Monday, March 2, 2020

Review: Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

* This review may contain spoilers for the previous book, Scythe. *

Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman
Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe #2)
By Neal Shusterman
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased

To Sum It Up: Although they began their journey together as scythe’s apprentices, Citra and Rowan’s lives could not be any more different now. Citra has become Scythe Anastasia, an increasingly rare junior scythe who seems to adhere to the principles of the old guard amidst a growing new order that wants to glean without boundaries. Rowan, meanwhile, is now the notorious Scythe Lucifer, the self-appointed deliverer of justice to dishonorable scythes. As Rowan tries to evade capture by the Scythedom, Citra finds herself targeted by a yet unknown enemy. It seems that conflict within the Scythedom is inevitable, and the Thunderhead, the sentient artificial intelligence that benevolently rules over humanity, is powerless to do anything about it because it cannot intervene in scythe affairs.

Review: After the genius that was Scythe, I couldn’t wait to dive into the sequel, Thunderhead. Scythe was such a thrilling, exhilaratingly unpredictable read with a note perfect ending that I was a bit about nervous how Thunderhead would measure up to its predecessor. It turns out that I need not have worried for a second.

When we catch up with Scythe’s two protagonists, Citra and Rowan, we find them on rather opposite sides of scythe law. As Scythe Anastasia, Citra is following in the footsteps of her mentor, Scythe Curie, and doing her best to perform her duties with honor. This is even as the so-called new order within the Scythedom that wants to loosen restrictions on gleaning continues to gain traction. Citra and her mentor’s adherence to the old ways appears to come at a price when they become the targets of an unknown adversary.

As for Rowan, his path has detoured down a much darker road. He has taken it upon himself to mete out justice to nefarious scythes by gleaning them. Rowan’s vigilantism is not without consequences. In addition to being the Scythedom’s most wanted criminal, AKA “Scythe” Lucifer, his deeds cost him in ways he couldn’t have imagined.

While Citra and Rowan remain central to the series, we gain the perspectives of additional characters in Thunderhead, including the titular . . . entity? The Thunderhead is such a unique character. It’s essentially a highly evolved version of the cloud (as in cloud computing) that governs humanity except for the Scythedom. Not only is the Thunderhead an authority figure, but it also literally takes care of the people it rules. In the case of new character Greyson Tolliver, the Thunderhead has basically parented him.

As we see inside the Thunderhead’s thoughts, its concern over what is happening within the Scythedom grows significantly. A shift in political climate doesn’t affect just scythes; it inevitably ripples to affect every single human being. Although the Thunderhead cannot take direct action to protect its charges, it is more than clever enough to find ways to circumvent the separation between scythe and state. And Greyson Tolliver becomes a key figure in the Thunderhead’s plans.

At the beginning of the novel, Greyson is a nondescript student at the Nimbus Academy, training to become an agent under the Thunderhead’s authority. Having essentially been raised by the Thunderhead, Greyson is quite content with his career path. The Thunderhead, however, has other ideas in store for him, and by the end of the book, Greyson Tolliver has experienced quite the adventure.

One of the things I loved most about Scythe was its seemingly never-ending supply of surprises. Thunderhead ups the twists and turns exponentially. I’m not joking. When I finished the book, I needed a bit to process all that had happened between page one and the final page. It. Is. Insane.

The ending also makes you wonder where the story can go from there. Seriously—this ending changes EVERYTHING. Whatever follows, though, is sure to be just as brilliant as everything about Thunderhead.

All in All: This is no lightweight middle book! I loved reading from the Thunderhead’s POV, and I’m still in awe over how Neal Shusterman pulled off shocker after shocker.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Scythe by Neal Shusterman
Scythe (Arc of a Scythe #1)
By Neal Shusterman
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased

To Sum It Up: In a future where disease has been eradicated, the only way to die is to be gleaned by a scythe—those officially charged with delivering death. Scythes are supposed to respect the gravity of their role in society and adhere to a set of rules, but as newly selected apprentices Citra Terranova and Rowan Damisch quickly learn, not all scythes are honorable. As division grows within the Scythedom, Citra and Rowan find themselves caught up in some deadly politics that test them as much as, if not more than, their training.

Review: I’d wanted to read Scythe ever since I spotted the epic cover, but as usual, it took me forever to get to it. And once again, I was late to the “This book is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G” party.

I’m not sure what I expected from a book that features what are essentially grim reapers—maybe a tone that was mostly gloom and doom and, you know, grim? But Scythe is so, so many layers deeper than that. Yes, death is a major component here, but we also have an extremely thought-provoking dystopian novel sprinkled with wit.

I absolutely loved Neal Shusterman’s world-building. On the surface, the world of Scythe looks like a utopia. There is no disease. In the event of injury, the body’s nanites dull pain until healing is complete. Hunger and war do not exist anymore. The Thunderhead, an evolved, sentient version of the cloud, watches over humanity and administers to its needs. The watching part sounds rather Big Brother-esque, and as Facebook, Google, etc. track everything we do more and more, the idea of technology ruling over all of us doesn’t seem too far-fetched.

And then there’s the Scythedom. Since humans no longer die from disease or injury, scythes are charged with controlling population growth by taking lives, or gleaning. Scythes are supposed to approach their duty with reverence and have ten commandments to follow. As the book unfolds, however, we learn that some scythes interpret those commandments more loosely than others, to the point where they’re almost flouting scythe laws. There’s a growing division between the old guard scythes, who keenly feel the weight of their role in society, and the new order scythes, who think the rules are antiquated and restrictive. A lot of political maneuvering goes on in the Scythedom, and it is this tense climate that main characters Citra Terranova and Rowan Damisch find themselves thrown into.

Citra and Rowan are both chosen to be the apprentices of Scythe Faraday, and at first the outcome is simple: only one of them can earn a scythe’s ring. The other will resume his or her life once the selection is made. A cruel twist, however, raises the stakes and puts Citra and Rowan on paths they never envisioned. This book was full of surprises, and I loved how it kept me guessing. I also loved the ending—sometimes I get frustrated when the first book in a series leaves you with nothing but a scream-inducing cliffhanger. Scythe nails the ending, though.

This is a fantastic series opener with a gripping story, deft world-building, and stellar writing. I am officially a Neal Shusterman fan now and can’t wait to see what else he has in store for this series.

All in All: A 5-star read from beginning to end. Just brilliant storytelling.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Book Loot (40)

Straight from the Department of Better Late Than Never, here's my first post of 2020: my (mostly) Book Outlet haul from . . . Black Friday 2019. Yikes!

In my defense, the end of 2019 was bonkers. On top of the holiday rush, I got a whopper of a cold just in time for Christmas. Said cold didn't care when the new year dawned and continued to linger. I finally gave in and got it checked out because the nagging cough was keeping me up at night. The best guess was allergic bronchitis, and off I went with prescriptions for a disgusting tasting liquid and an inhaler. Those finally did the trick, and I'm happy to report that I can now get through a complete sentence without needing to stop to hack until my eyes water.

Getting back on topic to books, I'd first heard about Book Outlet on Facebook, where I also saw that subscribers to their emails would receive early access to their Black Friday sale. This seemed like the perfect time to give the site a try, and ahhhhhhhh . . . . It was a real challenge not to put EVERYTHING in my cart! Once common sense was restored, I narrowed down my selections to 8, lol. (I got both The Epic Crush of Genie Lo and Sky Without Stars from Amazon.)


The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee
The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
There's Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins
American Panda by Gloria Chao
Sky Without Stars by Jessica Brody & Joanne Rendell
Eon by Alison Goodman
Eona by Alison Goodman
Clariel by Garth Nix
Goldenhand by Garth Nix
A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

Have you read any of these? If so, I'd love to know what you thought! I hope your 2020 is off to an amazing start!

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