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.
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.
Me: I should read cute Christmas books to get into the Christmas spirit!
Also me: I should read this super dark, edgy book I just found!
This book edges the closest to the horror genre of any book I’ve read so far this year. I don’t know what I was expecting, given that I had previously read Neal Shusterman’s Unwind and found it immensely powerful while also incredibly disturbing. This book is the same. The concept is simple: in a world where death has been conquered, people are randomly chosen to be “gleaned” in order to keep the population in check.
The book brought up a lot of interesting argues surrounding the ethnics of death and also the purpose it has. The idea that society has gone numb to a lot of things because without death humanity loses perspective was really powerful. The whole concept of the book was terrifying – that at any moment you might be randomly selected for death. I had to keep reminding myself that in reality that’s always the case – you never know when your time will be up. Equally horrifying was the concept of living forever.
I made the mistake of reading this several nights in a row before bed. Not only did I stay up too late reading, but I also lay awake after horrified. This book is very violent, but it has to be, and that violence is never glorified. Additionally there are so many twists to the story that I never knew where it was going. Every time I thought I had it figured out something out of the blue would happen.
Shusterman gains some major points in the romance department. Citra and Rowan entertain the idea that they have some feelings for each other, and then they both drop the matter because they are very busy learning how to ethically kill people and both recognize that romance would be a distraction. In the hands of a lesser author this plot point would easily have overtaken the book, and Citra and Rowan would have angsted at length about how much they love each other and how they don’t want to kill the other person. That book would have been incredibly boring and I would have put it down. Instead we got a much more nuanced approach where neither want to kill the other because killing people you know is hard (not because “we’re star crossed lovers if she dies I die”), but both recognize that it’s inevitable that one of them will die.
There were some world building questions/ issues I had, but they were mostly minor. The only major disconnect is that our story is so focused on the scythes and death that it’s hard not to believe everyone in this world lives in constant fear of being gleaned. However, the book says at one point that most people don’t personally know anyone who was gleaned, that they only know someone who knows someone who knows someone who was gleaned. It was hard to get a grasp on how major a role gleaning in general in the lives of the average individual because of this.
The back claims the book is the start of a series, but this book is nice and complete on its own. There are places the story could continue for a sequel, but if there were no plans to make this part of a series, I still would have been perfectly satisfied with the ending.
Good for fans of: horror fiction, dark ethical discussions, books that keep you up at night.
Bad for fans of: romance, star crossed lovers.
Stay magical readers!