Book Review: SCYTHE


Author: Neal Shusterman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 9781442472433
Genre: SF | YA


Thou shalt kill.

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own. They learn living in a perfect world comes only with a heavy price.


The premise for SCYTHE is a really good one. It comes across as being unusual—here we have people who train to deal death as a means of culling the growing population in a world were everyone is, technically, immortal. This is a story that should have everything going for it as an idea. Sadly, however, the author fails to deliver on a rich promise in a satisfying or fulfilling way and the awful black and white view on morality is absurd for a so-called utopia.

Which brings me to the utter lack of world building. There is none!

The author has decided his audience is savvy enough to know when he says death has been conquered through technology, he doesn’t then have to explain how, he just mentions everyone has ‘Nanites’ in their system that takes care of everything including death. But there is no science to back this up, nor how the ‘Cloud’ now called the Thunderhead, became self-aware after amassing the sum of all human knowledge.

Why, for example, are the Scythes allowed to ‘glean’ at random, with any weapon they choose? And by what mechanism did the Scythes come into being to begin with?

Let’s take about the main characters of Citra and Rowan. Here we have two stand-ins that could have been lifted from the pages of either DIVERGENT or THE HUNGER GAMES. Neither of whom stand out in any way. Lacklustre at best, paper-thin at worst, they are a vapid means to an end when it comes to storytelling.

Oh, and don’t get me started on one of my pet-peeves: insta-love. The pair are devoid of any chemistry, but that’s okay, they still ‘fall’ in love anyway. This is just sloppy, lazy writing.

Then there are the secondary characters, who come across as animated caricatures. Take the buffoon High Scythe who, despite programable nanites to take care of his health, decides he wants to be middle aged and overweight. Then there is the psychopathic serial killer bad guy, Scythe Goddard, whose Harry Potter blue robe glittering with diamonds, goes around murdering gleaning at will—en-masse—with impunity. Because these people have no depth of character, no background, or emotive context, their actions come across as simply crude and shocking.

Like the teens who think it’s funny to leap out of tall buildings to ‘splatt‘ on the pavement below, because they’ll get great ice cream at the revival centre. And besides, they’re not really dead, just almost dead. You know, because of the nanites.

Who in their right mind thinks this okay? What’s sad is that this kind of senseless writing is gifted praise and garners prizes.

In the end this came across as a pointless, overly long story, full of plot holes, aided and abetted by a lack of characterization, with dull plodding prose, and utterly no world building whatsoever. While the best parts of Scythe—the journal entries and the two scythes, Faraday and Curie—were never fully-realised, which is a shame.

A utopia that went ‘splatt‘ on the pavement from boredom!

Rating: 5 / 10

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  1. February 9, 2019

    Oh very dear, I was on the fence with this one but now I’m just not sure it would be for me… instalove, lack of characters’ depth as well as black and white distinctions really get on my nerves.
    Sorry it didn’t work out Alexandra, great review though!

    • Alexandra
      February 10, 2019

      Yeah, this one was one long cliche, without any depth, and really, in the end, lacking any real punch. So I’m not sure why everyone raves over it, Vera. But there you go, we all like different things.

  2. February 8, 2019

    Great review, Alexandra. Sorry you didn’t enjoy it. Sounds like it needs a little more depth in both character and storyline. I think I’ll give it a miss. xx

    • February 8, 2019

      Thanks, Zoe. I might be in the minority disliking this one, as so many love it. BUt at least I gave my reasons why. It just never came together for me.

  3. February 8, 2019

    Aw, i think my hopes & dreams just died. Well, my hopes for this book anyway…
    I was soooo excited about it, and all reviews sounded so good!
    I’m still gonna try it, i already own it anyway… just to see it for myself, but i’m no fan of insta love either. I always perceive it as some psychological issue that should be treated with some therapy 😀

    • February 8, 2019

      The insta-love was just one of many problems. I had high hopes given Christina’s positive review. And while she loved it, I just found it full of holes. If this is what teenagers love, then god help us all!

  4. Thanks for a thoughtful review, Alexandra. This genre is a challenge for me WITH great world building. What you’ve described would give me brain cramps.

    • February 8, 2019

      For me, there were too many problems with the narrative, world building, and lack of characterization to make it more than a mediocre read. And if you’re like me, then yeah, brain cramp is about right! 😉

  5. Oh no!!! Sorry this one was such a bummer for you! It’s so interesting how different people feel about different books. This was an excellent review though 🙂 hopefully the next one is better and The Bear and the Nightingale is a hit for you lol 😛

    • February 8, 2019

      Hey, no apologies necessary, we all find something different in the books we read, some we like, some we don’t, for whatever reason.

      And the next one will most def be THE LOST MAN. 😀

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