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BOOK REVIEW: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

| 24 August 2015 | Reply

Margaret K. McElderry Books
September 2015
Hardcover, $17.99
Reviewed by Aly Locatelli


The Scorpion Rules

It wasn’t a global war — more a global series of regional wars. We called them the War Storms. They were bad. The water reserves gave out, the food supplies collapsed, and everybody caught these exciting new diseases, which is one of those fun side effects of climate shift that we didn’t pay enough attention to in the planning stages. I saw the plague pits, I saw the starving armies, and eventually I…
Well, it was my job, wasn’t it? I saved you.

Oh. My. God.

Although I love a lot of books, I am not usually left absolutely gobsmacked by them. The Scorpion Rules, however, is the exception. Erin Bow is a fantastic writer and weaves a wonderful story, managing to make it amusing even in the darkest of times.

The Scorpion Rules is not your typical dystopia. The prologue serves as a backstory, and it shows just how bad things were before Talis, the present overlord, took matters into his own hands. Set 400 years after the melting of the ice caps, the reader is immediately introduced to Talis’s answer to world peace: the Children of Peace. Each nation gives up their prince or princess when they turn five years old, and they go live in a Precepture (a school, a new home, a prison), which is heavily guarded by robots. There is no escape. There is no breaking in. When a nation’s leader dies, the heir can only take the throne when they produce a new heir of their own.

It’s a cruel system, but it works. Most of the time.

Talis made many changes to the world, many things that pushed war toward ritual. The Children of Peace are only part of it, but we are the keystone. Between us and the orbital weapons, the great AI keeps things pretty well in line. What wars occur — perhaps two or three a year — are symbolic, short, and small-scale.

Greta Gustafsen Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan-Polar Confederation, is a hostage, a Child of Peace. She is considered a leader in the group of hostages her own age, and is the only one with any real influence. She has accepted her fate, and embraces it: if needs be, she will die for her nation. It was what she was born to do. If she can make it to her eighteenth birthday, she will be free.

But I was born to a crown. I was born to a fate defined by my bloodline and by the forces  of history. I was born to a duty that I did not choose, and cannot set aside.
I was born to be a hostage.

When Elián, a new hostage, is brought to the Precepture, he fights against the rules and fights against Talis. As punishment, he is forced to wear robotic spiders on his body that will shock him every time he says something treacherous. Yet, he is still not ready to accept his fate. Grown up as a farm boy, Elián wants no part in his nation’s fate.

“I’m so sick of rational. Tell me something rational, Princess Greta. Will your mother let you die?”
Flat on my back in the dust, I answered him, “Of course.”

Greta has never questioned the system or Talis himself. After all, for years and years, the system has worked. Nations were more reluctant to start wars and more states reluctant to refuse reasonable demands. War was mostly avoided and, considering the impacts of war in the past, why would anyone want to change it?

That is, until Elián’s nation declares war on Greta’s nation and attacks the Precepture. Suddenly, not only is Greta’s life doomed, but so is the entirety of Cumberland. Talis is coming, and punishment will be dire.


The Scorpion Rules is a book unlike any other, with characters that feel so real one could almost touch them. It is not a romantic book, although there is an undercurrent of romance (including LGBT, yes!), but it’s a book about the survival of the fittest and how to outwit the wittiest of them all.

Talis is a genius, an ‘evil’ overlord, and yet he is the kind of character you can’t not like. As a lover of all villains, I found myself more drawn to Talis than any other character, and the reasoning behind his actions not only made sense, but makes the reader ask: What other option did he have? Which just goes to show how influential Erin Bow’s writing is. I couldn’t hate him, even though, maybe, I was supposed to.

Not only do we get plenty of backstory and history (that we recognise), but we also get history on Talis’s actions and how his brain works. He is an AI, a human being that has been ‘uploaded’ into robotic form, and he is just fantastic. I can’t stop singing his praises, because he truly is a wonderful piece of work.

Erin Bow has woven a story that, even as it’s unrealistic, feels utterly real and relatable. It’s  an edge-of-your-seat climactic read, which is also wonderfully poignant. A haunting, unforgettable novel that I urge absolutely everyone to read.




Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

About the Author ()

21. A reader, a writer, a reviewer and a full-time sloth lover. I am addicted to coffee and my laptop, and love reading especially when it's rainy outside.

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