Synopsis: Thou shalt kill.
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.
Look at that gorgeous cover.
I really enjoyed the story, but had so many frustrations that I can’t ignore. Some people may disagree with me and that’s fine, there’s a lot of hype. I wanted to like this so much more than I did. Skip halfway down if you don’t want to hear the negatives.
In a “Post-Mortality” world where humanity has beat all forms of disease and death, the only way to die is to be gleaned by a scythe. Citra and Rowan have been selected to apprentice with the venerable Scythe Faraday, but only one of them will become a scythe after a year. The job is necessary for population control, and the best scythe is the one who doesn’t want to do it.
Frustration number one: the scythes around Citra and Rowan are described in detail in regards to their hair colour, robe colour, dominant ethnicity and motives. Citra and Rowan are never given this attention to detail and it drove me bonkers. Not even a hair colour to help me picture them. I would say it’s a stylistic choice, but seeing as others were described it just seems like they were neglected.
There was also no character development. It became hard to predict what either protagonist would do in any situation. I kept getting the sense that things were out of character before realizing that the issue was that neither of them HAD an established character. Their decisions and emotions seemed so random. While the reasoning for Scythe Faraday selecting Citra and Rowan to be his apprentices was somewhat justified by their not wanting to do the job, they could have been anybody.
Their chemistry together was also just assumed and came out of nowhere. What is it about their personalities that made them click? Citra has no personality! At least the romance wasn’t a heavy feature, but I just didn’t buy it.
My second frustration was less of one, and it was simply that I wanted to know more about this post-mortal age. Furniture from the “Age of Mortality” (our time) is described in detail because to the characters it is out of place in their world. For the reader though, the author needs to then in turn describe what Citra and Rowan’s world looks like, and he didn’t. So overall my main issue with this is the lack of imagery the writing called up. The writing isn’t really bad but it wasn’t standout good in a sea of YA. This isn’t the author’s debut novel so I expected more.
Okay now the icky bit is over and here are the positives! The concept is right up my alley, and I enjoyed the plot. It’s a cool idea that no one can die of natural causes anymore, and that there would be some kind of organization responsible for killing people. What I loved most is that they’re humans. The scythes are not some sci-fi magic beings that have special abilities, they’re humans who were called to the task reluctantly, to end people’s lives with dignity (and some with a flair for creativity). Of course this is a breeding ground for the power hungry, but that’s what makes it interesting. I also liked the idea of a utopian YA novel, which I’ve never read before, where the focus is on the few people responsible for bringing darkness to that utopia. There are also some twists and although they’re pretty predictable, they’re still satisfying.
I won’t give away the conflict and whatnot, though perhaps it’s in the synopsis (I never read those if I can avoid it, LIVE FOR THE SURPRISE!), because I thought it was neat. This book has a political element in it that I really appreciated. In other YA series I’ve shied away from these aspects because they usually aren’t that interesting, and seem like a copout for developing good villains. I liked the power struggle in this one, though the villain may have been a bit black-and-white BAD, and we were never allowed to forget that as his arrogance was spattered on every page. Still, I thought Shusterman did a good job there.
Despite my two little frustrations, I would still recommend this book to fans of YA and YA sci-fi. While I’d recommend it with less enthusiasm to people like myself who have a love-hate thing with YA, I’d still say try it.
I’m excited to for the rest of the series.
3.5 Ships- Pretty Decent