I must have bypassed Scythe when it came out, because I’d become a bit phased by young adult dystopia, but then I saw Hanna @ Booking in Heels loved it. She’s a tough critic. Turns out it’s set in a utopia and has plenty to say about human existence.
Nature deemed that to be born was an automatic sentence to death, and then brought about that death with vicious consistency.
In the distant future all illnesses have been cured and humans can live forever. Even if involved in an accident, the deadish can be revived. This is all overseen by a vast artificial intelligence; the Thunderhead. Whilst the Thunderhead provides well for the larger population, there is still a small need for population control. That’s where the Scythes come in.
The Scythes have quotas, they must each take the lives of a predetermined number of people a year. It’s not called killing, it’s gleaning and gleaning is permanent. Their selection criteria and methods of gleaning are left up to each Scythe, but they are reprimanded for bias or cruelty. In this world where death is a rarity the Scythes are both revered and feared. They live by ten commandments, the first being “thou shalt kill”.
There is so much world-building, the plot is almost secondary, and I loved it. The story is interspersed by the journals of the older Scythes, some of who are hundreds of years old. They philosophise over what they do, how they do it, are there better methods. The history of the world is well laid out in these segments.
Therein lies the paradox of the profession. Those who wish to have the job should not have it…and those who would most refuse to kill are the only ones who should.
Being a Scythe is an honour, but the position should only be bestowed on those why don’t really want it. They should be compassionate and live humble lives. There is a new faction forming, one who think Scythes should revel in their power, kill how they choose and take advantage of their privilege. It’s a classic story of how power corrupts.
There is a young adult plot in amongst this. Citra and and Rowan are two teenagers who are selected to be apprenticed to Scythe Faraday. Taking two apprentices is highly unorthodox and only one of them will be selected should they pass the tests. It’s not romantic and, through various calamities, I liked the way it played out. I was worried about the pitting themselves against each other angle, but in the end it allowed all sides of the Sythedom to be revealed.
My greatest wish for humanity is not for peace or comfort or joy. It is that we all still die a little inside every time we witness the death of another. For only the pain of empathy will keep us human. There’s no version of God that can help us if we ever lose that.
The Scythes all take names from illuminaries from history. I think if you know of the historical figures, you can tell a little bit about each Scythe, those known for weapons research for instance, might just be the power-hungry kind or seek destruction.
Humans do strive for technological and health advancement, but do we ever stop to think what will happen if we reach such goals. Do we really want to live forever?
I was so absorbed in this world I barely thought about the audio narration to be honest. But there was nothing about it that jarred so well done Greg Tremblay.
POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 9. A book about a villain or antihero
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