Monday, 17 July 2017

Scythe, Neal Shusterman

"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" 
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.

* * *
3 / 5 

I've been wanting to read Scythe for a while for several reasons: (a) I enjoyed Shusterman's book Unwind, (b) I love the cover of Scythe, (c) the premise sounded really, really awesome. And the start of Scythe was really, really good. In a world that has surpassed mortality, where one can turn back the biological clock and become physically twenty again, where the only people who can truly kill or "glean" are the scythes, Citra and Rowan are taken on as apprentices.

Citra comes from a small loving family. It's just her parents and younger brother Ben under one roof, she does well in school, and has various hopes and dreams for the future that, funnily enough, don't involve gleaning. Rowan has a large sprawling family (his grandmother looks twenty five and has a robot boyfriend) and he refers to himself as a "lettuce kid", the unnoticed one in the family. Both catch the eye of Scythe Faraday and are taken on as his apprentices to learn the arts of killing.

"Scythe Curie seemed a mix of many emotions, but she folded them all away, like clothes that no longer fit, and closed the drawer. Citra expected she never spoke of this to anyone else and would probably never speak of it again"

Like I said, I loved the premise and the setting. Did it make proper sense? Probably not, but it was interesting and fun, so who cares? The world is managed by the Thunderhead, the internet become self-aware, and the Scythes are the only ones beyond its benevolent governance. To keep the world's population under control scythes glean people, permanently kill them, according to the ratios and causes under which people died in the Age of Mortality. They can grant immunity from gleaning by having someone kiss their ring and they are ruled by Ten Commandments. 

The book is third-person narrative, roughly alternating between Citra and Rowan, though I think Citra gets the lion's share of the pages. There's also entries from the journal of Scythe Marie, the Grande Dame of Death, interspersed between the chapters, adding an element of philosophical thought and musings on death, duty, and life. 

"Mortals fantasised that love was eternal and its loss unimaginable. Now we know neither is true. Love remained mortal while we became eternal"

Unfortunately, Shusterman, for some unknown ungodly reason, decided that to spice up the decidedly boring middle section of the book (there's a lot of training scenes), he would add the world's most unconvincing romance. As characters Rowan and Citra are alright, nothing particularly inspired but not too annoying either, but their romance was so incredibly unromantic, unemotional to the point that I completely forgot that Rowan has such a wild, passionately romantic love that he wants to die for Citra, about 75% the way through. Wait, why is he doing that, I asked myself for a minute. Oh, oh yeah, they're in love. It's so forgettable. Shusterman would have done much better to add some actual plot substance, tension, or anything to incite any emotions in me at all, in the middle.

It picked up again towards the end and I was genuinely surprised and pleased by the ending. I think that Scythe had a really awesome and decently-executed idea behind it, but it was too slow in the middle to the point that I went through chunks of the book with zero emotional reaction. 

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