Thunderhead is the sequel to Scythe, the fantastic novel where natural death has been eradicated and instead a minority of the population is ‘gleaned’ by professional Scythes. If you haven’t read that book, or my review, this post will make absolutely zero sense, so I recommend heading over there first. I’ll wait.
This review will contain spoilers for Scythe.
It will also contain expletives as I try to explain the sheer mind-numbing emotional brilliance of That Ending.
Plot summary: Rowan has gone rogue, and has taken it upon himself to put the Scythedom through a trial by fire. Literally. In the year since Winter Conclave, he has gone off-grid, and has been striking out against corrupt scythes—not only in MidMerica, but across the entire continent. He is a dark folk hero now—“Scythe Lucifer”—a vigilante taking down corrupt scythes in flames.
Citra, now a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, sees the corruption and wants to help change it from the inside out, but is thwarted at every turn, and threatened by the “new order” scythes. Realizing she cannot do this alone—or even with the help of Scythe Curie and Faraday, she does the unthinkable, and risks being “deadish” so she can communicate with the Thunderhead—the only being on earth wise enough to solve the dire problems of a perfect world. But will it help solve those problems, or simply watch as perfection goes into decline?
Even though I lunged for my copy of Thunderhead pretty as soon as it dropped through my door, I wasn’t convinced I was going to like it as much as Scythe. The world-building aspects and the gleaning parts would surely be over and done with, and the over-arching plot would begin in earnest. I already knew that Citra became a Scythe whilst Rowan did not and, now that that aspect had concluded, Thunderhead may start to suffer from Second Book Syndrome. I also didn’t have a whole lot of interest in the Thunderhead itself, the almost-omnipotent artifically intelligent being that overlooks society. Conclusions? Well, I ended up being simultaneously right and wrong.
It is a lot more political and I was correct in that the world-building is finished. There are hardly any descriptions of actual gleanings or the Scythes going about their daily routine, which is the part I liked most about the first book. There are different affiliations within the Scythedom about whether restrictions should be imposed on the amount of people gleaned, what methods can be used, etc – essentially whether it should remain with its traditional routes, or move forward into a New Order. There’s a lot of political wrangling. It’s not that it’s not interesting, but I wasn’t as glued to it as I was to Scythe.
Or not for the first two thirds or so, anyway. There’s a twist that I did not see coming, and after that the plot sprinted forward at a breakneck pace. Some of the ideas and the devices used are just… unthinkable. I would never in a million years have been able to come up with such ingenious ideas and, honestly, I’m grateful I got to read the work of somebody who could.
I was actually a lot more interested in the Thunderhead than I thought I would be, simply because so much effort has been put into making her/it appear like a person. Yes, she is artificial, but she has preferences and frustrations all of her own. Instead of reading excerpts from the Scythes’ diaries, in this book we see extracts from the Thunderhead’s personal logs. She is unable to affect any influence on any issue pertaining to the Scythes, but is able to foresee the outcome of their actions, which causes her to rail against her virtual prison. It’s honestly done so, so well and the end of the book reflects her views on the matter perfectly. The Thunderhead is actually one of the best things about this book, which is bizarre considering I was expecting to have to suffer through it!
The overall best thing, however, is the ending. Fucking hell. It has to be one of the best, most shocking endings to any book, ever. I was really into the events that unfolded at the end of Thunderhead – it was very dramatic and nailbiting, and it was done really well in itself. But the actual ending? UNBELIEVABLE. I don’t think I’ve ever needed the next book in a series quite as much ever, and that is high praise indeed. Seriously though… that ending. Fuck.
What else? Oh, I’m still not buying into Citra and Rowan’s romance, but whatever. It’s a very minor part of the whole plot and doesn’t crop up often. I’ll survive.
Goodreads seems to think the next book will be called The Toll and will be released in 2019 but, considering Amazon doesn’t seem to think it’s A Thing yet, I’m trying to take deep breaths and not get too excited. I need it desperately though. In short, for a book I had medium expectations for, it is unbelievable. Even if it’s a little slow to start, I ended up even loving the parts I thought I’d hate, at that ending has to be read to be believed.