Scythe & Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman | Series Review

January 29th – February 1st
★★★★☆

February 2nd – 8th
★★★★☆

I bought Scythe at New York Comic Con in October of 2017. It was Sunday, the last day of the convention, and the publisher had a discount on the books. I picked it up and turned it over in my hands. I had heard some things about it on YouTube and I had seen the striking cover floating around on Goodreads. The woman at the booth told me that it was the last copy, that it had been selling really well and it was apparently amazing. I bought it, because it was only $10, and I stuck it on my nightstand. It stayed there, covered in mostly empty cans of seltzer, until the end of January, when I picked it up. I wish that I had picked this up earlier. This book was unexpectedly complex, and had far more depth than I was anticipating. It was exactly what I needed at the time.

The main setting of Scythe is this: the “cloud” as we know it today has transcended and become an all knowing being called the Thunderhead, though it is not vindictive against humans. It knows that it was built to protect us and help us in any way it can. It can redirect weather, disperse earthquakes into smaller, non-lethal earthquakes, and it is always watching and protecting. Because of this, humanity has moved past the “mortal age” into their current immortality. People can be revived easily and painlessly. They have nanites implanted in them which do things like adjust their metabolism to keep them in peak physical shape and adjust their hormones so they do not become depressed. The one thing the Thunderhead will not do is take life. Instead, that job has fallen to the Scythes. Scythes are the only people with permission to kill. This method of killing, referred to as gleaning, is a process which all Scythes have a quota for in order to keep the population of the world at a sufficient and sustainable level. The method that Scythes use is entirely up to them. Some prefer poison, some prefer weapons, some prefer mass gleanings of a lot of people at once.

At this point, if you don’t want spoilers, you should probably stop reading.

Our story follows two main characters, Citra and Rowan, as they become apprentices to Scythe Faraday, one of the more respected older Scythes. Since no Scythe before has taken on two apprentices, it is determined by council that whichever of the two becomes a Scythe, their first act will be to glean the other. This has major ramifications, causing Scythe Faraday to kill himself in order to try and free his two apprentices. The plot only thickens from there, Citra is taken under the wing of Scythe Curie to complete her training, and Rowan is taken by Scythe Goddard. Goddard is ruthless, and a part of the “New Order” of Scythes who want to abolish quotas and kill for pleasure. Curie is of the “Old Guard” who think that killing is still the heaviest thing they do and take no pleasure in it. 

The two Scythes have very different methods of cleaning. Curie prefers to glean randomly, in suburban neighborhoods, and then cook the grieving families dinner. Goddard does terrible, mass gleanings where he clears out an entire plane of passengers or a mall food court. These allow him to hit his quota (given to him by the Scythes above him) but still “enjoy” killing as he says.

Citra and Rowan are subjected to training by these two methods of teaching. Citra learns about the importance of gleaning, but the respect it deserves, all while trying to research who she thinks might have murdered Scythe Faraday. Rowan becomes hardened and agile. He does his best to ignore Scythe Goddard’s methods of gleaning, knowing that he would be different when he becomes a Scythe.

From here, the book and the universe expand further. In both books we get more insight into the process by which Scythes are chosen, the little amount that they are able to use the Thunderhead, and about the radical Tonists, the last religion in the world.

These books were very well done. They weaved together a complex storyline which I was not expecting from their size. Some of my favorite aspects were the journal entries which we get in between chapters. In the first book, they’re from Scythe Curie, with some from Faraday and Goddard. In the second book they’re from the Thunderhead itself. I love the religious parallels this book has, and how direct it is. I like that the Thunderhead is not vindictive, but supportive and doing its best to help all of humanity. I like the idea of the Unsavories, a whole community of people who do not want to be good people, but can still function in society.

I rated both of these books with four out of five stars. They’re fast paced, fun, and compelling to read from start to finish. The first book propelled me right into the second book, which ends on a cliffhanger that we need to wait almost a year for.

I highly recommend reading both of these books if you’re looking for some fun, slightly dystopian fiction set in the near future. 

-Siobhan