In a world where immortality means death is no longer natural, scythes are employed to keep the population under control. Rowan is a typical middle child in a big family whose life flies under the radar. Until the Honorable Scythe Faraday notices him and asks him to become his apprentice. Citra excels at school and when a scythe comes to their house just to have a meal with them, she can’t help but question his behavior. They both — reluctantly — end up as apprentices to the same scythe and are dropped into a world of death, pain, grief. They must learn how to kill, but also be compassionate. Scythe Faraday believes that a scythe shouldn’t enjoy killing.
But Scythe Faraday is old school, and there are newer scythes who think that there are too many restrictions, that there are better interpretations of the scythe 10 Commandments. When conclave arrives and Citra and Rowan must take their first tests of their apprenticeship, events go poorly and they learn the hard way that death has become a political battlefield.
The premise of SCYTHE is interesting and author Neal Shusterman does his best to explore the issues and potential fall-out. Rowan and Citra live in a world where medicine and science have advanced so far that humans can live forever via a medical procedure that makes them young again. There are no governments, only the Thundercloud, which is a benevolent AI that knows what everyone is doing, prevents crime, calls the ambulance in case of accidental ‘death’ (which people can be regenerated from), and generally prevents poverty in a growing population. Where the Thundercloud doesn’t cross the line is choosing who to kill, because now that there’s no natural death, the population still needs to be kept under control. So the scythes were created as an independent body. With the power to kill.
There are limitations, of course, and most scythes take their job seriously. But they are set apart from the rest of the world, unable to have love or a family, with a yearly quota to fill. Who to kill is up to them, but it’s based on how people died in previous centuries. Like I said, they take it very seriously. I enjoyed how Shusterman explored what it means to be a scythe, the details surrounding the structure and commandments, the people themselves who are called to kill others, how they would be regarded by the general population, and how being a scythe could change a person.
I don’t want to spoil it too much for you, so I won’t go into detail about what will happen, but Shusterman tells an engaging story about two normal kids in an abnormal situation. He dives right into the story and at first you’ll be a little side-tracked by the lingo, but you’ll catch up quickly. The pace is consistent and exciting — although it does lag a little in the middle when you’re ready to get to the good part — but he has some twists you may not see coming that will keep you reading clear until the exciting end.
Citra and Rowan are likable, and they feel realistic in their situation, even if the situation is far-fetched, itself. Their character arcs are believable and satisfying as they struggle with the realities of scythedom and what it means to kill others, even if it is sanctioned. The supporting characters are well drawn and recognizable, and the villains are understandable (if not worthy of empathy).
Sometimes Shusterman stretches believability, but it’s easy to just read the story for what it is: a fun, entertaining, YA novel. The copy I had contained a book club question guide. It might be worth discussing with a group because of its themes of morality, death, and what it would really be like to live in a utopia.
- Recommended Age: 14+
- Language: Very little
- Violence: Lots of death, and while it can be disturbing and bloody, it's not particularly gory
- Sex: Ambiguous references