Book Review – Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

This will be a spoiler-free review.

Hype is a strange beast. On the one hand, it can get you pumped up for a book that then meets or exceeds your expectations, and you get a certain high from enjoying a book that others have enjoyed. On the other hand, it can give you unrealistic expectations for a book that then doesn’t meet those expectations, and then you’re bummed because you really thought you would love that book. My experience with Scythe was of the later variety.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a good book. I enjoyed most of it. It just… didn’t do for me what I had thought it would do, you know? It didn’t pack the punch I’d been looking for, which is a damn shame.

Let’s start with the things I did like about this book, though. For starters, I L O V E D the world building. The concept of a world–a utopia–where death has basically been eradicated and scythes are now required to glean (kill) people to prevent overpopulation is fascinating. It was also clear that Shusterman didn’t cut any corners when formulating this world. Everything made sense, and everything was layered. Nothing felt two-dimensional or underdeveloped, and that definitely made the world feel real to me. The politics of this world were especially fascinating. The idea of the scythes–the people who are meant to glean in an unbiased and humane way–being corrupt was terrifyingly realistic, and I loved watching that corruption unfold and fester.

There were also a lot of interesting plot elements that kept me turning the pages, wanting to find out what would happen next. Just when the story would start to feel like it was dragging–which, unfortunately, happened a lot–a twist would spring up that would encourage me to keep reading. If it weren’t for these twists, I honestly doubt I would’ve made it all the way through this book.

Shusterman’s writing style was also very enjoyable. He included a lot of imagery in this story, which painted very clear pictures of everything that happened throughout the novel. It also struck a nice balance between being commercial while not feeling simple, if that makes sense. It was definitely clear that this wasn’t Shusterman’s first novel, and that he’s a talented writer.

I also really liked all of the supporting characters in this novel, from the good guys to the bad guys to the people in between. They all held their own secrets that made them fascinating to read about, and in a lot of ways I felt that they were stronger and more interesting than Citra and Rowan, the two main characters. If I’m being honest, I care more about what happens to these supporting characters throughout the rest of the series than I care about what happens to the main characters.

Which segues nicely into the things I unfortunately did not like about this book, the first being that the two main characters were so forgettable. Seriously, I don’t think any main characters have made less of an impact on me than these two. Even in the thick of the plot, I never even found myself rooting for them. More or less, I was pushing my way through this story just so I could see what else would happen to the supporting characters and with the aforementioned corruption within the scythedom.

The story also sagged a little–or a lot–at the beginning, as well as intermittently throughout the rest of the novel. Like I mentioned earlier, the twists were the only things that really kept me going. They gave the story a shot of energy right when it felt like things were at an all-time low. Personally, though, I don’t think a story should ever feel like that. Even when you’re at a calm point in the story, the pacing should always be lively enough to keep a reader invested. In this book, though, the pacing felt very stop and go, even until the bitter end. This, ultimately, made the first half of the novel feel like a slog to get through, and the second half feel choppy.

Going along with that train of thought, I also felt that there really was no sense of urgency throughout the novel, even at the end. Obviously, there was a climax that the entire novel was leading up to, but the main characters hardly ever acted like it was that big of a deal. It loomed, and they thought about it sometimes, but not once did I feel tense or worried about the outcome of this novel. To me, it all felt very stagnant, and this felt like a book that demanded some urgency.

The last thing I didn’t really enjoy was the romantic element included in this book. I’m a lover of romance, but in this case it felt… weird. Definitely unnecessary. Although Shusterman tried his best to convince me otherwise, I honestly felt no romantic spark whatsoever between the two characters he was trying to build a romance between, and I honestly would’ve preferred it if he’d left romance out of the equation entirely.

All in all, my thoughts on this novel can be summed up in four words: Overhyped, but not bad. I’m interested enough to pick up the next book, if only to see what might happen next or how Shusterman will expand this world he’s created, but I’m not necessarily chomping at the bit to get my hands on book two. I can definitely see why some people might love this book–because, seriously, it wasn’t bad. For me, though, it just didn’t really have any of the things I look for in a book.

I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys well-developed sci-fi worlds and shocking plot twists.

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