My greatest wish for humanity is not for peace or comfort or joy. It is that we all still die a little inside every time we witness the death of another. For only the pain of empathy will keep us human. There’s no version of God that can help us if we ever lose that.Scythe by Neal Shusterman
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.
I admit that while I truly enjoy dystopian books, it is not the kind of genre you will find me reaching towards most. It is no secret how much I love fantasy. But Scythe had been on my radar for so long that I was beginning to feel really guilty for not reading it so I finally went for it. And man, am I glad I did it.
This is the first book in a trilogy and it presents an incredible premise. Basically humankind has evolved to a point where mortality is long forgotten. With the technologies developed through the years diseases, war, famine or any of the tragedies that plagued human life are now non-existent. People don’t even have to worry about being run over by cars anymore because they will just be taken to the closest revival center and be back on their feet in no time. There are also no governments, only the Thundercloud, which is a benevolent AI that watches and takes care of everyone. But of course there’s still the very real problem of population control. It doesn’t matter if human beings want to live forever, at a certain point there won’t be enough resources for everyone. So, in order to ensure that control the Scythes were created. They alone hold the power to glean (which means permanently kill) and they have their own code of ten commandments to ensure that a matter such as taking lives won’t be taken lightly.
In this book we follow along Citra and Rowan, two sixteen-year olds MidMerican teenagers who are selected by Honorable Scythe Faraday as his apprentices. And it is under his strict code of morality and empathy that both teenagers learn the immense responsibility and heartache that comes with being a dealer of death. An important lesson to take to heart for the sake of humanity. Not all Scythes are like Faraday however and through Citra and Rowan’s first Scythe conclave we discover the complex politics and the differing ideologies that divide the Scythedom. When the pair of teenagers find themselves split apart by a tragic turn of fate, they are pitted against one another in a competition where only one of them will become a Scythe. And it is now up to them to decide whether they silently fall in line with the rest of the Scythedom or rise up to promote a much needed change. The story is told in chapters alternating between Citra and Rowan’s third person narration, interspliced with journal entries from different Scythes throughout.
I’m going to start with the characters for this one. I just loved them so much! Citra, Rowan, Faraday, Curie…they were all so unique for me. Citra is honestly so inspiring with how headstrong she is, she bravely stands up for what she believes is right no matter the circumstances. Rowan has always felt left out and unimportant his entire life but proved himself to be extremely compassionate and so so strong, he honestly goes through so much in this book, so many horrible scenarios and the fact that we get to see and experience it all through his eyes, being able to sift through his thoughts and feelings, made the whole thing that much more palpable. He honestly deserved so much better. The relationship between him and Citra for me felt that much more powerful and genuine because of their own personal growth and struggles. It always left me wanting so much more. These two characters challenge and compliment each other; There is no sappy romance or cheesy dialogues instead, the both of them are driven by their desire to do right by the world, doing whatever they can and dealing with whatever the consequences might be. Faraday and Curie are two of the best Scythes to ever exist and their compassionate and careful conduct is what we would hope all Scythes would follow.
The world-building was impressive. Neal presents every important aspect to us, making sure that we are well situated and prepared so that we are able to comprehend why things happen the way they do in a world that is so different from ours.
And holy moly let’s not even talk about the endless plot twists in this little gem. There are so many of them that I honestly felt like I got whiplashed. Neal provided those twists with such dexterity, I am still appalled by them.
And while I absolutely love the characters, the fantastic plot twists and the world the one thing I truly loved the most about this book was the humbling examination it provides concerning mortality, morality and the meaning of life. The scenario we are presented with is one of absolute stagnation, where everyone lives in endless comfort. Human beings stopped striving for things because there is no more reason to do so. Everything you can learn has already been learned humanity won all wars and solved all mysteries.
It really begs the question: if you can’t die, if that inevitable fear that comes with the promise of mortality, doesn’t exist then what is the point of living? What is the point of acquiring knowledge if you already have all the information at your disposal? If you don’t have problems to solve? It seams to me that if you can’t die, if death doesn’t exist to bring a necessary balance to life, then we lose our purpose in it.
This book made me think and feel deeply and I love that. I cannot recommend it enough.