I almost stopped reading Scythe toward the beginning because the concept is so grim, but I’m so glad I stuck with it! Here’s the concept: in a post-mortality world, everyone has every need provided for. There is no crime, and no disease: any predisposition to disease is handled by nanites, which I assume are nanobots. The Thunderhead is the superintelligence which apparently manifests in this book as a benevolent, all-knowing and all-seeing god. Even when people die by accidents, they can still be revived. In fact, they’re called “dead-ish,” and then carted off to revival centers. People can reset their ages to any age they choose, and often do. But there’s one small problem: population control. Because of this, the Scythedom was formed: a group of humans lawfully authorized to take life. But they are to do so with solemn dignity, and are chosen because they hate what they do. Anyone who enjoys killing could easily become a murderer, the likes of which have not been seen since the mortal age.
But this is exactly what does happen. One scythe, who calls himself Scythe Faraday, takes on two apprentices at once, which is unheard of: Rowan, and Citra. But he has only one ring (the symbol of the scythe) to bestow upon the “winner.” The problem is, rather than competing, Rowan and Citra begin to care too much for one another. The Scythedom picks up on this, and decides that the best way to take care of this problem is to pit them against one another: the first act of the one to win the ring will be to “glean” the other.
In order to prevent this awful future (slight spoiler): Scythe Faraday apparently gleans himself, attempting to free them from their apprenticeship. But the Scythedom will not allow this. Instead, Citra and Rowan are reassigned to two different Scythes, and the challenge between them stands. Citra is apprenticed to one of the Old Guard, who believes that gleaning is to be a sacred rite; but Rowan is apprenticed to Scythe Goddard, who is basically a mass murderer and trains his apprentices to be every bit the monster he is himself.
It’s a totally unique concept — and while it starts out pretty depressing (as Rowan and Citra follow Scythe Faraday as he gleans people and then they have to comfort the bereaved), once the main conflict is introduced, I was hooked. Will definitely be reading book 2!
My rating: *****