One of my favourite topics for novels is the institutionalisation of mythical/natural concepts like death, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, etc. Think Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather or the Rise of the Guardians film. It’s a brilliant genre when it’s done well and I wish more authors would try their hand at it. Scythe is a brilliant example of how great these books can be when they’re done well.
Plot summary: In a perfect world, the only way to die is to be gleaned by a professional scythe. When Citra and Rowan are chosen to be apprentice scythes, they know they have no option but to learn the art of killing. However, the terrifying responsibility of choosing their victims is just the start.
Corruption is the order of the day and Citra and Rowan need to stick together to fight it. Then they are told that one of them will have to glean the other…
So. Science has developed to the point where any injury, even death, can be healed almost instantaneously. People are therefore living pretty much indefinitely, which is causing exactly the problems with over-population that you’d imagine. To combat this, we have the Scythes, who have to ‘glean’ a set number of people per annum in order to keep the world ticking along smoothly. It’s well-regulated, with rules, codes, conclaves and different methods of practice. And I fucking love it.
What I particularly appreciate about Scythe is that the world-building is properly and 100% established before the overarching plot gets going. I loved knowing about the details of Citra and Rowan’s apprenticeships, the gleanings that they experienced and the minutiae of how the system worked. It really established the system as a whole, and it’s so inventive and well thought out. I kept trying to poke holes to find one thing that didn’t make perfect sense, and there just wasn’t one.
I actually temporarily felt very grudging about the fact there was an over-arching plot at all. I was quite happy just dealing with the fact that Citra or Rowan will have to glean the other. Compared to the world-building (which we have already established I was completely in love with), I didn’t really need anything else. In the end though, I did really like it. It fits in neatly with the concept of gleaning and doesn’t detract from the world – this isn’t a YA novel where they’re fighting to bring the whole system down. It’s a plot within the profession of gleaning. It was a slowbuild, and it was great, honestly.
The characters could possibly have benefited from a bit of fleshing out. Citra and Rowan were a tiny bit flat, the former in particular was annoyingly prickly. I understand she’s strong and rebellious or whatever, but she doesn’t need to take umbrage at everything that’s said to her. I did like the older Scythes though – the extracts from their offically-required journals really helped to give them a little more colour. I’m also not buying the romantic aspects of Scythe – it doesn’t make sense and I think it would have worked better with a platonic friendship, but luckily it doesn’t play a huge factor at all.
As a very minor point, I loved the fact that Scythes name themselves after famous individuals who have benefited the world. Scythe Curie, Scythe, Goddard, Scythe Rand… I really enjoyed googling the lesser known names and learning a bit more.
I was actually pretty happy with the ending as well. It’s a self-contained book, so there’s no cliff-hanger ending or loose threads. The next book, Thunderhead, is more of a sequel, I think. The same characters and the same world, but the plot has moved on slightly. That’s perfect in my eyes, and it makes a refreshing change. I’d ordered it before I’d even finished Scythe, naturally.
In case I haven’t made it blindingly obvious thus far, I loved Scythe. I’d be surprised if it doesn’t make it to my favourite books of the year. I’m really looking forward to reading the sequel and I’ll definitely be reading it the second it arrives.