Scythe ~ Neal Shusterman (Arc of a Scythe #1)


June 17th, 2018 update: So, after a lot of angry rants to myself in my head and to my family (who don't care and just wish I'd stop complaining about a book they haven't read and aren't going to), I have dropped a star from my already somewhat low rating (3 is fairly low for me, okay). This book is just trying too hard in all the wrong places, and not trying enough where it matters. The world makes no sense, the characters suck, the themes are too vague, and the humor fell flat. Honestly, I don't see what people like about this, let alone love. If you want to see my angry spoiler rant, then click here and click to see the spoiler. The only reason why this is 2 stars now is because I liked the journal entries and I liked Rowan. That's it. They each get a star for getting me through this piece of trash.


I don't even know what to begin with. There's simultaneously too little and too much to say. I don't know if I'm disappointed or pleasantly surprised. I think I'm both, somehow.

We are not the same beings we once were.

So then, if we are no longer human, what are we?

The Writing

I'm sure that not all copies are this way, that some proofreader realized the horrible mistake that had been made and fixed it, but my copy was littered with typos, incomplete sentences, and improper punctuation. It begs the question, especially considering the glaring worldbuilding inconsistencies and plot holes: was this book proofread at all before publication?

The writing itself, ignoring the distracting errors, was fairly subpar, pretentiously lyrical at times, and unimaginatively boring at others. There were lines that were very good that I really liked, but over all, there was nothing special about Shusterman's writing style.

The first half of the book was so insanely boring and slow. So much could have been done in it, like clarifying the world or building the characters (like actually giving them any physical descriptions, for one thing), but instead it was used to force a completely unnecessary cringey love story in which 16 year olds acted like they were 11 or 12 around each other.

Dialogue was very stilted sometimes, going so far as to bring the world into greater question than his poor worldbuilding already had. Take this exchange for instance, when Goddard is introduced:

"There he is!"

"It's him!"

"He's so handsome!"

"He's so scary!"

"He's so well-groomed!"

Goddard took a moment to turn to the crowd and sweep his hand in a royal wave. Then he focused on one girl from the audience, held her gaze, pointed at her then continued on up the stairs, saying nothing.

"He's so strange!"

"He's so mysterious!"

"He's so charming."

Let me remind you, ladies and gentlemen, that these speakers are immortal citizens living in a highly technologically advanced utopia. And yet they all act like cartoon caricatures. He does write at one point, "Immortality has turned us all into cartoons," but he was referring to how people return from death(ish) easily, like a cartoon (or more accurately, a video game character), not his own wooden characters.

There were a few characters, who I will discuss specifically in the "characters" section, who felt real and well rounded (for the most part).

"Rightmindedness is overrated," Goddard said. "I'd rather have a mind that's clear than one that's 'right.'"

The themes of this book were in direct conflict with one another. At times, there appeared to be a level of grey morality and ambiguity which I appreciated, because it opened the door for greater discussion about what constitutes right and wrong, and whether morality is subjective—but then Shusterman introduced the Thunderhead as a morally correct entity incapable of making mistakes or errors, which implies black and white morality. So which is it, Neal? Which idea are you pushing? Which theme are you attempting to advocate? The effects of perfection, social stagnation, immortality, the potential for decadence and moral disregard for human life, and government sanctioned ritual killing on human nature were barely explored, if at all.

Being made to suffer pain frees us to feel the joy of being human.

I absolutely loved the journal entries, though! Those were great!

The Worldbuilding

The world was very poorly built in my opinion. It wasn't until more than halfway that any clear understanding of what exactly the Thunderhead was was explained, and even then, I'm still confused. It was marketed as a dystopia, but the regular world itself is a Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and The Giver merge smashed into a utopia with the Scythedom being the dystopia, and yet didn't come to a clear thematic consensus like those two other books did.

The world was plot hole ridden. A particular problem I had was the mention of "bots", used primarily as a running gag. These bots were integrated into society, seemingly human in appearance and behavior, and yet people were also completely aware of, and unperturbed by, their existence. Their purpose was never made known (though one was said to be a Bokator training bot). Their existence in the narrative only raised questions, none of which were answered.

Also, it wasn't ever made clear how far familial relations extend for Scythe immunity. Sometimes it was those living in the household, other times it was immediate relatives.

The governmental system, law enforcement, and the nature of the human condition were totally vague the entire book. People were all seemingly completely content in their lives with an AI at the helm of the whole world. There was a running joke of how there's no government, but obviously there is, since every single society requires one.

The Tonists felt tropey, contrived, and frankly, offensive. Religions likely wouldn't just disappear in the advent of immortality, and I really doubt the one that emerged would be about sound, especially given the world Shusterman created. I can think of many possible religions, and yet none were used.

As a sci-fi, it was just poorly done. He threw out some fancy mumbo jumbo and expected me to accept that this is a sciencey world? I could barely remember it was in the future until he reminded me with words like "chickenoid" and "Israebia".

The Characters

Citrus: Citra was really annoying. When she wasn't being a brick, she was a hollow log. She was self-centered and petty.

Rowan Whitethorn: I actually really liked Rowan. It was basically solely his scenes that drove me to finish the book.

Obi Wan Kenobi: Good ole Scythe Faraday was somewhat of a wooden plank, but he was pleasant and I liked him.

The Dark Lord: Goddard was very tropey, and occasionally very interesting, but ultimately just tropey.

(I tried to think of more funny alternative names, but I couldn't come up with any)

Curie: Her physical description was literally just the leader of District 13 in the Mockingjay movie. She was interesting and I liked her.

Volta: I really liked Volta. He was very thought provoking and I appreciated him.


Over all, I liked it enough, and I'll probably read the sequel, but I'm so disappointed in all the missed opportunities.

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