Book Review: All Systems Red by Martha Wells

Only seven chapters long, ‘All Systems Red’ moves along at a snappy pace, following the tale of Murderbot, an angry, dismissive robot learning how to deal with autonomy and other people during crisis. Can relate.

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All Systems Red by New York Times-bestselling author Martha Wells

All Systems Red Synopsis

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

(Via Goodreads)

About Martha Wells

Martha Wells has written many fantasy novels, including The Books of the Raksuraseries (beginning with The Cloud Roads), the Ile-Rien series (including The Death of the Necromancer) as well as YA fantasy novels, short stories, media tie-ins (for Star Wars and Stargate: Atlantis), and non-fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel is The Harbors of the Sun in 2017, the final novel in The Books of the Raksura series. She has a new series of SF novellas, The Murderbot Diaries, published by Tor.com in 2017 and 2018. She was also the lead writer for the story team of Magic: the Gathering‘s Dominaria expansion in 2018. She has won a Nebula Award, an ALA/YALSA Alex Award, a Locus Award, and her work has appeared on the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick Award ballots, the USA Today Bestseller List, and the New York Times Bestseller List. Her books have been published in eleven languages.

(Via Martha Wells’s website)

My Thoughts

How All Systems Red wound up on my Goodreads TBR list is a mystery to me. I suspect I must have seen one of my friends mark it as Read and seriously liked the description, which hints at an angry, dismissive robot learning how to deal with autonomy and other people. Can relate, so I snagged it from my local library.

I was not, however, expecting a novella. All Systems Red is only seven chapters long, about 160 pages, but what an excellent clutch of chapters. Tor will be releasing three more novellas of The Murderbot Diaries throughout this year and I already have the sequel, Artificial Condition, on order. I had never even heard of Martha Wells before, but I believe I’ve just become her newest fan.

What I Liked

Over-Arcing Content

With the constraints of the limited page amount, the plot of All Systems Red moves along at a snappy pace, wasting no time with extraneous details or fluff. Yet it avoids sacrificing important story aspects like emotional investment, character development, and plot twists. It’s interesting from start to finish, cleverly revealing bits of the universe through relevant character thoughts, dialogue, and setting description.

Characters

The main character of All Systems Red, which calls itself ‘Murderbot,’ has more personality as an android than many of the main characters I’ve read in the past. It’s shy, smart, and youthful, has interests, opinions, and wit, and embodies a certain sense of true asexual, aromantic, gender neutrality. The story happens in first person and Murderbot makes a point of indicating that it has zero interest in sex or romance, which is the kind of main character I want to read! Skip the romance fluff and get down to important things, like group dynamic observations and interactions or Big Questions. Murderbot also represents a recognizable dynamic of the Millennial generation — under-educated, over-competent, and winging it at any given moment.

The rest of the crew surrounding Murderbot shines each in their own way. Based on the names, readers can divine a diverse group in ethnicity alongside Murderbot’s observations of their eclectic gender orientations and futuristic lifestyles. Many ladies populate the crew, receiving action, agency, and voices throughout.

Motifs

The spacefaring interplanetary exploration motif put me just a little in mind of the beginning of the movie Alien, but with the draggy elements cut out. The plot features a good mix of exploration, action, and mystery.

The Ending

At first I thought the ending of All Systems Red would be just okay. There are big and small resolutions that tie up the plot itself quite neatly; however, the way things appear to go at first leave Murderbot’s personal issues somewhat reconciled, but certainly not complete or satisfied. I greatly preferred the way the plot actually ends, transferring into a sequel with a little meta tag as the last word. I’m considerably more satisfied with the way All Systems Red subverts typical short-story ending tropes, but I recognize such success arises from the opportunity to continue.

What I Disliked

Perhaps because of the point of view of Murderbot, who doesn’t care about distinguishing human characteristics, it was at first hard to tell the other characters apart. Yet as the plot progressed, it became easier to know who was who based on dialogue, actions, and group dynamics, so it doesn’t remain a problem for very long.

The explanation of Murderbot’s crew identity came off as a little convoluted so that I’m still not quite sure what the narrative meant to relate about their background. Possibly a reread would solve that problem, though.

Recommendations

I recommend All Systems Red for fans of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot and the world setting of the Alien movies franchise (minus the alien horror aspect), as well as for readers looking for a total lack of romantic subplot in science fiction.

My Rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads Rating: 4.15 stars


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Book Review: Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

While I don’t quite agree that ‘Thunderhead’ beats ‘Scythe,’ they’re absolutely comparable in terms of quality. 

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Thunderhead by New York Times-bestselling author Neal Shusterman

Thunderhead Synopsis

Rowan has gone rogue, and has taken it upon himself to put the Scythedom through a trial by fire. Literally. In the year since Winter Conclave, he has gone off-grid, and has been striking out against corrupt scythes—not only in MidMerica, but across the entire continent. He is a dark folk hero now—“Scythe Lucifer”—a vigilante taking down corrupt scythes in flames.

Citra, now a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, sees the corruption and wants to help change it from the inside out, but is thwarted at every turn, and threatened by the “new order” scythes. Realizing she cannot do this alone—or even with the help of Scythe Curie and Faraday, she does the unthinkable, and risks being “deadish” so she can communicate with the Thunderhead—the only being on earth wise enough to solve the dire problems of a perfect world. But will it help solve those problems, or simply watch as perfection goes into decline?

(Via Goodreads)

About Neal Shusterman

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 Neal Shusterman’s website)

My Impressions

For a reader, an entertainment consumer of any stripe, really, hyped up claims about a new release tend to disappoint. I picked up Thunderhead from the library because I liked the prior installment, Scythe, enough to devour the last chunk of it in one Saturday afternoon (even with my Work In Progress judging me from my writing desk). But when I read somewhere (an offhand comment? an official review, maybe?) that Thunderhead surpassed Scythe, I became wary. When does book two in a trilogy compare with the first? Rarely.

Yet I found myself pleasantly surprised. While I don’t quite agree that Thunderhead beats Scythe, they’re absolutely comparable in terms of quality.

What I Liked

Over-Arcing Content

The narrative of Neal Shusterman’s Thunderhead brings expanded perspective to already established lore, homing in on previously mentioned sects like our wonderful and terrible Scythes, the religious Tonists, and a new class, the rebellious Unsavories. It touches on many aspects of what it means to be human in an immortal world, recognizing the need for deific reverence, rebellion, and guidance.

It also covers the perspective of an entity that recognizes itself as not God, but which concludes that it might as well be. It also begins to relate more and more to the humans which it protects as it discovers within itself the ability to experience betrayal, anguish, fury, and helplessness.

Characters

Citra Terranova and Rowan Damisch, or rather, Scythes Anastasia and Lucifer, pick up with coming into their own separate but intertwined callings, each becoming more formidable and dangerous in the realms of politics and shadows. Scythes Curie and Faraday continue to impact Thunderhead‘s narrative, inciting change in the same vein as their protégés.

We meet a few new characters as well, including the Thunderhead itself, (the musings of which replace the Scythe gleaning journal excerpts present in Scythe), as well as Greyson Tolliver, a boy raised by the Thunderhead and used as an extension of its will. (Jesus son of God metaphor, anyone?)

The villains, whose identities I cannot spoil because it’s a huge reveal, get a little more focus as well. The allowance of a passionate and intelligent female villain satisfied me very much, and I do hope she gets a long existence of betrayal and revenge.

Motifs

The “war in Heaven” motif that grew present toward the end of Scythe becomes even more apparent with the insertion of the Thunderhead’s point of view on the increasing division between new order and old guard Scythes. Even without the blunt function of having Rowan use Lucifer as his Scythe name, it’s pretty clear that this immortal world stands in for Heaven and the divided Scythes represent pre-Fall angels and devils.

The Ending

That ending. Hard on the heels of triumph comes disaster, relating in loving detail and fabulous pacing the follies of humanity. The denouement events stirred my anxiety and had me on the edge of my seat during my lunch break. I had meant to cut that break short to make up for lost paid time, but I literally couldn’t stop reading Thunderhead until I finished it. Delicious anguish, tagged with a note of hope. The cliffhanger has its hooks in me and I must know how this series ends. No doubt, I will be picking up book three, entitled The Toll.

What I Disliked

Without revealing any spoilers, I at first disliked the beginning of the villain arc. It seemed clichéd, just a trope that’s become a recognizably lazy storytelling insertion. But as Thunderhead progressed, Shusterman proved himself capable of handling a worn out trope and sparking new life into it.

So it grew on me and I no longer have much of a problem with it at all.

Recommendations

I recommend Thunderhead to readers of thought provoking, philosophical fiction, compelling narratives, and examinations of the human condition.

My rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads rating: 4.54 stars


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Book Review: Valiant

A study in edges, where Faerieland meets big city, where drug addiction meets magic, where homelessness meets whimsy.

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Valiant by #1 New York Times-bestselling author Holly Black

Synopsis

When seventeen-year-old Valerie runs away to New York City, she’s trying to escape a life that has utterly betrayed her. Sporting a new identity, she takes up with a gang of squatters who live in the city’s labyrinthine subway system. But there’s something eerily beguiling about Val’s new friends. And when one talks Val into tracking down the lair of a mysterious creature with whom they are all involved, Val finds herself torn between her newfound affection for an honorable monster and her fear of what her new friends are becoming.

(Via Book Depository)

About the Author

Holly Black is the author of bestselling contemporary fantasy books for kids and teens. Some of her titles include The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), The Modern Faerie Tale series, the Curse Workers series, Doll Bones, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, the Magisterium series (with Cassandra Clare) and The Darkest Part of the Forest. She has been a a finalist for an Eisner Award, and the recipient of the Andre Norton Award, the Mythopoeic Award and a Newbery Honor. She currently lives in New England with her husband and son in a house with a secret door.

(Via the author’s website)

My Impressions

It turns out that Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie actually exists as the second in Holly Black’s Modern Faerie Tales series. Not that it mattered much, as this story stood on its own quite splendidly. The narrative may have made one or two references to Tithe, its predecessor, but clearly I needn’t have read it to understand Valiant, because I absolutely took these out of order.

The undertone of Valiant puts me in mind of Maggie Steifvater’s Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie, one of my absolute favorite books — it displays a similar raw hunger, oozing pure enthusiasm if not finesse. An obvious representation of Black’s earlier offerings before experience could smooth out the edges of her style. The narrative itself is a study in edges, where Faerieland meets big city, where drug addiction meets magic, where homelessness meets whimsy. In that regard, it displayed a remarkable likeliness to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere.

I enjoyed how such a jagged demeanor overflowed into the main character, Val, and her total jock attitude. Not only does the narrative not focus on refining her into something more feminine, it makes a point of proving how her masculine interests and behavior become integral to the plot’s resoluation. She herself grows increasingly liminal, bearing a unisex name and wearing a unisex identity, until she seems mutable enough for anything and anyone. Capable of navigating the fine line between the mortal and Faerie worlds thrown together in the shadows of New York City.

I would recommend Valiant to fans of Neverwhere, urban fantasy, and angry girls.

My rating: 4/5 stars
Goodreads raiting: 3.91 stars


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Book Review: Nightstruck

I dust my hands of this nonsense.

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Nightstruck by Jenna Black

Synopsis

It starts with a cry in the night.

Becket, walking her dog one winter evening, fears it’s an abandoned baby left out in the cold. But it is something else—something evil—and it tricks Becket into opening a doorway to another realm, letting a darkness into our world, a corruption that begins transforming Philadelphia into a sinister and menacing version of itself…but only at night.

The changes are subtle at first, causing Becket to doubt her senses and her sanity. But soon the nightmarish truth is impossible to deny: By day, the city is just a city, but at night it literally comes alive with malevolent purpose. Brick and steel become bone, streetlights turn into gallows, and hungry alleys wait to snare mortal victims. Terrified citizens huddle indoors after dusk, as others succumb to the siren song of the night, letting their darker sides run wild.

Once, Becket’s biggest problems were living up to her police commissioner father’s high expectations and a secret crush on her best friend’s boyfriend. Now she must find a way to survive and protect her loved ones…before the darkness takes her as well.

(Via Goodreads)

About the Author

Jenna Black is your typical writer. Which means she’s an “experience junkie.” She got her BA in physical anthropology and French from Duke University.

Once upon a time, she dreamed she would be the next Jane Goodall, camping in the bush making fabulous discoveries about primate behavior. Then, during her senior year at Duke, she did some actual research in the field and made this shocking discovery: primates spend something like 80% of their time doing such exciting things as sleeping and eating.

Concluding that this discovery was her life’s work in the field of primatology, she then moved on to such varied pastimes as grooming dogs and writing technical documentation.

(Via author’s website)

My Impressions

Picked Nightstruck up by accident. I was shooting for another Holly Black book and took this one home, thinking a concept like a city filled with monsters at night would be spun gold in Black’s capable hands. But I missed again and only realized I’d picked up Jenna Black after I left the library.

Oh well, might as well give it a shot, right?

Interesting concept, boring execution. The main character, Beckett, has almost zero impact on the events of the plot, spends most of her time pining after a boy who has all the personality of a piece of paper, and precedes far too many sentences of her internal monologues with the phrase “as the police commissioner’s daughter…” The narrative itself involves so much exposition that it almost physically hurts to read as the tension drops over and over, often culminating in Beckett deciding to do nothing for the 37th time. Things don’t even begin to get interesting until the end, but by then I was so exasperated with Beckett that I didn’t care. It ends on a cliffhanger; I won’t be picking up the sequel.

I dust my hands of this nonsense.

Next!

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Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie by Holly Black and Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

Book Review: Nyxia

A swift, fun read with plenty of twists and surprises, cunning strategic moves, and touching moments between characters.

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Nyxia by Scott Reintgen

Synopsis

Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why the Babel Corporation recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family.

Forever.

Before long, Emmett discovers that he is one of ten recruits, all of whom have troubled pasts and are a long way from home. Now each recruit must earn the right to travel down to the planet of Eden—a planet that Babel has kept hidden—where they will mine a substance called Nyxia that has quietly become the most valuable material in the universe.

But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. And Emmett will face the ultimate choice: win the fortune at any cost, or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise what it means to be human.

(Via Goodreads)

About the Author

Scott Reintgen was always a back-row dreamer. As early as kindergarten, teachers noticed his tendency to stare out of classroom windows and disappear to more interesting elsewheres. In high school, he began laboring away on the opening chapter of his first fantasy novel. One of his favorite English teachers agreed to read the pages and the very next day she switched him (illegally) out of Spanish and into a Creative Writing class. The story got tossed eventually, but he never lost the confidence he was given by that single act of empowering faith.

Convinced he would one day be a writer, Scott spent most of college and graduate school investing in the world of literature. This eventually led to a career teaching English and Creative Writing in North Carolina. He strongly believes that every student who steps into his classroom has the right to see themselves, vibrant and victorious and on the page. It’s his hope to encourage a future full of diverse writers. As he’s fond of reminding his students, “You have a story to tell and you’re the only one who can tell it.”

(Via the author’s website)

My Impressions

At the same time that I picked up Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince (my review about which you can read here), I also picked up Scott Reintgen’s Nyxia, which happened to be displayed on a nearby shelf and had lovely dark cover art. The blurb was just The Hunger Games enough to catch my attention, but Emmett, the main character, sold me on the first page. He has attitude, sharp perception, and a unique perspective. He bears the burden of an atypical (and personally familiar) dysfunction, which he must learn to overcome as he battles for even a chance at success. Plus, he listens to music constantly and, honestly, can relate.

What a clever little tale Nyxia turned out to be. Reintgen’s science fiction involves three things: a new planet capable of supporting life, a new species with particulars about alien ages, and a new substance called nyxia. With those three elements, he creates an experience removed from contaminating outside variables, and boils down the narrative to pure competition. Not precisely for life itself, but for money, which might as well be the same thing. Yet within that competition and within the expectations of science fiction, the perspective of Emmett has the focus on the characters more than on the particulars of the genre. His attention explores the evolution of each character as they struggle toward the whisper of something beyond mere fiscal sustainability: meaningfulness.

I appreciated the even gender representation as well as the platonic nature of the relationships Emmett developed with (most of) the female characters. Curiously, the love interest doesn’t appear until halfway through the book, implying that Reintgen means to develop their romance slowly over the course of what I assume will culminate in a trilogy. The story itself was a swift, fun read with plenty of twists and surprises, cunning strategic moves, and touching moments between characters. I’m genuinely curious about how things will progress in the next book, because Nyxia ends not only on a satisfying overarching cliffhanger, it also leaves the fate of one of the more beloved side characters in question. I expect I’ll be picking up the next book to find out.

I recommend Nyxia for fans of The Hunger Games and competition-style stories, as well as for those who enjoy light and creative aspects of the science fiction genre.

My rating: 4/5 stars
Goodreads rating: 4.11 stars


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Book Review: The Cruel Prince

I recommend this book. I just do. But it’s especially appropriate for lovers of faerie fantasy, political intrigue, brutal, bloody struggles, and powerful women. 

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The Cruel Prince by #1 New York Times-bestselling author Holly Black

Synopsis

Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

(Via Goodreads)

About the Author

Holly Black is the author of bestselling contemporary fantasy books for kids and teens. Some of her titles include The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), The Modern Faerie Tale series, the Curse Workers series, Doll Bones, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, the Magisterium series (with Cassandra Clare) and The Darkest Part of the Forest. She has been a a finalist for an Eisner Award, and the recipient of the Andre Norton Award, the Mythopoeic Award and a Newbery Honor. She currently lives in New England with her husband and son in a house with a secret door.

(Via the author’s website)

My Impressions

The Cruel Prince came to my attention through an Amazon suggestion based off my interest in the The Language of Thorns (and you can read my review of that Leigh Bardugo short-story collection here). I had thought I read three of Holly Black‘s books already, but it turns out AshesMonsters, and Drowning Instinct instead come from author Ilsa J. Bick, who often shows up on the shelves next to Holly Black. All this time I believed I’d tried Black‘s books and decided they weren’t for me.

Oops.

I am, however, incurably attracted to urban fantasy capital F Fairy Tales revolving around European faerie folklore set in modern times. Someone–might’ve been Maggie Stiefvater, might’ve been another writer whom I admire–endorsed The Cruel Prince on social media, so after that and Amazon’s suggestion, I figured I’d give it a try. The Cruel Prince went straight into my to-be-read pile and soon thereafter right into my hands.

Let me tell you, I’m honestly angry that I got Bick and Black mixed up for so long because I lost so much time that I could’ve been reading Holly Black‘s delightful prose. Beyond her masterful handling of story, her complex and interesting characters, and her intricate weaving of intrigue, she nails modern telling of faerie tropes. The Cruel Prince itself takes place in the hauntingly beautiful land of Faerie, centering around the descendants of recognizable folklore figure Queen Mab, as well as focusing on the circumstances of humans living there alongside its denizens as second-class citizens.

I loved the entire story. The narrative of The Cruel Prince often appeared as one thing only to reveal itself as something darker, more secretive, more seductive, holding the reader at a cliff’s edge, always threatening to let go. I saw myself in Jude, the main character, who wanted to fit in with greatness and had to discover her true aptitude to even begin to fulfill that desire. Watching her grow and change into someone dangerous and deadly left me feeling savagely pleased with her unconventional choices in the pursuit of power. So the story not only takes place in a setting I’ve wanted to see written but written well, it also explores a plot to match the aesthetic of that cruel and wicked world. It lovingly lingered over its female characters, giving them voice, strength, cunning, and daring, but also allowing them to exhibit faults and disappointments. I love all of the ladies and their contributions to the story.

I recommend The Cruel Prince. I just do. But it’s especially appropriate for lovers of faerie fantasy, political intrigue, brutal, bloody struggles, and powerful women.

My rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads rating: 4.21 stars


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Book Review: Scythe

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

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Scythe by New York Times-bestselling author Neal Shusterman

Synopsis

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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