[Review] Scythe – Neal Shusterman


Book Title: Scythe (Arc of a Scythe, #01)
Author:     Neal Shusterman
Number of pages:  448


scythe - neal schusterman - book coverIn a world where disease has been eliminated, the only way to die is to be randomly killed (“gleaned”) by professional reapers (“scythes”). Citra and Rowan are teenagers who have been selected to be scythe’s apprentices, and—despite wanting nothing to do with the vocation—they must learn the art of killing and come to understand the necessity of what they do.

Only one of them will be chosen as a scythe’s apprentice. And when it becomes clear that the winning apprentice’s first task will be to glean the loser, Citra and Rowan are pitted against one another in a fight for their lives.

(re: Goodreads @ Scythe by Neal Shusterman)

Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr review:

– Citra and Rowan are cinnamon rolls; the romance is a bit too spoon-fed for my tastes (e.g. lacks chemistry over and beyond friendship)
– World building is a bit on the thin side; remains thematically relevant to young readers re: philosophical/morality
– Third person alternating POVs separated by journal entries of Scythes; stylistic storytelling choice to encourage world-building
– Twists and turns are a hit/miss depending on reader’s skepticism

Initial Thoughts

Holy shit.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of SCYTHE from Simon and Schuster Canada.



Scythe is bloody wonderful.

It has its fair share of issues but I didn’t find difficulty to be invested.

Though often predictable and features exacerbated scenes of gore, the thematic choices headlined by morality should be read by young adults just stepping out of their homely bubble. Granted, I know children/teens aren’t stupid but I can easily see how the philosophical undertones can lack the appeal for older audiences (so… me) as it can get black-and-white.

For all intents and purposes, and perhaps an obscure comparison, Neal Shusterman’s Scythe is like if you took Soul Eater (school to train individuals to capture souls re: quota) plus Death Note (guy plays God by determining who lives/dies re: reducing crime/corruption) plus any magical story with an apprenticeship.

I did have reservations as some story telling choices but the delivery was nothing short of a enthralling and philosophically nuanced adventure.


100/10 would want to live in this utopian world being swallowed by dystopic teachings. (Or really I just want to be a Scythe as well).

To give you a glimpse into the inner workings, at the base level, you have humans chilling, basically — living it up because they can get hurt but not necessarily die by self-inflicted means. They get healed and brought back to life because technology.

At the top level, there’s this cloud-like sentient AI thing called the Thunderhead (I don’t question it) who’s all-knowing and is if you put a personality on Google and bam all of life’s problems go away — sans death. So far, pretty utopian sounding, yeah?

Then there’s the mid-level: you have Scythes and the Scythedom, a not-so secret government of sorts that regulate the life-and-death of humanity since death is no longer possible. Here is where killings (otherwise known as gleanings) become relegated to a [quota number] and where the conflict alights the story; the nonprejudicial gleanings balancing between the immorality and sport-like appeal of how certain Scythes carry themselves.

As a whole, there’s an urban fantasy vibe that really worked for me. Although the governing Scythedom is poorly executed (lacking the order and reason that allows for these Hail Mary scythes to do whatever the fuck they please), the landscape is effortlessly dark and atmospheric to me.


What I’ve come to appreciate is how this story weaves the morally complicated themes into a story rife with conflict. There aren’t any easy answers and the protagonists struggle to stick to a clear path; specifically, the action oscillates between Citra and Rowan and though Citra might have taken the reins early on, Rowan’s arc holds heavy influence as to his character development.

There are journal entries from various characters that separate the third person omniscient POV shared between Citra and Rowan; it’s a double whammy of then-versus-now storytelling and a stylistic choice I enjoyed as it glimpsed the Scythedom’s slow paradigm shift of ideologies.

The overall pace was enjoyable. I basically ate this story up (so no real complaints). Some scenes are definitely a bit overwhelming re: info-dumping, but it was mostly all of substance to further the contextual understanding of the present problems.


I have issues in SF-F when romance hijacks the plot. This book teeter-totters between offering an immediacy in friendship spawned by their circumstances and a slow-burn development via “well…shit, I don’t want to die either” mentality. It’s troublesome. It seemed more out of convenience that their relationship was able to develop [out of the friend-zone level] in spite of the lacking lust. So, there’s romance…but also not good romance?

To be fair: I like them both individually as reluctant hero narratives always seem to win me over. Both are compassionate and empathetic in their own ways, and there’s a fluidity to how they carry themselves against the doom and gloom backdrop. Their progression in character development might not be extreme 0-to-100 but it was in the subtleties in how they’d adapt to their surroundings that really worked.

Their mentors in Faraday and Currie are cute as a button too full stop.

The antagonists are also a cause for concern. On one hand, I love intersectional diversity in this team of Scythes (Asian, African, …Nordic/Russian?) incorporated with their elevated status. But, I just wished for them all to be as grey as their head honcho instead of being complicit sheep. Some of their revelations were also a bit of a cop out too. The flipside to this is that POC et al. are considered villains but…


Truth be told, the ending is a bit lackluster with respect to predictability (if you read with immense skepticism as I do), but if I’m being honest, it does not dilute the propulsive, compelling, and sublime bloodiness the conflict offers towards its characters.

The final bits offered potential for this to be read as both a standalone and to be considered a cliffhanger. However, given the nature of this story and how engrossed I was in these two cinnamon rolls of protagonists, you bet I’m hyped up for this novels follow-up and to be re-immersed in the world and society of the Scythedom.


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18 thoughts on “[Review] Scythe – Neal Shusterman”

  1. Great review, Joey! I just received my copy in the mail the other day and was planning to add it to my December TBR. I was hoping for very greyed morality in this book (like in The Young Elites series) but it seems like it’s going to be more black and white, which is a bit disappointing. I’m glad you still ended up enjoying it though!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha. Personally, I had to make the distinction between the levels of “morally grey” content based on the reader’s age. I’m an old soul (ish), so it was less impactful (not to be confused with less meaningful) than if a teen reader picked this up. That’s just how I approached it though but it’s definitely does pokes at the philosophical bear over and over again!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. gah. I’m currently reading and while I wanted to read your entire review I was scared of spoilers haha! but the fact that you gave this 4 stars makes me super eager to continue reading/finish ASAP.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This review is awesome and SUPER UNHELPFUL, JOEY. The fact that you were invested in the characters and ultimately gave it such a high rating is damn compelling, but the flaws you pointed out are fairly significant nos for me. I–I guess I’ll keep it off my TBR for now? Uh. Glad to hear you enjoyed it despite its flaws, at least!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. THIS IS HOW I REVIEW EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING IS GLASS HALF FULL. With every great aspect comes an equally terrible thing that just fails; not all books are perfect and it is basically my civil duty to point that out haaaah even if it receives a “high” rating.

      But, basically, you can just go by the logic of “if Joey liked it, it’s sure to be decent enough on most other peoples rating schematics”. Granted, if you’re huge on world building, then no, this book might not fit for you.

      If I’m being fully transparent, all of the gore and death and the need to protect these two smol children made me keep flipping the page and may have influenced the rating…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great review, Joey – I’ve been keeping an eye out for this but I think yours is the only review I’ve ever seen for it thus far. And a 4 is basically, like, a gazillion stars from you so it does sound promising. I don’t think I’d mind the thin world-building much if the characters and the… ah, discussions surrounding death/mortality/humanity make up for it, and it sounds like they do. 😉


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