We never know what choices will lead to defining moments in our lives. A glance to the left instead of right could define who we meet and who passes us by. Our life path can be determined by a single phone call we make, or neglect to make.The Toll by Neal Shusterman
⚠️This review contains spoilers for the first and second books of the trilogy Arc of a Scythe ⚠️
It’s been three years since Rowan and Citra disappeared; since Scythe Goddard came into power; since the Thunderhead closed itself off to everyone but Grayson Tolliver. In this pulse-pounding conclusion to New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman’s Arc of a Scythe trilogy, constitutions are tested and old friends are brought back from the dead.
Reading this series was a journey…and I loved every minute of it! The feeling I got from this series is that with each installment the story grew and brought along new stakes and challenges and an even deeper look into the important discussions that were presented to us in the first book. I love when a series manages to complete a full cycle and keeps improving with each book. And that’s what I got from this one: each book adds another layer of complexity upon a foundation that was built on the first book. I was hooked from the beginning and my obsession with the destiny of this story just grew as I flew through the other volumes. But I have to say that out of the 3 books this one, the last one, is definitely my favorite.
Scythe introduced us to scythes, the only beings allowed to glean (kill people once and for all), Thunderhead delved deeper into the self-titled A.I. and how it assisted humans by knowing everything, while we saw the scythedom collapse into political power struggles against the new and old order. The Toll just adds more of everything. It gets all the concepts presented on the other two volumes and builds up on them, going way beyond what I imagined for this conclusion.
One of my favorite things about this book is that the layout is a little bit different than the previous two. The story covers a wider length of time than in the previous two books, and since Citra and Rowan have been frozen in the deepest part of the ocean for 3 years, it also gets split into parts. We get to see what happened immediately after the sinking of Endura and witness Goddard’s rise to power. We see the big and scarring changes that this brings to the whole world, since Scythe’s business affects everyone, and with Goddard in power things become even more dangerous. The Scythes themselves are deeply divided and we get to see things take a greater passive-aggressive (leaning towards aggressive) turn. And then when Citra and Rowan are brought back to life we see how disorienting it is to take all of this in at once.
I feel that this book brought more of human nature to our attention. Since The Thunderhead has turned everyone unsavory people are now absolutely lost and scared. This book is like the culmination of all the problems that were building up throughout the series and now human beings fell what mortals used to feel: fear of the unknown. And with that fear, behaviors that were deemed overcome with immortality, become more apparent in people’s reactions. The Thunderhead hasn’t left them but that’s how they feel.
What I also truly enjoyed is the fact that this book wasn’t focused on Citra and Rowan, but instead each chapter alternates between different characters and what they’re getting up to. We get a wider view on all the events and their repercussions from different points of view and it made me feel that much more informed and inserted in this story.
The characters are absolutely fantastic. The relationship between Citra and Rowan is as gripping as always, Faraday and Munira’s dynamics just flows so easily and we get to see how their quest is going and the revelations are insane! Then we get Grayson Tolliver stepping up to a new role in this book. After the Thunderhead turned every person into unsavories for an undetermined amount of time, Grayson becomes its only link to the rest of the world. The tonists see that as a calling and baptize him The Toll. In their eyes Grayson is a wholly man, and he plays along with it if only to help the Thunderhead do its part in saving humanity. We also get more insight into the inner workings of the AI itself. Again I need to point out how refreshing a take it is on artificial intelligence in sci-fi, where traditionally, AI has been seen as the big bad and ultimate villain that just wants to kill everyone. It’s exciting to read a story that chooses a different path.
We also get introduced to a new character (who is now an absolute favorite of mine and I love with all my heart) named Jerico who is a non-binary character based on the region of Madagascar, where they are from. Madagascar is one of the seven Charter Regions where the Thunderhead employs different social structures, and in this one it is determined that all children are to be raised genderless and forbidden to choose a gender until they reach adulthood. Even then many of them found fluidity to be their nature, like Jerico. It was so refreshing to see gender biases tackled through this character and the conversations they had with others were so eye-opening and inspiring.
For such a big cast, Shusterman does a standout job of capturing the motives of each person. Even the side characters are well constructed and are never used conveniently to push the story forward. Everyone that’s been introduced has a role to play in this and it is refreshing and grounding to see that the fate of humankind isn’t determined by just Citra and Rowan, but instead by all these characters.
By now I feel like I am just repeating myself but I cannot NOT give Shusterman the praise he deserves for the most fantastically woven plots. The ability this man has when it comes to providing the most jaw-dropping plot twists still amazes me. There were problems that were presented on the first two books that I wasn’t even considering anymore, and actually believed them to be completely resolved, and then Shusterman brought them back with twists that I could never see coming.
Shusterman’s trilogy is a masterpiece of clever world-building, dynamic characters and a universe which challenges the moral perception of life and death. This conclusion was everything I could have wished from this series and I could never recommend this enough.