Book Review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman (Spoiler-free)
Scythe by Neal Shusterman has a premise that hooked me instantly. The idea of humans living in a post mortality world where population control must be deliberate, and the philosophical and ethical dilemmas that would naturally come with having to make such choices to me seemed tremendously interesting. In practical application, however? Chunks of this book ended up falling a bit flat for me.
Detached to Serve a Purpose
One of the big reasons Scythe occasionally turned into a little bit of a slog was the overall sense of detachment that the narrative has. The main characters read as very one-dimensional, and the prose itself even feels sort of clinical sometimes. That said, it seems to me that Shusterman did this for a reason. That distance, to me, is clearly a narrative choice, purposely done to highlight the sort of blahness of a world where there’s nothing left to strive towards. Of course the characters would seem flat, because the world itself has nothing left to achieve. There’s no real motivation for anything other than superficial pleasure, and that lack of drive that comes with such a world is a theme that is touched on multiple times. But, useful as this distance may be in establishing that the post-mortality utopia isn’t actually a satisfying world to exist in, in the end it’s not a decision that’s necessarily worked for me in terms of engagement as a reader. The detachedness made it sort of slow to get into, and difficult to grasp on to emotionally.
World Building & Philosophical Struggles
All that said, the world building is really interesting, and ultimately what kept me reading. The idea of the Cloud becoming this sort of all-knowing deity-esque thing that runs this “utopian” world with computational preciseness, and the challenges, dilemmas, failings, and disappointments that go along with it… it’s really all well done. A bit vague on the logistics in some parts, but overall well done. Beyond that, it was the moral and philosophical questions and dilemmas that kept me reading, even as so much of the rest of the narrative felt distant. I also really enjoyed the way Shusterman brought these things up by including excerpts from the journals of several different – and disagreeing – Scythes. Honestly, the journal excerpts were my hands-down favorite parts of the book, and it’s no coincidence that those are the parts of the narrative that feel the least sterile.
Scythe as Set-Up for a (Hopefully) More Engaging Sequel
Beyond that, the best part about this book ultimately is the anticipation for what’s to come in the second. The shifting of the world and the granting of an overall purpose for our main characters at the very end makes me feel like the second book will be the one where I really begin connecting. To me it really felt like this first book was mainly set-up and world-building while the real meat of the emotional impact is yet to come. I’m hoping that as our characters begin to grow and break free of the milquetoast existence of this utopia setting, we as readers will finally get some emotional meat to grasp on to. I just hope I’m not wrong – since I already shelled out for a copy of Thunderhead.
Overall Rating: 3.75/5 stars
TL;DR Summary: Great concept with an occasionally boring execution, but there’s a lot of potential for the sequel to rise above that.
Would Recommend?: Yea, it’s worth a shot if the overall conceit is something that pulls your interest.
Have you read Scythe? What did you think of it, and are you excited to read the sequel?