In Neal Schusterman’s book, Scythe, mankind has conquered disease, poverty, even death. The story takes place in MidMerica in the year 2042, when people can turn back their biological clocks at will, the world is run by a benevolent AI known as the Thunderhead, and death, true death, is administered by an elite and secretive group known as the Scythedom.
The plot concerns two teenagers- Rowan Damisch and Citra Terranov, both of whom come in contact with the honorable Scythe Faraday, and are invited to become his apprentices. The thought couldn’t be more unappealing to both of them, even though the job comes with some serious perks, including immunity for their whole families from being gleaned (killed) for as long as either Rowan or Citra are scythes. Still, they both reluctantly agree to become apprentices, and they begin their training.
Then, at the Vernal Conclave, when all the Scythes from MidMerica meet to discuss business and test/ordain apprentices, something happens. Rowan and Citra are pitted against one another, and the results of failure for each of them is death, plain and simple. The story moves on from there as Rowan and Citra begin to train separately, each struggling with their own internal battles. And while Rowan trains with a group that wants to transform the Scythedom to a new, darker version of itself, Citra trains with a Scythe legend who helps her see the business of gleaning in a different light. Everything comes to a head at the Winter Conclave, where Citra and Rowan face their final test, and the question of who will be awarded the title of Scythe, and who will be gleaned is finally answered.
I found Scythe to be an excellent read. It’s the first book of a new series by Schusterman, and the ending, while satisfying, certainly leaves room for other books (and I look forward to reading those too). The characters are well-developed, and the plot moves at a fairly brisk pace. I really enjoyed some of the questions the story posed, like: what would life be like without the foreknowledge that death is imminent, and to what extent should people be given power over the lives of others. I suppose that you could take the story at face-value and just enjoy it for what it is, or you could dive a bit deeper and try to answer some of the questions the story asks. I like a book that challenges the reader like that.
Neal Schusterman lives in Southern California, and has written numerous books, many of them award-winners. Scythe is a Printz Honor book, and as I said, the first book in a new series.