Late to the game as always, I’ve come to rave and rage about a trilogy. While it is set in the future, Neal Shusterman’s Arc of a Scythe series is a shoo-in for a wonderful point of reentry for Hunger Games and Twilight fans. If you haven’t read a story that keeps you up at night, this trilogy is for you. This series takes place in the future. All problems are solved. There are no illnesses. No wars. And, no famine. No conflicts. Nothing is out of place. Life is looking good. Peeling away layers of a utopian society, readers are bound for a rollercoaster ride of intrigue, energy, and horror.
But First, Series Premise
Arc of a Scythe‘s setting is a futuristic one with technological advancements. Aging is different, with a concept of “turning a corner.” When one turns a corner, they’re able to reset their age back to a number of their choosing. So, death is different. Yep,, death is still a thing. But, it needs planning. That’s where scythes come in. Scythes are death-deliverers. They decide who dies, when, and how.
Power is split between scythes and the Thunderhead. Scythes dole out death and the rest is up to the Thunderhead. As a powerful AI, the Thunderhead acts as a noncorrupt guide to humans. Likewise, Scythes are revered because of the grandness of their job, and the toll it has on them. It’s a system where power is not used lightly. Or so is the audience led to believe (along with the main characters).
Read It For the Worldbuilding
In the vein of popular young adult series, the Arc of a Scythe books have enthralling settings. Neal Shusterman uses a mix of various literary traditions in his books. . With each book, Neal Shusterman expands on the worldbuilding to magnify the scope of scythes and the Thunderhead’s tension. The worldbuilding is functionally concrete. Choosing to sketch setting outlines instead of going in detail makes the series less daunting. It serves as a good starting point to those new to fantasy and dystopia. This writing style freed me from reading fatigue. Instead of info-dumping, the author skillfully weaves relevant details in smaller bites. They were relevant to the plot and to the characters.
On the one hand, you’ll find your focus mostly on scythes as the main characters initially begin there. Shusterman builds upon that foundation by introducing new points of view. It’s delightfully different from traditionally popular young adult series where a single perspective drives the story.
Because of that, the story doesn’t dull over the course of entire books. Instead, the author cleverly uses a unique combination of refreshing storylines. This isn’t going the way you’d expect. One of the main characters, Citra, makes an astute reflection. She calls the scythe community, “high school with murder” (Thunderhead, page 344). Isn’t that the best premise?
Snag the Scythe Trilogy for Captivating Characters
Storylines can entertain but they cannot have weight without memorable characters. At the beginning of the Arc of a Scythe series, Citra and Rowan appear to be traditional young adult protagonist. Stick around for a few pages more and you’re in for a surprise. Their choices and the reasoning behind them add to their stand-out nature. However, if they’re not the characters you like the most, read on. New characters appear with each book. Each character carries a different set of values and I think it mostly works to diversify perspectives.
Shusterman uses the side characters to add dimension to the story. From Scythe onward, the author incorporates journal writings to provide a timeline within which the conflict evolves. It’s clever because it brings enough information for audiences to formulate an understanding of the tension. But, the author also does this without dull info-dumping.
What I love most is how Shusterman doesn’t have a Team Good and Team Bad. With the exception of two characters, every person tugged at my heart with each page flip. While you may guess some character growth possibilities, believe me when I say: you are in for a surprise.
For starters, characters’ motivations don’t always reflect on their actions. Some characters do things to appear a certain way. Shusterman mirrors the complexity of humanity well.
Scoop Up The Scythe Books for Character Show-Downs
For a story dealing with death, Scythe is lively because of its characters. Characters make difficult decisions that propel them deeper onto a path of goodness or villainy. Even then, it’s never clear cut. This applies to main characters and their mentors, too. Scythe Currie, for instance, has a grim history that informs her present attitude towards her job. In turn, she affects the people around her with the choices she makes. As much as Faraday is living a life of simplicity, it’s a response to other scythes lifestyle choices. Whether it’s on purpose or not doesn’t negate the impact he has on his students, who represent the future of scythes.
I loved these minute battles. It was a kin to a game of Tetris. The first few missteps were fine but they soon pile up. Arc of a Scythe has a big cast of characters, many of whom have conflicting ideologies. What I love most is how Shusterman doesn’t have a Team Good and Team Bad. With the exception of perhaps two characters, every character tugged at my heart with each page flip. There are scenes that linger in corners of my brain, and they’ll do the same for you.
Fight scenes are great in the Scythe trilogy but so are the eerie quiet moments. Scythes have training sessions, just like any young adult novel demands of its heroes. Yet, there are thrills in watching terrifying villains too. I won’t get into spoilers, but believe me. The villains here will surprise you. From their weapons of choice to their plans of action, they are well matched with the heroes.
Give Scythe A Shot For Its Angsty A.I.
If you like a conflicted character, read this trilogy. Even the resident AI is having a hard time. On first glance, the Thunderhead appears to be chill. As you read on, the AI’s inner-conflict comes to full view. Sure, it starts out steely and distant. With each page, the façade fades. The Thunderhead is fond of humans, and it is the cutest thing you’ll ever read. With each book, the Thunderhead is saddled with a series of impossible choices. In turn, its chapters carry a philosophical series of debates. As humans, it’s hard to not be invested in our survival had we lived alongside this AI.
Still, it’s not only a hypothetical exercise. No, the Thunderhead will make an impression because of its vulnerability. There’s heartbreak in seeing someone so smart be so helpless. Prepare to read tortured monologues with tears in your eyes. The Thunderhead’s ache rivals Shakespearian tragedies. Take a listen of this sad, sad robot.
Keep in mind that this an AI system. Naturally, you should expect to see your jaw drop a lot! The Thunderhead will do the unexpected. In a way, this robot goes head-to-head with humans and it must guide humans to save themselves. It must first decide if humans are worth saving.
I savored every moment with this AI. The Thunderhead cannot intervene with scythe business. Because of this, there’s a power struggle at the heart of the story. Can a robot with infinite knowledge outsmart mere mortals? And, if so, at what price would this be possible? The old adage goes, “heavy is the head that wears the crown.” How terrifying must it be to have this much knowledge, power, and responsibility? Truth be told, the more I read, the more I realize that the stakes are too high for the Thunderhead to mess up. If you want a self-aware tormented AI, this trilogy is for you.
Reason Arc of a Scythe for a Serious Examination of Mortality
Ultimately, all the previous sections point to the uniqueness of the Arc of a Scythe series. Nevertheless: it boils down to this final element: execution. Neal Shusterman wrestles with mortality and its effects on humanity. He posits the question of the impact of its absence. Not only is the question vastly different from a lot of other young adult novels, but it is also asked in a unique way. This isn’t an easy question to ask. The author treats it with respect, patience, and creativity.
Many young adult novels fixate on the attractiveness of youth but Arc of a Scythe goes moves toward death instead. It breaks the mold by going far from reluctant heroes and an openly villainous system. I like the subtlety of a system opening up as characters begin to ask questions. The characters are not bystanders and they don’t last long in their complacency. It makes sense for characters to grow up fast, especially when life and death are involved.
The relationship between scythes and morality is far more extensive than most tensions in young adult novels. There’s no going back on scythedom. Tragedy is lawfully wedded to this profession. Scythedom is steeped in all things morbid. Readers may initially think this is about deaths. It’s not. This extends beyond quotas and traditions. It effects a person’s morality, mentality, and self-image. At some point, dolling out death appears to have warped several characters’ perceptions of reality. That is one of the best elements of the Arc of a Scythe trilogy. It is an arc and it’s not ending the way you’d think.
Possible Spin-Offs for Arc of a Scythe
Aside from all these fun aspects of Arc of a Scythe, there is the open possibilities the story poses. As much as I love a solid storyline, I like opportunities for fans to interact with the setting and characters on their own. Fandom prolongs the lifespan of a story, and the author left plenty of room for fans to put their own spin on his creation.
There are numerous stories within this world that I want to read. For starters, how did scythes come into existence? What were the early days of this community like? The author features names of modern-day public figures as new names for scythes. As much as I like Citra and Rowan, I would like to hang out with Scythe Beyonce, please.
Here are some more stories I would love to read.
Head Full of Thunder, the Origins of The Thunderhead
Jerico Soberanos’ Romp Around the World
Nine Lives More: The Deaths of Tyger Salazar
Scythe Lucifer’s Quests As Broke Batman
Scythe Currie and Scythe Farraday
A Tale of Purity and Greyson, When Nimbus Met Unsavory
If you haven’t read my previous post, give it a click here. It’s about finding joy in reading again.