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- “Scythe” is a bestselling young adult science fiction novel.
- I don’t read many sci-fi novels, but I loved the world-building and fast-paced plot in this one.
- I recommend it to anyone who likes “The Hunger Games.“
To be honest, I don’t read science fiction or fantasy novels often. No matter how well-written they are, I sometimes struggle to imagine the elaborate worlds built by the authors, enriched with advanced technology or complex magic.
“Scythe,” a young adult sci-fi book by author Neal Shusterman, was published in 2016 and is the first in a completed trilogy followed by “Thunderhead” and “The Toll.” It’s also currently being adapted into a movie by Universal Pictures.
Before I opened the book, all I knew was that it’s about a world where humanity has conquered mortality and now the only way humans die is by the hands of a scythe – humans who are designated, trained, and spend their lives in charge of “gleaning” people for population control.
Reading “Scythe,” the story follows two reluctant teenagers, Citra and Rowan, who are chosen to apprentice a scythe, even though neither of them wants the role. As they begin to understand the intricacies of scythedom, their journeys are complicated by a stipulation: Only one will become a scythe – and their first act will be to glean the other.
I’m not the only one who’s obsessed with this book. “Scythe” has great reviews – 84% of its nearly 200,000 reviews on Goodreads are 4- and 5-stars – and I couldn’t agree more. This novel is fast-paced, involves excellent world-building, and – you heard it here first! – has the potential to become the next “Hunger Games.”
Here are the three things I loved the most about “Scythe”:
The fantastical world feels a lot like our own, making it easy for non-fantasy fans to follow along.
I generally have a problem with the elaborate world-building in most fantasy and science-fiction novels. Even with beloved high fantasy series like “Game of Thrones” or “The Lord of the Rings,” it’s too difficult for me to keep track of all the different magic, characters, family trees, and histories that are crucial to the plot, making them personally not very enjoyable for me to read.
But in “Scythe,” the dystopia (or utopia, depending on how you see it) is built swiftly and easily: It’s reminiscent of the world we currently live in, but a few hundred years into the future. 2042 was the year the world decided to combine all the information that’s currently stored in the “cloud” into one massive artificial intelligence system known as the Thunderhead.
As the Thunderhead immediately knew the collective knowledge of humanity, it was able to solve world hunger, wealth inequality, and all the other problems in the world. (Sure, you could poke some holes in this, but it’s a YA science fiction novel. I just rolled with the information I was given.)
In this world, there are public cars that drive themselves, people have “nanites” in their bodies that regulate pain and emotion, and there are machines that can reset your age to any time in adulthood. Because this futuristic world felt plausible and familiar, it helped me become obsessed with the premise as quickly as I did.
“Scythe” presents a series of ethical dilemmas that kept me invested in the story.
Most scythes take the responsibility of taking a life very seriously, acting with a reverence for the gleaned and their families. They glean people in a similar ratio to the present-day mortality rate, randomly choose from a group to eliminate bias, and ensure they’re gleaning the population evenly across gender, race, and age.
Each scythe has their own specific method of choosing who to glean. Some strictly follow the statistics of mortality from before the age of immortality, while others choose based on who seems ready to be done with life. Others mirror mass tragedies from history, wiping out hundreds of people at a time, but only a few times per year.
The book poses many ethical dilemmas that I won’t spoil, but the main one is this: How does one person choose when another one should die? I still find myself pondering this question, which is one of the main reasons I loved the book so much, and can’t wait to read the next ones.
This book is incredibly fast-paced and full of plot twists, which made me order the sequel.
I absolutely couldn’t put this book down. Every time the apprentices would seem to conquer a challenge, another one arose. Even in the short moments that seemed like lulls, there were huge overarching problems that needed to be resolved and kept me turning the pages.
My only critique is the book didn’t end in a very gripping cliffhanger. I know which problems will be addressed in the next book (not spoiling anything, promise!) but I didn’t feel the immediate urge to open the next one until I read the description of the sequel.
If you’re looking for a fascinating dystopian science fiction book with all the page-turning excitement of “The Hunger Games,” read this book (and the whole “Arc of the Scythe” series).