Scythe by Neil Schusterman
Publisher: Walker Books
Publication date: 01 February 2018
Genre: YA science fiction/dystopian
Page count: 443 pages
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
This is a spoiler-free review.
Scythe is a book that has taken the UK book blogging community by storm. It is much-beloved by our US pals, and the highly anticipated sequel has just been released in the States. I was really looking forward to this book, however I ended up a little let down by the lackluster characters and plot.
A dark, gripping and witty thriller in which the only thing humanity has control over is death.
In a world where disease, war and crime have been eliminated, the only way to die is to be randomly killed (“gleaned”) by professional scythes. Citra and Rowan are teenagers who have been selected to be scythes’ apprentices, and despite wanting nothing to do with the vocation, they must learn the art of killing and understand the necessity of what they do.
Only one of them will be chosen as a scythe’s apprentice and as Citra and Rowan come up against a terrifyingly corrupt Scythedom, it becomes clear that the winning apprentice’s first task will be to glean the loser.
The first thing that I will say about Scythe is that the world building and background are amazing. I loved the fact that this book is set in a utopia in which mankind has conquered ageing, disease, and death. People can live forever, but only if a scythe does not glean them. Daredevil teens ‘splat’ themselves by throwing themselves from great heights, only to be revived and put back in perfect health. Society is run by a benevolent AI that controls literally everything except the Scythedom. I thought all these things together made for an exciting, refreshing, and fascinating world that I couldn’t get enough of. Reading about this society and the way humans live and ponder death in Schusterman’s world was the best part of the book for me.
In terms of story, I thought the beginning and end of this book were great while the middle bits really dragged. It’s funny because those middle parts should be really interesting. If I sat here and told you what happened, you’d probably think it sounds fantastic! They train in martial arts, study weaponry, and learn techniques for gleaning. However, there is something about these middle sequences, particularly when our heroes are in training, that just felt so unnecessarily long. I love a long book, however I felt that so much could have been cut out of this one.
My main struggles with Scythe were with our two main characters. Citra and Rowan are possibly the dullest characters I’ve read, YA or otherwise, in a very long time. Neither had any interesting personality traits (or personality) to speak of — they were both just so…boring. You would think that becoming essentially apprentices to the grim reaper would cause some internal conflict, but they both manage to get over it and accept it really quickly. They’re brave, kind of. They’re smart, kind of. They are just so…ugh. I feel like they were treated more like vehicles for Schusterman’s brilliant world rather than characters who engage with the world they live in and the plot.
Citra is our cookie-cutter Hermione Granger-esque character. She’s the quiet, smart girl who has literally nothing else going for her — she’s that kind of YA character that Buzzfeed articles make fun of. She has the personality of a wet paper towel. She is forced to give up so much in order to become an apprentice, but she just accepts it all without much of a fight. She had the potential to be such a great female character — all the ingredients were there — but she fell so flat. I can’t really remember any real actions she takes or serious decisions she makes.
Rowan was at least slightly more interesting. Without spoilers, he does end up fighting against his fate in his own way, so at least he has that going for him. But I found his misplaced chivalry so tiresome. I really despise when a male character’s protective instinct kicks in over a woman who doesn’t even want or need his help. To me, his actions showed how little Rowan knew Citra before he decided to become her knight in shining armour. I feel like Rowan is the kind of guy who would befriend a girl, wait around for years for her to decide to sleep with him, and then freak out when she gets a boyfriend (am I being too mean?). At least he has the potential to become interesting in the second book!
It’s a shame we had to focus on these boring teenagers, because I actually found the adults much more interesting. Scythe Faraday and Scythe Currie were both fantastic characters. Although the book didn’t focus on them as much, they both had infinitely more depth than our teenage heroes. I love their backstories and the justifications for their gleaning methods. They added a human element to the Scythedom that Citra and Rowan did not. Can we get a prequel about them, please?
Overall, I thought Scythe had a lot of potential to be great, but was bogged down by lackluster characters and a lengthy, uninteresting middle section. I have a lot more I could say, particularly about our villain, however I want to avoid that due to spoilers. So if you’ve read Scythe, please chime in! I’d love to chat about it.
Want to purchase Scythe? You can find it at the following retailers (affiliate links):
Have you read Scythe? What did you think? Is it in your TBR? Let me know!