'Scythe' Slashes the Competition
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'Scythe' Slashes the Competition

Inside the working of the first book in the 'Arc of the Scythe' series

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'Scythe' Slashes the Competition
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Imagine a world with no hunger, no crime, no disease, no government, and no aging: a real life utopia. Imagine a world where humans have conquered all that there is to conquer on Earth and no questions are left to be answered. This is the setting that one dives into when reading the book 'Scythe' by Neal Shusterman, and right off the bat that causes intrigue. When reading the book, you'll discover that people are able to 'turn a corner,' otherwise known as reverse aging; you can control what your appearance will be like for the rest of your years. Life is so different in this book - one, because it takes place in the distant future - that at one point you will read about a character who dips their finger into disease-ridden waters and then licks it, knowing that the diseases have absolute no effect on them, and they are gleeful about it. Futhermore, there is no death in here... well, not by natural causes anyway.

Here we get into the title of the book; you follow around those who are called scythes, and they act a bit like grim reapers, even though they are still humans. They have no magic ability; they are just trained in many of the different arts of killing so that there remains a balance between life and death. One scythe decides to take on two apprentices, and has them compete for the chance to become a scythe, and the story follows their journeys on this path.

From this point on, there may be some spoilers, so proceed with caution.

It was hard to find something about this book to critique; I found that Neal Shusterman wrote a very compelling first book in this series. He took this dramatic question - what would life be like if humans conquered death - and went to work on writing. Admittedly, I rolled my eyes a bit when Citra and Rowan were starting to have feelings for each other when they barely knew one another - and I don't really feel that they got all that close - but I can let it slide since if I'm putting myself in their positions, they are extremely secluded from their past lives, from family, friends, school, et cetera, so to have another person who is on this journey with you and knows exactly how you're feeling is important. I can accept that narrative. The ending scene itself is something I found ridiculous in a positive sense; I found myself laughing at how perfect Citra's plan ended up being. She got to punch Rowan in the face for breaking her neck but he 'accidentally' kissed her ring in order to gain immunity for a year, prolonging his life, and then he was able to make the getaway. It worked in the sense that I can't wait to read what happens in 'Thunderhead,' but at the same time, it worked out a little too perfectly, and it was silly. I also had an issue with the character of High Blade Xenocrates; he seemed like he was supposed to be a lot more important than he actually was; it's not too great a detail but for someone who goes by the moniker of 'High Blade,' I should expect a more presidential-esque sort of character, but he ended up being manipulated pretty easily. Last thing I wasn't a huge fan of was the fall of Goddard; he's supposed to be the main antagonist of the series and while he lives up to that hype, it felt like he died as if he were Darth Maul (and to be far, he kind of did). I understand why, and the rest of the book didn't suffer for it, but I wish he lasted longer. I'll give Shusterman props for trying something different.

On the positive side, there were so many ups to this book; the first is how quick of a read it was. It's 404 pages long, and the writing itself isn't too complicated; I zoomed through it in three days. Second, you switch perspectives between Rowan and Citra in a way that isn't nauseating; I've read books in the past where every few pages you switch from one character to another to another to another and it gets distracting, but having these two (and occasionally Goddard) is quite refreshing. You spend enough time with both of them to get the feel for their motives and how they psychologically develop into their new roles. They feel like different people, mainly because they are and they go down two different journeys; you almost wonder if you'll be able to trust Rowan by the end with how much he admits to enjoying Goddard's teachings. I wonder how the book would've turned out if Citra went with Goddard and if Rowan went with Curie; would the outcome have been the same, would Citra have been corrupted, would Goddard have lived? These characters, with how they developed, were strong-willed and stubborn, but they were likable; you could feel for them. A third positive for 'Scythe' is how it invokes questions in morals throughout the book. You encounter and get inside the minds of different scythes and how their life's work affects them; some cry at the prospect of killing and others are consumed by sport. You get the hunter perspective with Goddard, and while he is well within the rules (much to his chagrin), it raises the question, is what he doing ethical or is he taking advantage of the system? With Volta, he's conflicted by what his duty is to Goddard, and what he truly wants to do, and in the end he takes his own life because he can't live with the guilt. Faraday may seem poised and dutiful when he gleans, but he still cries whenever he has to. Even in this world where humans control death, we still struggle with the prospect of having to do such a thing, and it's a humbling pill to swallow.

I could go on and on with more about the positives of this book, but this will give you a taste of what's to come. The positives outweigh the negatives in this one, and if you find yourself needing a good book to read, I'd give 'Scythe' a chance.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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