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Book Review: The Arc of a Scythe Trilogy

*** This post will be full of spoilers***

I do not think that there are enough words for how much I freaking love this series. I honestly have no idea how I have missed reading this before now but I am so glad that I have now! The world building, character development, a unique story line, and a world that is so unbelievably real! I could rave about this series all day! And guess what.. I am going to spend days writing a blog post about it! 😉

I will say that while many people rank this as a middle t o young adult read, I would never allow a middle schooler to read this series. Ever. While for the most part this is due to the sheer amounts of violence and disturbing material, this series deals with some VERY dark themes and heavy issues that I do not think a middle schooler has the mental capacity for or is just simply ready to read yet. Definitely a high school and older read.

Scythe (Book #1)

Synopsis: 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. Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own. Citra and Rowan learn that a perfect world comes only with a heavy price.

Where to begin with this book.. I honestly have no idea. I devoured this book in about 2 days and I just could not get enough of it.

World building to me is the most important aspect of any book. If I am going to spend weeks reading a series, the world has to be believable and seems to engulf you in the details. A problem that I have in many books is that the world seems to be an after thought and you are never properly introduced to what is unique about this new world. The author just seems to make it up as they go.

Not with this book! As soon as we start reading, we are introduced to key aspects of the society, and even just the brutality of the scythdom. Well really the brutality of this whole universe. I would not want to live in this world. Of course, as you start to read this series, you start to think about what an amazing gift to be able to live as long as you wanted and to be able to look as young as you wanted. A world with no hunger, that is always at peace, and that is free from small unsuccessful governments and leaders. The earth surrendered control to and empathetic and all knowing AI system called the Thunderhead, which oversees everything except for the Scythes. The Thunderhead cannot interfere with any Scythe matters. Earth has become a utopia but it has come at the price of dealing with the ever pressing need for population control which is handled by the order of the scythes. To keep up with the amount of people born and the immortality of humans, there is a certain quota of people that must be “gleaned” to maintain a sustainable environment since all other experiments for life outside of our planet have failed.

We are introduced to this world in the worst way possible: reading about the fear that was struck in families when a scythe appears on their doorstep and yet we are introduced to what an honorable scythe is from the very beginning. A scythe who is merciful but still has to do the job at hand no matter how unpleasant for the family and neighbors.

Also in this book we are introduced to possibly the best villain/worst person ever. Sythe Goddard. He has such a dark and twisted tale and personality that you cannot help but to be forever disgusted by him. And we are only introduced to him in this book.

There are two main characters in this book: Citra and Rowan. Both are chosen to be apprentices to the honorable Scythe Faraday, and begin their very different journeys even though they start in the same spot.

I have three favorite parts of the book and two of them are what made me the most shocked when I read it.

**spoiler section**

  1. When Rowan “killed” Citra in their second scythe trials AND when Cirta granted him immunity in the final scythe trials. I put these two together because they happen at similar events. When Scythe Faraday took on two apprentices, it was unheard of for someone to take two apprentices. So, they were forced to start a competition for the “honor” of being named a Scythe. THe first trial was a test of how much they had learned through questions but the second trial was one of brute strength and the skill for physical combat. I knew that something awful was going to happen in the second trial, but I really for some reason did not expect for him to kill her. And the way he did it too. He slammed her and snapped her spine in half. I mean it was effective to bring us into just how desperate Rowan was, but still. It was brutal. However, it did bring about a time where the Thunderhead was able to talk to Cirta so I guess something good came out of it. I was really nervous about how this whole competition between Citra and Rowan was going to end, but it did take a few seconds for me to realize just what Cirta had done when she had struck him with her ring. (The ring of a scythe grants full immunity to the person who “imprints” on it through blood or ceremonially kissing it.) It was very clever on Citras part to outsmart the parameters of this forced competition.
  2. Learning about the different methods of training that each scythe presented to their apprentices. As we go through the book, we are able to see three different methods of Scythe training. First with Citra and Rowan under Scythe Faraday (until spoiler, he dies), then Citra to Scythe Curie, and Rowan under Scythe Goddard. It shows us how different a truly honorable scythe and a corrupt scythe and their ideals are as well as how each gleaning style is different. This deep dive into ideals and practices was I think a necessary part to show because otherwise, we would be left thinking that scythes were otherworldly beings instead of humans that struggled like in every job. It brought a small sense of humanity and realism to a morbid world.
  3. When Rowan killed Scythe Goddard. When this happened, I think I silently lost my mind. It was just…… Ahhhhh I have no words for how I felt. I was shocked, disgusted, confused, and yet still thinking that that needed to happen for the betterment of the entire world. It was such retribution to him and all of the horrors that he inflicted on everyone. Yet I am still saddened by the path that it sent Rowan down. This was only the beginning of a dark and painful road for the young apprentice who never got his title and ring.

Thunderhead (Book #2)

Synopsis: Rowan and Citra take opposite stances on the morality of the Scythedom, putting them at odds. The Thunderhead cannot interfere in the affairs of the Scythedom. All it can do is observe—it does not like what it sees. A year has passed since Rowan had gone off grid. Since then, he has become an urban legend, a vigilante snuffing out corrupt scythes in a trial by fire. As Scythe Anastasia, Citra gleans with compassion and openly challenges the ideals of the “new order.” But when her life is threatened and her methods questioned, it becomes clear that not everyone is open to the change. Will the Thunderhead intervene? Or will it simply watch as this perfect world begins to unravel?

I was not expecting to read what I read in this book. Neal Shusterman brought brought a new level to the world development, character development, and plot twists.

The first book did what it needed to do. It told us everything that we needed to know about the introduction to the Scythedom. This book delves into the consciousness of the Thunderhead, average citizens lives, and the start of the unraveling of the Scythedom. All simultaneously exploring the concept of ethics and morals and death. And we are introduced to two new characters (one of which as turned into my favorite from the series).

This book is told from 8 main points of view: Citra (now Scythe Anastasia), Rowan (now Scythe Lucifer), Sythe Curie, Scythe Faraday (surprise!), the Thunderhead, Professional partier Tyger, Scythe Goddard, and aspiring thunderhead agent Greyson. We have some other minor points of view but these are our main characters.

A unique aspect of this book is that it gives us the chance to think about what an all knowing and powerful entities might feel, be frustrated by, and make them afraid for the people that rely on them. The Thunderhead was made to be a perfect being with no capacity for any mistakes or evil. Its soul purpose was to protect Earth and the people that rely on a sustained environment.

Yet as we go on, we are able to read some of the thoughts and concerns that the AI system faces everyday and how much strain, sadness, and anger it is put through because of the flawed nature of the humans it loves the most.

With the introduction of the Thunderhead, comes the introduction of my favorite character Greyson. Everything about his character and the layers that are built are what makes him a perfect character.

After being “raised” by the Thunderhead, he was sent on a mission that led him to be marked unsavory and shunned by the only father figure in his life. He went down a road of depression and longing to belong. After he finds someone who loves him, she is met with a terrible fate and he is set adrift again. The pain and uncertainty that he feels is something that everyone experiences in their lives, so it brings a sense of connection to his character.

Another aspect that I love from this book is seeing how Citra (now Scythe Anastasia) chooses to glean. Instead of getting it over with, she lets them have a month to get their belongings in order and to make peace with their fate and their family. She paves the way for sympathy and mercy in the order instead of the Scythdom just completing their jobs. She is another character that brings in a small sense of humanity into the series.

Rowan on the other hand, journeys down a path of self destruction and darkness. He dons the black cloak of Scythe Lucifer, and makes it his mission to glean as many corrupt scythes as possible. I feel saddened by his story, but after the trauma that he suffered from Scythe Goddard, I really do not know any other path that he could have taken after learning what his true convictions were.

They are at opposite ends of the moral compass and what it means to be an honorable scythe. Does it mean to try and make the scythedom better through a purging of the corrupt scythes so that the old order can regain some semblance of balance, or it is the road of smaller acts of kindness that create a small circle of respect for the scythes again? This question that is posed to us brings us to question what actions that we as a people make based solely on the conviction that we have. Is a violent response sometimes necessary to induce change or can we start by making small waves in perceptions on what is right and wrong to earn respect before change?

And then we come to Tyger. Poor, innocent, trusting Tyger. He is the character that has my pity the most out of this series the most besides his love interest Scythe Ayn Rand. All he wanted was to be given the chance to prove himself just as his old friend Rowan had and he thought he was training as a Scythes apprentice. Instead all he received was being decapitated.

Throughout this whole book, I was not expecting Goddard to come back, but lo and behold he came back. And in the most gruesome way too. All of the training that Tyger had received was so that his body would be a vessel for Goddards head and his return. I mean! Come on that is an amazing but disgusting and disturbing twist. How in heck is that someone’s thought when their leader is beheaded. “I must take his head and reattach it to someone else’s body.” Just disgusting all around for Scythe Rand. But because of all of the events leading up to it, I was expecting his death to be a catalyst for a drastic change and rise of the new order scythes, but I guess you have to keep a good villain going somehow.

But I did love how Goddard was never able to beat Rowan in combat from that point on. I do not think that ever completely mastered Tygers body even through the next book. Which brings me to the best most creative loophole found by Cirta.

When the seat for High Blade of the region was open, Scythe Curie was nominated and Scythe Goddard was unexpectedly announced as alive again. Citra was able to claim that he was not fully Goddard through body percentages. Since he was not completely himself, he was not able to have a standing as a Scythe. This was brought to the grand headquarters of the Scythdom, Endura. Endura was a floating engineering marvel that was supposed to be unbreakable. Until it was broken by Goddard.

After the hearing where Goddard was renounced as a full Scythe and was sentenced to complete apprenticeship again, Goddard sunk Endura and killed the council before anyone was the wiser, and blamed it all on Rowan. In the process Scythe Curie is killed and Citra and Rowan are trapped in a vault where they freeze and are able to “Captain America” and be preserved until they are found.

I was so sad that Scythe Curie’s story came to an end in this book, but even sadder was the Thunderheads reaction. The Thunderhead was so furious and saddened by this turn of events that it marked the entire world unsavory so it would not be able to speak to anyone. Except for Greyson. From such a catastrophic event, came a scream from the Thunderhead through systems, cameras, and buildings everywhere because all it could do was weep for the loss of what could have been the betterment of the world had Scythe Curie been able to command the North American Region. The Tonist religion thought that it was the toll that was calling them to an age of enlightenment, and others thought that it was a power failure. In truth, it was the sound of the THunderhead breaking for the crimes committed against and by his most beloved people. All that the Thunderhead wants is in reality nothing but the best for the earth. However, it is angered that people will never learn and grow out of their need for power and their egos long enough to try and better the people around them instead of themselves.

The Toll (Book #3)

Synopsis: Dictators, prophets, and tensions rise. In a world that’s conquered death, will humanity finally be torn asunder by the immortal beings it created? Citra and Rowan have disappeared. Endura is gone. It seems like nothing stands between Scythe Goddard and absolute dominion over the world scythedom. With the silence of the Thunderhead and the reverberations of the Great Resonance still shaking the earth to its core, the question remains: Is there anyone left who can stop him? The answer lies in the Tone, the Toll, and the Thunder.

When I got to this book, I was not ready for the series to end. I actually put of reading this book for a couple of days. But it was so amazing! I heard some very mixed reviews about this book and I sort of understand why but not really. In my opinion, it was every bit as wonderful as the last two.

The first 200 pages of this book are actually pretty confusing. We are introduced to some new characters, have strange new openers to chapters, and do not see Rowan and Citra at all. But then it all comes together!

The sinking of Endura gave Scythe Goddard the kickstart that he needed to start taking over the Scythdom in a massive way. An excavation team lead by Captain Jeri starts to salvage what was left of Endura, and find the vault where Citra and Rowan were frozen 3 YEARS LATER!!!!!!!!!!! THREE YEARS! When they finally revealed the timeline, I was expecting like six months, but no! Three stinking years. *appreciative clap for Neal Shusterman*

Greyson has become the prophet of the Tonists, and the sole person in the world who can speak to the Thunderhead. He takes the daunting task of guiding the people around the world onto the right path and speaking on behalf of the thunderhead.

This next section is full of spoilers so do not read if you have not read this book!

There are I think 2 main events that lead to the conclusion of the book:

  1. Rowan’s Public Gleaning. Throughout these whole few chapters, I was fully prepared for Rowan to die to to mourn the character, but what happened was so much worse. A mass gleaning of thousands of people that had been gathered because one boy escaped from his clutches. What a horrific man to find enjoyment and purpose from creating such gross chaos.
  2. The Dock Captain. When I read that the dock captain turned on the tracker and called Goddard, I wanted to throw the book across the room. But I couldn’t because I wanted to read what came next. But still… I wanted to. But how self centered do you have to be to knowingly recognize Scythe Anastasia and all that she had made an effort to do and then call Goddard because you want to move job locations. AAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!!! WWWWWHHHHHYYYYYYY????!!!!!

All of these together are a force to be reckoned with and create such a mess that our protagonists have to try to untangle, and makes the antagonist stronger.

But this leads me into my favorite parts of the book:

  1. The unveiling of Scythe Goddard through Citra’s broadcast. Talk about the satisfaction of the slow unwinding of a strange tale! I mean the more that was revealed about the true atrocities of the space missions, the more I was horrified. The scythes and especially Goddard were so concerned with their rise to power that they knew that if they were to be able to safely colonize on another planet, there would be no reason for the scythdom anymore. So to ensure their longevity, they went and mass gleaned the entire space mission team. On mars and in the orbital colony.
  2. When we finally learn what the sections at the beginning of the chapters mean. Throughout this entire book we are privy to conversations that would almost seem to be from Greyson to the Thunderhead, but then no! It was the Thunderhead trying to create another Interface with the same empathy and goodness that he had so that he could help Earth without jumping through loopholes and the eventually have a way to care for the ships and colonies in space for years to come! I love it when everything falls into place!
  3. When the Thunderhead takes over Jeri and talks to Greyson. I heard some very mixed feeling about Jeri and all of the “political agendas” that came by putting his/her character in there but I think that the character actually became one of my favorites. Besides Greyson. But this whole scene with the Thunderhead actually broke my heart. All of this time, the Thunderhead and Greyson were inseparable friends and all that the Thunderhead wanted to do the entire book was to be a real breathing friend. 😦 When he took control of Jeri for a few minutes and was able to be there and touch his best friend as a real person for the first time, it was a complete being. All this time it only could try to understand the connection between friends, family, and lovers, but now it understood just from being able to touch his friends face as a real being what it meant to have a real friendship with someone. I really think that the Thunderhead was more than just a friend, and was more like a father figure to Greyson and that they had more of a familial connection then just of a best friend. Out of that understanding of connection and what it is to be human, the Thunderhead was able to create Cirrus and create the perfect AI system to protect and serve humanity without the limitations that the Thunderhead had.
  4. The ENTIRE ENDING! The theories that I came up with while waiting for the grand reveal of what was being built on the islands were not even close to what was actually being built. I thought that they were building a new Endura or a command central for an army of bots commanded by the thunderhead. But no. The thunderhead was building spaceships to complete its exploratory colony plans! What a unique path for the Thunderhead to take and a unique ending to the story line. Also when Faraday learns that Citra is alive is so heartwarming! But the anxiety when they are finally ready to launch and then Goddard starts shooting down the rockets is not fair to the reader. Epic finale but I was concerned that it would be a Citra and Rowan went down in a blaze of glory ending, but I was actually thankful that that was not the case. I think that this story needed most hope at then end than if that had happened. Also how depressing would it have been for them to be finally reunited for five minutes and then die. I think that I might have been mad if that is how it had ended. Thankfully it didn’t.
  5. That Citra went deadish. I know that I just spend a whole paragraph talking about how I didnt want them to die, but I think Citra “dying” was necessary. I think that Rowan and Citra would not have been the great leaders that they could be if Rowan had not had the chance to figure out who he was and to unlock the great leader that he was deep inside if Citra had been at his side the whole time. Plus, it gave Rowan something to fight for. When she was finally revived, she would be greeted by a completely confident and grateful Rowan instead of a struggling boy.
  6. Astrid’s devotion to the Tonists and her persistence. As soon as Astrid learns the plan for everything, her first question is about her faith and whether or not they will be granted the ability to continue worship at their destinations. After she learns that all of their memories will be supplanted and replaced, she fights for a singular planet to call a home for the tonists with all of their memories intact. And she wins.
  7. That even the founding scythes were corrupt. In the very last chapters of the book, we find out from the pages of founding Scythe Da Vinci, that there was the possibility that one of them had murdered two of the other founders. They took out those pages so that they could move past and try to create a perfect system, but it was corrupt from the start.
  8. Scythe goddards end! Talk about an ending that is slightly ambiguous but in the best way. It is implied that after Scythe Rand puts both herself and Goddard in the safety pods that she pieced Tyger back together. I mean I really cannot praise this end to him enough. The retribution that she was able to deliver to him and still come back to the person that she loves is a great ending for Goddard in my opinion.
  9. How the honorable scythes move forward out of their wretched past. One of the most beautiful monologues that I have ever read is from Scythe Faraday in his new purpose for his life. He moves from the bringer of absolute death and finality to a person who brings a soothing and peaceful presence to the people that are affected by the diseases that were once again released into the world.
  10. The book ends open ended. I actually have several problems with books that end perfectly and that seem like a fairy tale. This ending was one of hope for the future and for humanity but still recognized that not everything will end happily. Many former characters are visited as they die and we see that even though they went safely into their journeys, some like Astrid would have to wait thousands of years before they were actually able to see the planet that they were preparing for their colonies. Rowan had to wait over a hundred years to see Citra revived again. Not everything can end perfectly, but we can hope for the betterment of our futures.

Here is a small list of the topics that I think this book covers really well:

  1. Death is what gives your life meaning
  2. No world can be a Utopia
  3. What an all knowing and powerful entity might feel, be frustrated by, and make them afraid for the people that rely on them
  4. The Power of the people controlling the Media
  5. The Power of Rumors
  6. The differences that can be found in the same religion
  7. The corruptness and power that are found in the people in our governments.
  8. The power of chain reactions and mobs
  9. That even if you think you are indifferent, you will regret not voicing your opinion.

Overall if you can’t tell from my rave review of this series, I gave this whole series a five star rating. Which is very rare for me to do these days. But this series takes the cake. Thank you Neal Shusterman for bringing this beautiful series into the world for all of the nerdy people like me.


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