Thunderhead by Neil Schusterman
Publisher: Walker Books
Publication date: 12 July 2018
Genre: YA science fiction
Page count: 528 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
This is a spoiler-free review for Thunderhead, however it will contain major spoilers for Scythe. You can read my review of the first book here.
I make no secret of the fact that I was hugely let down by Scythe, one of the major YA releases of 2018. I loved the world and society, the concept of the Scythedom, and the secondary characters Faraday and Currie. However, I absolutely could not stand our protagonists Citra and Rowan. They are so boring, so flat, so wildly uninteresting and their romance is about as exciting as watching paint dry. However my friend encouraged me to take a chance on Thunderhead, the second book in the trilogy, because Citra and Rowan continue to be separated after the events of the first book. And wow, I really owe her for telling me this because I really enjoyed Thunderhead, contrary to all my expectations!
Rowan has gone rogue, and has taken it upon himself to put the Scythedom through a trial by fire. Literally. In the year since Winter Conclave, he has gone off-grid, and has been striking out against corrupt scythes—not only in MidMerica, but across the entire continent. He is a dark folk hero now—“Scythe Lucifer”—a vigilante taking down corrupt scythes in flames.
Citra, now a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, sees the corruption and wants to help change it from the inside out, but is thwarted at every turn, and threatened by the “new order” scythes. Realizing she cannot do this alone—or even with the help of Scythe Curie and Faraday, she does the unthinkable, and risks being “deadish” so she can communicate with the Thunderhead—the only being on earth wise enough to solve the dire problems of a perfect world. But will it help solve those problems, or simply watch as perfection goes into decline?
The best thing Schusterman could have done for this story was separate our protagonists — this really made the book work for me. The two of them working for the good of the Scythedom in two very different ways added so many layers to the story and made things a whole lot more interesting. Were there things that I didn’t like about the book? Sure! Rowan is still an obnoxious edge lord who could honestly be cut from the entire trilogy without making a huge difference (or at least from this book). There some unintentionally comedic moments, particularly at the en (possibly courtesy of the audiobook narrator, who was mostly good but sometimes a little overly dramatic). And most importantly, I didn’t love the big reveal. However, the changes in the Scythedom, the shifts in society, and Citra’s own acceptance of her new life were absolutely fascinating. The inclusion of the Thunderhead’s thoughts was my favourite part — I’m a sucker for AI and I absolutely loved the Thunderhead. In many ways, Schusterman elevated Thunderhead to a much better story than Scythe by cleverly building on the strengths of the first book.
I didn’t love Citra’s character in Scythe because I thought she was so dull. However, she grows so much as a character between these two books and I absolutely adore her now. I really loved the way she settled into her new identity, from her gleaning practices to her right to keep the Scythedom honorable, and she becomes such an interesting and compelling person — it’s like she came to life in Thunderhead. She feels like a great match for Scythe Currie and you begin to understand what Currie saw in Citra in the first book. Citra is clever, she is compassionate, and she proves it over and over again.
The less said about Rowan the better. He continues to be the worst.
Overall, Thunderhead may take the prize as the most surprising sequel of the year! I’ve purchased a copy of The Toll, the final book in the series, and I am actually really excited to read it! I’d highly recommend the audiobook of Thunderhead, although it did take me awhile to get into it, because the narrator does a really great job with all the characters and conveying all of the conflicting emotion.
Want to pick up a copy of Thunderhead for yourself? You can find it at the following sites (affiliate links):