Scythe is the first in the Arc of a Scythe series, set in the distant future where death has all but been eliminated thanks to technology and the Thunderhead which rules society. However, death is still necessary, which is why some people hold the honorable position of Scythe and ‘glean’ a certain amount of people each year. Rowan and Citra, two unsuspecting teenagers, are chosen to apprentice as scythes and see everything that goes on in the ever-mysterious scythedom.
Thunderhead is the sequel to Scythe and the middle book in the Arc of a Scythe trilogy. Here things have taken a darker turn–one of our beloved characters turning vigilante to take out the evil scythes, the other trying to promote good within the scythedom. Meanwhile, the thunderhead watches without being able to respond due to the separation of Scythe and State.
When I first started reading the series, I thought I’d wait until I finished the series to do a proper review. However, after the whirlwind of the last book, and not currently having access to The Toll, I wanted to write my thoughts down before I forgot anything.
First, I want to start off by saying that I thought the general idea behind this series was brilliant. Though the series is classified as dystopian, it could be seen as utopian, the way death and disease have been conquered. I’m sure we would all love that about now in the world we’re living in!
I also fell in love with the characters almost instantly. Cira can be hotheaded and stubborn, but she wants to fight for the good. Rowan also wants good to win, and in the first book at least, he’s sweet as can be. I love seeing the two growing together (and apart) and how their relationship shifts with each situation. Yet, despite everything, they never give up on each other.
Honorable Scythe Faraday might just be my favorite character. He is a walking contradiction, endlessly patient and exasperated. He tries his best to be a good mentor, though there are times he falls short–just like any human being. Honorable Scythe Curie is another great mentor. For some reason, I picture Maggie Smith as her, like a great Scythe McGonagall. I also love seeing how Curie and Citra’s relationship grow from mentor-mentee to two friends.
The villains are people that are easy to hate. They are tell-tale love-to-hate characters. Goddard promotes the ‘New Order’ of Scythe, thinking scythes should love what they do. They should be able to go on mass gleanings, slaughtering hundreds of people at once. He also clearly craves power and manipulation. His junior scythes obsess over him and his ways–except Scythe Volta, who seems to have a conscience. Scythe Rand also seems to be gaining a sense of guilt in the second book, though she has done some truly terrible things. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forgive her, but I sense maybe a redemption arc headed her way.
Finally, the Thunderhead, while not much of a character in the first book, comes center stage in the second. Perhaps that is because the book is named after it. After each chapter throughout Scythe, there was a journal entry from a scythe, capturing their emotions on the events that will happen in the next chapter. It’s a great way to see into different perspectives, dig deeper into the character, and provide a sense of foreshadowing. In Thunderhead, the computerized sentient being known as the Thunderhead is the voice behind these journal entries. We see how it talks about its pondering of humanity to its sadness to its anger. I believe the events of this book changed the Thunderhead massively, which sets the stage for The Toll.
I also loved the plot twists in both books. Without spoiling anything, I can say for a fact it will be hard to see what’s coming next if you aren’t prepared for it. There is love, heartbreak, betrayal, unlikely alliances, and pure chaos. Especially in the last few chapters of the Thunderhead.
Not to mention the brilliant way a nursery rhyme with a secret code was implemented. I really hope we see more of that in the next book and what the characters do with the new information.
All of this praise aside, there are a few reasons I would choose to give the books four stars instead of five.
Perhaps it is personal preference, but I’m not sure I liked a new character perspective popping out of nowhere in the Thunderhead. Greyson Tolliver did have a really important part to play, and it led us to perspectives of both the Unsavories and the Tonists. Also, the way the book ended showed that Greyson is going to have an even bigger role in the next book. But I am too attached to Rowan and Citra. Sometimes it felt like Greyson’s perspective was just taking away from them. The way Thunderhead ended, I can’t even begin to guess when, in what perspective, or how the next book will start. I just pray it’s not a time jump. In my experience, whenever a story fast-forwards years it just automatically goes downhill.
There were also a few plot flaws. In the Thunderhead, Goddard makes Rand check to make sure a council decision was never communicated. Yet, later, Curie says she hope the decision was communicated and her handprint would go through–and it did go through! Therefore, that leads me a little confused on to whether MidMerica knew of this decision or not.
I also think Rowan’s character deserves better. He didn’t seem to get a lot of perspective in the latest book and his personality seems to only be getting worse. I suppose the events he went through can harden a person’s heart, so there’s points for being realistic. But, his decisions always make me ache because I want him to be happy and do what’s right, and I don’t want people to hate him!
Still, this series is full of thrills and twists and is really enjoyable to read. I highly recommend Scythe to those who love YA reads, dystopias, science fiction, and plots with a good versus evil theme.
“Neal Shusterman is the New York Times best-selling author of over thirty novels for children, teens, and adults. He won the 2015 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for Challenger Deep—and his novel, Scythe, was a 2017 Michael L. Printz Honor book—and is in development with Universal Studios as a feature film.”
Watch the book trailer here.
Neal Shusterman’s twitter here.