YA Fantasy, YA Sci Fi

My Review: Scythe (Arc of the Scythe #1): by Neal Shusterman

Publish Date: November 22nd 2016
Number of Pages: 435 Pages
Publisher: Simon Shuster for Young Readers
Genre(s): YA Sci-Fi, Dystopian,

Total Star Rating: 4.5 Stars

What It’s About:

In the not too distant future, science has achieved the ultimate discovery; we have finally achieved immortality. With an advanced database named the Thunderhead, humanity has discovered every way in which to conquer disease, illness and even death. Humans have nanites in their bloodstream to keep cells from dying out, control pain and emotions, can allow humans to stay at whatever age they like, and even revives anyone from death, which even leads to suicide as a side hobby, strange as that sounds…Of course, this causes the planet to soon become overpopulated.

To combat this situation, a police-like force named the “Scythe” was created. Like grim reapers, these robed individuals have a code they follow to keep the world from being overpopulated, so they kill or “glean” their selected targets; the method that they choose who lives and dies is entirely up to them. They are the only people not monitored by the Thunderhead, and so are the only people that are legally allowed to kill others, and have them stay permanently dead.

Rowan and Citra, two teens, are chosen to become Scythe apprentices under the older and wise Scythe Faraday, and to eventually be tested to see if they have what it takes to survive and become master’s of death. At the end of their training, they will be tested amongst the Scythe elite, and the loser will be permanently gleaned by the victor.

What I Liked:

  1. The Originality! The concept was absolutely astounding; it really makes you think about mortality, death, and if humanity will ever actually be like this. It was perhaps one of the most original novels I have ever read; It’s hard to really compare this to any other story I’ve read or even watched on screen. But as I get into the next aspect that I enjoyed, I can add that while this book is incredibly enjoyable and entertaining, its not a light read, and had an incredibly dark tone, especially for a YA Sci-Fi/ Fantasy novel. It was completely unexpected, but oh did it make the book that much more amazing in my eyes!
  2. The Social Commentary! This story really makes you stop and think about deeper subjects that are involved with the overall themes of it. Death, of course, is a huge theme in the story, but it also raised the question of how people will use power when it’s in their grasp. Do people break under the pressure, do they keep a highroad sense of responsibility, or do they let the power go to their heads, lose their humanity and become psychopaths? It also explores the idea of technology and when it goes too far, and actually causes society to go backwards. Humanity has always been about innovation and progression; creating the most high tech equipment, finding cures for diseases, ending world hunger, solving environmental issues; but what if we solve these things and it doesn’t actually fix the issue? What if it just creates a new set of issues? This idea is even seen through mankind and it’s many fallbacks. Human Nature is an incredibly complex thing, and really comes through despite all these changes technology brings to our everyday lives. The author presents a hypothesis that humans, no matter what, will fall through the cracks and that there will always those who only find ways to bend the rules and find loopholes, and can good always triumph over evil? Humans are flawed, and technology can help us reach a higher standard of perfection, but should we even go there? Should we play God in a sense, and reach levels that maybe we shouldn’t have even been able to reach in the first place? Like I said, this book really makes you stop and think; it’s more of a mind fuck than you’d ever expect.
  3. The Major Character Development! Rowan and Citra didn’t seem like much at first, but as the story develops into their training, they change immensely and it was so great to read their inner turmoil when they are brought down completely different roads of becoming a Scythe. All the while, both constantly questions themselves and wonder not just whether they want to be there, but also if they deserve to be there. They have a great relationship too; they have easy banter and quickly become close. Their interactions are actually lighter moments of the book, adding humor and some light on the dark, somber tone that this story presents. The relationship is greatly tested when the Scythe society decides that only one of them will become a full fledged officer, and must kill the loser. It’s a dark cloud that hangs over them, despite their growing attraction for each other.
  4. The Slow Building Romance. There is romance, but similar to the book versions of The Hunger Games, but it doesn’t detract from the main story or overpower it in any major way, which I can also appreciate. It’s present, but it doesn’t make the characters not see what else is important going on in the story.

What I didn’t Like:

  1. The Length of the Book…There are some moments in the story that seemed too drawn out, and dragged on for way too long. It’s a 450 page book, and it is pretty slow moving for a big chunk of it, so it could have been condensed in some areas to possibly liven it up a bit more, at least for the slower parts.
  2. The Black/White Heroes and Villains Mindset…While the book is excellent in terms of social commentary and thoughtfulness behind the ideas it presents about progression and death, the heroes and villains don’t exactly have the same attention to detail. specifically, the villains are bad and there’s not too much more given as to why they are that way. They’re bad just to be bad, and I wished that there was more depth to their methods, and more exploration on how their minds worked. I just wanted a little more explanation than what we got.


Overall, what an enjoyable read, and achieves what any piece of art is supposed to accomplish; its causes you to stop and think. It draws you in, and changes you, whether that be in a small or major way. You feel like you may see things differently and either understand or question something more now after viewing whatever work of art did this. While maybe some character work with the villains is needed, it’s still such a thought provoking work of fiction, and one of my top choices to recommend to anyone!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell