In a world where every disease has been cured and emotions are kept in check by nanites flowing through everyone’s body, governments have been rendered obsolete, and civilization is ordered through the Thunderhead, which grew from what we all know today as “the cloud.” Naturally, babies continue to be born, but no one dies anymore. Even accident victims’ bodies begin healing immediately, and pain is quickly quenched by pain-killing nanites. The world cannot hold that many people, and so the need for “gleaning” is recognized by everyone, and is carried out by Scythes.
Scythes are humans, but they glide through the streets in robes, wearing rings that gather DNA into a database and grant immunity to a gleaned person’s family for a year. They are both revered and feared. Scythes study the history of mortal humanity and try to glean in a widespread, unbiased manner. If they understand that risk-taking personalities died at a younger age than others, they will choose reckless types more often. If a certain habit caused death in the mortal age, they may choose to glean someone with that habit. Otherwise, they try to glean in a carefully random pattern. If they are caught gleaning one ethnic group or geographic area too often, whether through prejudice or laziness, they are disciplined by the Scythedom. Only Scythes are not controlled by the Thunderhead.
Although most people live for hundreds of years without ever knowing someone who dies, Citra and Rowan are teens who witness the gleaning of someone close to them. They are strangers to one another, yet they share unusual qualities that are just what Scythe Faraday has been looking for in a new apprentice. Since there is only space for one apprentice, the two students will train for one year, and then one of them will go back to normal life. At least, that is the plan. As they reluctantly move more deeply into this tight circle of death-dealers, they realize that only one of them will make it out alive. Even in this most honorable calling, there are those who glean and those who slaughter.
Neal Shusterman is a master at blending taut sci-fi adventure plots with deep, philosophical questions. I am never disappointed in anything he writes, but Scythe ranks right up there with Unwind and Challenger Deep as the top of the list. His adult characters range from wise guru to absolute monster, and the narration flips from Rowan’s perspective to Citra’s, keeping the plot rolling right along. The teens’ relationships—with one another, with the adults in their lives, and with their families—add layers of depth to what could have otherwise been techno sci-fi in the hands of a lesser writer. There is so much to discuss in these pages. How would the meaning of life change if there was no death? What does it mean to be human? What is the function of government and authority? How far does loyalty extend? When a task must be accomplished, does it matter how it is done or just that it is done? The list goes on and on. Teens and adults will love this one.
Very highly recommended, and the first of a series!
Disclaimer: This review is based on an advance reader copy of this book, which releases November 22nd. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.