What if we were able to cure death? What if disease and old age and accidents were a thing of the past, and we could live forever? How would this impact our society? And how would we keep out population growth under control? These are questions Shusterman raises in his new book, and he addresses them well. In his imagined future, life is pretty close to perfect, but something has to be done to keep the population to a manageable number. That’s where the Scythes come in.
Scythes are individuals chosen to live a life set apart, to “glean” others from the population. Only death doled out by a Scythe is truly irreversible. Scythes are respected and revered, are given anything they want for free, and live outside the laws that govern others. Scythes’ families are immune from gleaning for the lifespan of the Scythe, and the only way for a Scythe to die is by gleaning themselves. How would you handle being assigned to become a professional murderer? Do the pros outweigh the cons? If they do, you probably won’t be selected to become a Scythe.
I enjoy Shusterman’s books a lot. He raises interesting philosophical questions, he has characters that grow or at least change throughout their stories, and he doesn’t take an interesting storyline and destroy it by focusing almost exclusively on romance, as an unfortunate number of YA authors tend to do. This was the tale of two reluctant Scythe apprentices. In the beginning, I liked Rowan much more than Citra out of our two main characters. But as the story progressed and plot twists were thrown at them both, Citra grew on me and became Rowan’s equal. Many of the other Scythes were interesting, as well, especially Faraday, Curie, and Goddard. Curie was incredibly interesting, and probably my favorite. I loved how Shusterman wrote each Scythe doing the same job in completely different ways, and I personally thought Curie’s method was the best.
I was excited when I picked this up because I thought it was a standalone, which there is a severe shortage of lately. But I can’t say I’m disappointed that this turned out to be the first book of a series. I’m looking forward to reading more about the Scythes, and contemplating whatever other philosophical questions Shusterman throws my way.