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BOOK REVIEW: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

| 1 February 2018 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Walker Books
February 2017
Paperback, $16.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Young Adult / Speculative


Thou shalt kill.

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

While her parents and brother were perplexed and troubled by his comments, Citra understood the point he was making. The growth of civilization was complete. Everyone knew it. When it came to the human race, there was no more left to learn. Nothing about our own existence to decipher. Which meant that no one person was more important than any other. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, everyone was equally useless. That’s what he was saying, and it infuriated Citra, because on a certain level, she knew he was right.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants.

“You see through the facades of the world, Citra Terranova. You’d make a good scythe.”
Citra recoiled. “I’d never want to be one.”
“That,” he said, “is the first requirement.”
Then he left to kill their neighbor.

These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.



Neal Shusterman, author of one of my favourite books (UnWind), returns with a new series, and our teenage main characters have to come to terms with their new jobs in which they kill people for the greater good… because immortality has been achieved but people keep having children, so without scythes there would be massive overpopulation issues.

And it’s pretty decent.

My rating of this book does come with a caveat: since UnWind is a so earth-shattering and shocking, I went into this expecting it to rip me to pieces. This same book from another author, without the huge personal expectations, might have rated 8.5 or higher. It’s hard to say, as a reviewer (as with any reader) only has one opportunity to read a book for the first time, and an expectation does colour your judgement. Suffice it to say the book is definitely well done.

There’s some great worldbuilding here, with a set of rules that make sense both morally and in terms of giving readers an interesting plot.

The Scythe Commandments

  1. Thou shalt kill.
  2. Thou shalt kill with no bias, bigotry, or malice aforethought.
  3. Thou shalt grant an annum of immunity to the beloved of those who accept your coming, and to anyone else you deem worthy.
  4. Thou shalt kill the beloved of those who resist.
  5. Thou shalt serve humanity for the full span of thy days, and thy family shall have immunity as recompense for as long as you live.
  6. Thou shalt lead an exemplary life in word and deed, and keep a journal of each and every day.
  7. Thou shalt kill no scythe beyond thyself.
  8. Thou shalt claim no earthly possessions, save thy robes, ring, and journal.
  9. Thou shalt have neither spouse nor spawn.
  10. Thou shalt be beholden to no laws beyond these.

This book has so many factors that add to the amazing world-building, such as the fact that people have indexes with relation to their racial background. 

“What’s your genetic index?” he asked – a rather personal question, but perhaps it could have some relevance.
He smiled. “Thirty-seven percent Afric descent. Good for you! That’s pretty high!”
He told her that his was 33-13-12-22-20.

(Caucasoid – Afric – PanAsian – Mesolatino – Other)

The index is supposed to keep the world free from cultural and genetic bias, but aren’t there underlying factors that we can’t escape? For instance, who decided that the first number of one’s genetic index would be Caucasoid?

People don’t die naturally – they can jump off tall buildings and become “deadish” but they are taken to revival centres and leave good as new a few days later.

Getting run over by a truck was perhaps the most annoying thing that had ever happened to her. She was deadish for three whole days, and ended up missing every last performance of her dance recital. The other girls said they did fine without her, which just made it worse.

There’s an all-knowing artificial intelligence that stores information, helps people with everyday things, sorts out their revival from deadish status, and is basically involved in everything… except the scythes.

The Thunderhead’s digital memory, Citra came to realize, was structured like a biological brain. Every moment of every video record was connected to a hundred others by different criteria—which meant that every connection Citra followed led her down a rabbit hole of virtual neurons. It was like trying to read someone’s mind by dissecting their cerebral cortex. It was maddening.


Like I said…. so much here in the world-building, and still much more to discover. There are jokes and comments that readers from today will get, while the characters in the book might not. Some interesting ideas are raised in terms of mortality and humanity, and the validity of life without anything to strive for.

Readers are bound to feel for the characters and devour the book quickly, and there are twists and surprises, sad moments and funny moments. But, after Unwind, and going in expecting to be absolutely destroyed, the plot and twists felt predictable and obvious.

While reading Unwind, it was a process of constantly thinking that the twist just experienced was going to be “the” twist, but it always got worse (for the characters), more twisty, more shocking.

So take this into account when entering the world of Scythe, which you should definitely do… Just go in knowing you should not compare it to Unwind.


Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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