something good to read, I saw the top half of the word ‘scythe’ on the spine of this book (half hidden by the library sticker), so I picked it up because scythe and then the cover bore a stylized grim reaper, so of course it caught my interest. I almost didn’t have to read the blurb to know I would take this book home with me.

Later, as I was getting out of my car, I noticed the excerpt on the back, detailing the Scythes’ Commandments:

Thou shalt kill.

Thou shalt kill with no bias, bigotry,
or malice aforethought.

Thou shalt grant an annum of immunity
to the beloved of those
who accept your coming…

Thou shalt kill the beloved of those who resist…

I shivered, because now I knew I would love it.

Scythe immerses readers in a future utopia of immortality where things look radically different from our current mortal viewpoint. The musings of these characters on humanity’s past, as if they could not comprehend mortality, as well as what the future might hold should current circumstances continue, fascinated me. Such little underpinnings brought this imaginary and unlikely world to more brilliant life, even as the main characters grew and changed and altered their own destinies in the overarching plot. On that note, I appreciated the development of the two main characters, Citra and Rowan, much more than I expected I would. They begin as very different people, almost stereotypes painted in broad strokes. However, their actions drive the plot forward even as the story events shape them in turn. The people who they become at the end of one year look different–capable, lethal, complex, and complete.

Neal Schusterman often cleverly reveals through character imaginings how a plot like that of Scythe might typically go, only to hand-wave those possibilities aside and produce better, unexpected twists. As an avid fiction reader who often finds the same tropes just rearranged, I welcomed the knowing wink and nod as the narrative produced fresh motifs with a small, cheeky ta-da. I don’t often go in for overt light vs. dark, good vs. evil stories, but Scythe maintains a subtle balance between these tension points, building them slowly to an epic crescendo of symbolism. The ending left me feeling both satisfied and eager for the next series installment.

I recommend Scythe for readers who enjoy thoughtful philosophical exploration, grim reaper aesthetic, subtle dystopia, and clever plot twists.

My rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads rating: 4.35 stars

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