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Arc of a Scythe: Scythe and Thunderhead

Hello beautiful! A few weeks ago, I picked up the book Scythe by Neal Shusterman on a whim. I think it’s probably been recommended to me before, but I don’t remember when. The premise was very intriguing, and the covers are unique. Anyway, since then, I’ve found and read the second book as well. This was going to be a trilogy review that I would post after I’ve read the third book, but I decided I just have so much to talk about that I’ll do two.

This review may spoil a few things from both books, but I’m going to try not to. Read at your own risk 🙂

Without further ado, here’s my review!

Scythe and Thunderhead from the Arc of a Scythe series by Neal Shusterman

There is so much that I love about this series. Unlike most of the YA books I’ve read, it actually makes the reader think about some serious topics and philosophical questions. I would say that the main question the book asks is “what makes us human?” I wanted to start off this review by mentioning how much I appreciated the thought-provoking aspects of the story and the clear intent the author had when writing. Shusterman wove a wonderful, entertaining dystopian tale that encourages one to think about the nature of life and human existence. While I do sometimes read for the sake of escapism and easy entertainment, I found it refreshing to have a fictional fantasy book actually talk about such big questions that relate to all of us.

We have two main characters at the beginning of book one: Citra and Rowan. The book is in third person, but switches between their perspectives, and, on occasion, the perspective of our villain/antagonist.
Citra and Rowan are unique and clearly have separate views on life and “gleaning” (killing— the way the Scythes control the earth’s population). Citra leans more towards rationality and working behind the scenes for the good of the world, while Rowan is all about action and being a physical force for change. Both seek to make a difference in the Scythedom and the way it uses (and abuses) its power. They are very three-dimensional, and I appreciate that they continue to develop as the story progresses. In some series, the characters’ growth is complete at the end of the first book, and they spend the rest of the series being perfect and finishing off whatever villain they are up against. Not so in Arc of a Scythe. Citra and Rowan (or Anastasia and Lucifer, as they are later called) grow over the first book and continue to make mistakes, change, and progress throughout the rest of the trilogy as well.
The villain is wonderfully fleshed out. His take on gleaning is understandable from a human point of view. It almost seems to make sense, if it weren’t unethical. There have been humans like him throughout history. I especially appreciated that he is truly evil. There are lots of villains and antagonists in YA that seem to fall flat or have no real “evil goal”, if that makes sense. This villain, though, has a plan, an end goal, and is literally willing to do anything to get there. We see him murder hundreds of people and take his vengeance out on a whole island. This really shows him to be the wicked monster his reputation paints him as.

I have read several character-driven stories lately (like Fangirl or Six of Crows), so it was a nice change of pace to read something that, while full of developed characters, had an intriguing and unique plot.
I am not sure how much I can say in this section without giving away major parts of the story, so if you’re worried about spoilers, skip this point.
The whole premise of the story— a perfect world with an imperfect, law-protected band of necessary killers— is fascinating in and of itself. I especially liked the direction that Shusterman took this idea. We got to see three different Scythes guide an apprentice through the process of killing and its effects. My personal favorite aspect of the apprenticeship section was hearing the Scythes’ takes on the morality of the situation and how Scythes should approach gleaning. It was all so interesting and unlike anything fictional that I’ve read in the past.
The development of the plot in book two was wonderful as well. I felt like the first book, with the ending it had, could have been a stand-alone, but was also well set up for a sequel. There were no glaring loose ends, but there was potential to continue the story. Book two was definitely a cliff hanger, though. The politics of the Scythedom compared to the perfection of the Thunderhead was a strong theme.
Speaking of the Thunderhead, that aspect of the plot was very unique as well. In many ways, the Thunderhead (a sentient computer of all human knowledge) is, essentially, a god (or even the God) of the story’s Earth. He claims to be omnipresent and omniscient at times, and yet we are shown time and again that this is not quite so. Shusterman, I think, is really driving the reader to ask who, or what, constitutes as God and what attributes are necessary for a being to be divine or perfect. The Thunderhead claims to be all of these things at times, but is later shown to be merely close to being these things.

Writing Style
Well. This is one side of the story that I’m not going to rave about as much. While I do think Shusterman’s writing does the job and immerses one in the story, it is not particularly beautiful and could be improved upon at times. He jumps between perspectives quite a bit, especially in the second book. In book one, we mainly jumped between Citra, Rowan, and, occasionally, Goddard. In book two, we jump between Citra, Rowan, Goddard, Xenocrates, Curie, Rand, Tyger, Greyson, and so many others, too. Sometimes we jump to the perspective of a random stranger just to introduce us to a certain scene in a different way. I’m not saying this doesn’t always work, but it sometimes feels a bit like head-hopping with a really large number of perspectives. Once or twice I even lost sight of whose point of view I was reading from. I would not describe Shusterman’s sentence structure or phrasing itself to be anything special. I do appreciate the way he introduces us to various ideas and foreshadows via “diary entries” from different characters at the end of every chapter. However, his writing itself is nothing spectacular, and the perspective jumps can be confusing at times.

Content Advisory
There’s nothing that stands out as problematic to me. There is some occasional light swearing, if I remember correctly, and a couple of veiled references to one character enjoying sex. That’s about it. If violence bothers you, there is fairly frequent mention of death or killing, but it is not described in detail and could hardly be called gory. The end of book two is intense and may induce a bit of anxiety if you are scared of drowning. That type of thing doesn’t usually bother me, but drowning is one of my irrational fears, so I had to set down the book for a few minutes towards to end because of anxiety. Other than those few minor things, the books are clean 🙂

So far, I give this series 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Have you read this series? What about book three? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

Have an adventurous day 🙂



Published by Blue

I always have a book in my hands or zipped up in my bag. I'll probably read through the apocalypse and not realize what's happened.

8 thoughts on “Arc of a Scythe: Scythe and Thunderhead

  1. I’m planning to read this! I have the first book already, but I have a lot of completed series that I need to read too, so I’ve been prioritizing those. We’ll see when I get around to this!

    Liked by 1 person

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