2 November 2017
This is the first book I have read of Shusterman, and I have to admit, that I was initially drawn in by the cover of the book, and then by the blurb. This is a YA book, there is no doubting that, but one that is probably for an older YA audience rather than a younger one given the violent content.
It is a difficult book to judge overall as there are a lot of very intriguing aspects to this story, but there are also some flaws to the story, some elements could have been done better.
The story itself is about a futuristic world in which humanity has moved to the point of medical technology so that there is no death anymore, everything can be cured, and so all humans are immortal basically. There are also no governments anymore, everything, and I mean literally everything, food (growing, distribution calculation of requirements for population), transport, (from the cars to the trains to the planes), everything, is looked after by this AI called the Thunderhead. It is also responsible for reviving people if they have an accident, and for when people have reached that point in life where they ‘turn the corner’, it can revitalise them, making them young again.
This was where one of the flaws in the story came up, when we come across one of families in the story, and they live in this big luxurious mansion, better than most families do, because he is very well off, (in a world with no needs or wants, and no economy as such), he is filthy rich, as he is the one working on the technology to make revival technology to make you able to revive younger. But why in a world where basically everyone has EVERYTHING, would there be someone who lives like a billionaire now? It didn’t fit in with the rest of the story.
Returning to the main story, to try and have a semblance of normalcy in this society, it was decreed at some point that there would be Scythe’s, human’s, completely separate to the Thunderhead, who would ‘Glean’ a quota of the population every year. Two teenagers are selected by a Scythe to act as his apprentices, Citra and Rowan, and the main story follows what happens to them.
Without giving too much away, there are Good and Bad Scythe’s, those that ‘Glean’ in a kind and humane manner, and those that are psychopathic killers who have found their calling in life, and the only thing they are upset about is that there is a quota set upon them.
Our two apprentices start with Scythe Faraday, but due to various events, are split up, one with Scythe Curie and the other with Scythe Goddard. Curie and Faraday are of course on the good side (couldn’t have Madam Curie’s namesake as a psychopath), but Goddard of course is pure evil. Scythe’s take the name of someone famous in history, and I guess the relevance of Goddard’s name is that he was never celebrated for his work in rocket engineering, and Goddard believes that he must change the face of Scythdom to fit his image of what a Scythe should be.
How the story all comes about is very black and white, there is unfortunately very little mystery to be uncovered, and the resolution of between Scythe Goddard and his apprentice is somewhat weak and could have been done a whole lot differently, giving the story and the characters some actual depth.
The other apprentice has a little more depth, but there story is just as transparent, whilst at the same time, full of holes. The apprentice shooting the person they were looking for at the house that Curie sent them to, with Curie knowing who was at the house being one of the biggest holes – why would Curie not tell the apprentice who was there? I'm trying not to give too much away – once you read it, you will understand and understand the error.
The ineptitude of the other Scythes was astounding, given their alleged ages and skills/training, that apprentices could either outsmart them, or kill them in some instances.
As was the sheer stupidity and lack of skill of the alleged ‘Blade Guard’, those who were there to look after those whose main job in life is to ‘Glean’ others. Why do they need guards? And if they have them, why are they able to be so easily outdone?
The only characters with any depth beyond a wading pool were Curie and Faraday themselves, and we saw little enough of them, or their relationship.
Having said all of this, this did (and with the sequel to be published), still does, have the potential to be a really fascinating story, it just needs some serious work on the characters to give them some actual depth, and to fix the glaring holes in some of the storylines. Curie’s readings at the start of each Chapter are some of the best bits of the entire book, and show that her character actually is real. This is a really clever concept, but it has not been executed overly well unfortunately, hopefully the sequel is better.