Scythe (Arc of a Scythe, #1)

81xxsrsppulFirst Lines: The scythe arrived late on a cold November afternoon.  Citra was at the dining room table, slaving over a particularly difficult algebra problem, shuffling variables, unable to solve for X or Y, when this new and far more pernicious variable entered her life’s equation.

Ok, let’s all agree that Neal Shusterman is an amazing author who is delightfully messed up.  (I mean this as a compliment.)  I’ve read a few of his previous books (Unwind, for example) and they are way creepy.  I love stories about grim reapers, so I desperately wanted to read this.  I just hoped it wasn’t going to give me nightmares.

Citra lives in a perfect world.  There is no such thing as poverty, no such thing as hunger, no such thing as depression or war.  Humanity has even conquered death.  In order to keep the population under control, the only ones who can end lives are scythes, who must follow specific guidelines about how they do it.  Citra and another boy, Rowan, are chosen to be apprentices to a scythe–a job neither of them wants.  They must master taking lives, or they could lose their own.  Who will become a scythe and who will die?

I initially liked the premise that this was about basically grim reapers, only they’re alive and revered like holy men or celebrities (it’s a fine line for some people).  I’ve read a lot of reaper stories, but most of them have to do with ghosts or people thinking they’re crazy.  Which is fine; I really enjoy those.  I probably should stop calling these “reapers” though because they aren’t actually what we think of as reapers.  They’re more like glorified murderers, but someone has to keep the population in line.

This is more of a dystopian/futuristic story, and that lost me a little bit, but I came around to it. I’m not really into sci-fi unless I know I’m getting into it ahead of time.  This was a surprise, though I can’t really say what I thought it would be.  But I eventually settled into the story and liked it.  It was really interesting.

The characters are really what drive the story. Citra and Rowan are clever, flawed, brutal, and compassionate. It’s a really intriguing mix of characteristics for our leads. But even more than that, we have compelling villains that don’t see themselves as villains, heroes who make mistakes, and people who are corruptible but are good at heart. I mean, these characters make mistakes and it feels real.  Just like people, you find yourself making excuses for a character because you know their actions don’t reflect who they are at heart.  That’s some good writing there.

This story tends to explore a lot of deep questions about life, death, and everything in between. It does slow down the action a bit, but it really helps set up the conflicts. And trust me, there’s plenty of action in this story. It’s just a bit more strategic about it.

There’s a lot of commentary here about our society and how our society could change with all these advancements in technology. It’s interesting, but from time to time I did skim over things. I tried not to, but I think it happened more often than I remember. But it was an accident! I’d only realize it later.

Really, this was just fun to read. There was a lot of action and interest, a lot of depth, and great characters. I’m really interested to see where this series goes.  I know it doesn’t exactly sound like it, but I had a hard time putting this down.  There are some really excellent twists in this story, and of course, excellent writing.  I can’t commend that enough.

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