Neal Shusterman: Scythe (Arc of the Scythe #1)

Title: Scythe (Arc of the Scythe #1)
Author: Neal Shusterman
Genre: Science Fiction, 21st Century Young Adult Literature
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: November 22, 2016
Source: Personal Copy
Format: Hardcover; 978-1-44247-242-6; $18.99
Pages: 435
Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Summary: 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. (via Goodreads)

Review: Plain and simple, I loved this book. Shusterman paints a vivid and living world in which humans have finally conquered nature and its inevitable mortality. However, immortality, eternal youth, and plenty come with a price–an ever-growing population and people who just. won’t. die. This social problem sparks the creation of the Scythe, a holy order of men and women tasked with gleaning the world’s citizens–and they must do it without bias, without hatred, and without desire.

Shusterman is very skilled in building a world that is at once familiar and foreign. It is rich with life, vibrancy, and fosters a story and tension that possesses a realism that a lot of science fiction fails to. This world-building is aided by Shusterman’s rich description, emotion, and introspective moments that call us to question the nature of the human condition and what it is to die–in all its beauty. Because of these themes, I came to view death, life, and human nature in a new light.

The character development in this book is also quite good–each character has a distinct personality all his/her own and the reader will have no difficulty in getting to know main as well as minor characters. Particularly for the scythe community–who act almost like a holy order of priests–priests of death–these robed, liminal figures even stand out, and are the highlight of the book, with a culture so dark and fearsome, but necessary. One of my favorite characters is the “Grand Dame of Death” Scythe Currie. She is one of the most principled but human of them all, in spite of the fact that the world bends over backwards to please any scythe that walks by (people hope that by doing this they will not be gleaned, but it’s always in vain–just like if you resist, your whole family will be gleaned along with you as punishment). She takes on an apprentice named Citra after her original teacher is believed to have gleaned himself (suicide for a scythe), and she molds Citra into a skilled and morally upright student.

Then there is Rowan–the rebel. The one who questions everything and everyone. He opens readers up to the darker and more dangerous side of the sythedom–those that enjoy gleaning–which is a violation of their moral code. When Rowan (who originally shared a teacher as an apprentice alongside Citra) is taken on by a bloodthirsty Scythe Godard, be hones himself into a killing machine with a growing penchant for revenge against the man who would turn him into a monster. He also sees a growing corrupt presence in the scythedom that must be checked, and his teacher is at the heart of it.

Both Citra and Rowan, the people that surround them live and breathe off the page. Their interactions, growing friendship and the rift that ends up dividing them is full of palpable tension, affection, and struggles that make you want to see them succeed.

My only gripe was the typos or errors throughout the book. I’m hoping it was just my copy, but the errors jarred me out of immersion to the point where I feel it warranted the loss of a star. I hope the next book will receive better editing.

I absolutely adored this book and can’t wait for the next. I’ve placed it on my favorites shelf and so should you.

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