In a seemingly perfect world, where there is no conflict and no disease and mankind has conquered even death (thanks to self-healing nanites within our bloodstream) the only real concern is population control. And even that isn’t a worry for most, because it is the Scythe’s job to randomly cull (or ‘glean’) the populous. The Scythes are professional assassins, working to their own twisted code of honour, and teenagers Citra and Rowan are about to become reluctant apprentices to the ageless Scythe Faraday. Except, when their year of training is over, only one of them can join the honoured ranks of Scythe executioners - and the one who loses must be gleaned by the victor. Even though they know their survival depends on staying loyal to each other, outside forces quickly tear Citra and Rowan apart - because not all Scythes are as honourable as Scythe Faraday. In fact, some Scythes are very bad indeed.
Let’s get the good stuff out of the way first. As a concept, Scythe is fascinating and very, very creepy. Author Neal Shusterman has created a world that is unnerving because it seems so viable, and even though his novel doesn’t have the ‘termination at age 21’ conceit of Logan’s Run, we couldn’t get Logan’s Run out of our head as we read this (which is in no way a criticism). In many respects, Citra and Rowan feel like junior sandmen (or ‘sandpeople’ because Citra is a girl) and the conflict that threatens to crack their friendship (and burgeoning romance) throughout the course of the story reminded me very much of the relationship between Logan and Francis. Maybe we’re just making too big a leap here, but as some have already drawn comparisons between Scythe and The Hunger Games, we thought it was worth throwing another suggestion into the mix. Whatever Scythe’s real inspirations might be, this is terrific world building and even though this is a book that’s aimed squarely at a YA audience there’s a ‘gets under your skin’ sense of sci-fi gothic in this tale that adult readers will enjoy too. Also, the characters of the Scythes themselves are intriguing. There’s a moral ambiguity to their very existence that kept us thinking long after we turned the last page.
But here are the problems: Citra and Rowan are simply not as interesting as everything else that surrounds them, the pace is quite sluggish for a large part of the story, the villains are too pantomime (the Scythe ‘big bad’ is very moustache-twirly) and that ‘burgeoning romance’ we mentioned in the last para sort of spoils any tension the ending might have truly had. And although Shusterman is setting Scythe up as the ultimate dystopia, it doesn’t seem like such a bad place to live if you can forget you might be gleaned at any moment. Oh, and it’s yet another YA novel that’s actually the start of a series, with an ending that didn’t exactly leave us pining for more.
Great idea, but Scythe doesn’t quite make the cut…
SCYTHE / AUTHOR: NEAL SHUSTERMAN / PUBLISHER: WALKER BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW