Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Thunderhead & The Toll (Arc of The Scythe #2 and #3) - Neal Shusterman

Today's review will cover two books.  Thunderhead is the second book in the Arc of a Scythe series.  The Toll is the third and final book.  You can find our review of the first book, Scythe, here.

Summary: Humans learn from their mistakes.  I cannot.  I make no mistakes.

The Thunderhead is the perfect ruler of a perfect world, but it has no control over the scythedom.  A year has passed since Rowan has gone off grid.  Since then he has become an urban legend, a vigilante snuffing out corrupt scythes in a trial by fire.  His story is told in whispers across the continent.

As Scythe Anastasia, Citra gleans with compassion and openly challenges the ideal of the "new order." But when her life is threatened and her methods questioned, it becomes clear that not everyone is open to the change.  In the thrilling sequel to the Printz Honor Book Scythe, old foes and new enemies converge.  And as corruption within the scythedom spreads, Rowan and Citra begin to lose hope.  Will the Thunderhead intervene?  Or will it simply watch as this perfect world begins to unravel?  (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  At the end of Scythe, Citra Terranova proclaims herself Scythe Anastasia, after winning her place in the scythedom.  Rowan Damisch is one the run, having killed the despicable Scythe Goddard and escaped the conclave with only his life. The supposedly-late Scythe Faraday is, in fact, alive!  In Thunderhead, Scythes Anastasia and Curie are threatened by an unknown enemy, while Rowan has taken on foreboding name and a savage new calling.  Meanwhile, the integrity of the scythedom teeters on the edge of a knife as a new order of bloodthirsty scythes makes a play for power.  The Thunderhead -- a benevolent form of all-knowing artificial intelligence charged with monitoring and sustaining humanity -- silently observes the chaos.

Where the first book began each chapter with an excerpt from scythe's journals, the second book begins each chapter with commentary from the Thunderhead, a technological construct which feels like its own character.  I found that these sections were rather illuminating and offered a whole new level of perspective to the story.  Even though the Thunderhead's parameters specifically prohibit interference in the scythedom, as it begins to fracture, the program becomes increasingly desperate to unofficially influence the tide of events.  One of my favorite aspects of the book was watching this incredibly clever computer program try to adhere to rules and simultaneously find loopholes and workarounds.

I have always found that the second book in a trilogy is in a tough position.  It has the unfortunate responsibility of being a bridge between the beginning and end of a story.  It has to keep interest peaked but rarely gets to provide satisfying closure.  Most often, its primary purpose is to stir up trouble.  In that sense, Thunderhead is the quintessential 'second book' -- it stirred up a hornet's nest.  A great deal happens, but those expecting any kind of resolution will be profoundly displeased.  Citra/Anastasia and Rowan get very little page time together, so those rooting for an epic romance between the two won't find much of it in this book.  As with Scythe I spent a most of this 500 page book questioning whether I was going to continue in the series.  It wasn't until the last 40 pages blew up in my face that I decided to keep going.  I mean, it went from 0 to hell-in-a-handbasket, pretty darn quick.  I still have some mixed feelings about it, but there's enough of a pull for me to keep going.  Here's hoping the third book, The Toll brings it all together.

My Rating:  3.25 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Gleanings are occasionally brutal, but not particularly graphic.  One character named "Scythe Lucifer." Around three instances of profanity and some mild innuendo

__________________________________________________

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SCYTHE and THUNDERHEAD.

PROCEED AT YOUR OWN PERIL...

Summary:  Citra and Rowan have disappeared.  Endura is gone.  It seems like nothing stands between Scythe Goddard and absolute dominion over the world scythedom.  With the silence  of the Thunderhead and the reverberations of the Great Resonance still shaking the earth to its core, the question remains:  Is there anyone left who can stop him? 

The answer lies in the Tone, the Toll, and the Thunder.  

In the highly anticipated finale to the New York Times bestselling trilogy, dictators, prophets, and tensions rise.  In a world that's conquered death, will humanity finally be torn asunder by the immortal beings it created?

(Summary from book flap - Image from simonandschuster.com)

My Review:  At the end of Thunderhead, Scythes Anastasia and Lucifer (aka Citra and Rowan) were finally reunited, only to be trapped in a high-security vault on the not-so-floating city of Endura, while everyone around them is either devoured by sharks or drowned in the cold, dark ocean.  Unaware of these developments, Scythe Faraday and his archival assistant Munira are searching for a hidden fail-safe that may save the world from the power-hungry machinations of Scythe Goddard.  Oh, and the Thunderhead marks everyone Unsavory.  It all comes to a head in the last 40 pages and then, hello, cliffhanger.

In The Toll Scythe Goddard seems unstoppable and Citra and Rowan are torn apart, yet again.  Faraday and Munira end up on a long-deserted island and Greyson Slade takes on a new calling as The Toll, a prophet and the only person alive who can communicate with the Thunderhead.  Meanwhile, that very same Thunderhead has found a loophole in its programming, and throws a crazy, perilous Hail Mary that just might save humanity.  

As with many a book, there are things I loved and things I didn't about The Toll....  

First, the pros.  The plot has some interesting twists and turns and loads of character development, especially in regards to some of the formerly secondary characters that have morphed into primary characters as the series progressed.  None of the characters felt like 'cookie-cutter' good or bad guys, barring the bloodthirsty psychopath-with-a-God-complex that is Scythe Goddard.  Cookie 'cut' he may be, but he's also deliciously easy to hate.  Next pro! Sprinkled throughout the story are letters, journal entries, religious writings, speeches, and mysterious deleted conversations.  I looked forward to each of these missives, as they often gave a great deal of insight into what was going on in other parts of the scythedom, occasionally hinted at things to come, including one of the books biggest twists.  

Now for the cons.  The story hops around a bit, somewhat chronologically, but not completely. It was enough that I had to stop and figure out the timeline every now and then.  On a considerably more frustrating front, Citra and Rowan are yet again torn apart by circumstances and don't get to spend much time on-page together.  Eventually they have their moment, but the author really makes you wait for it.  Believe me, a lot of time passes in 625 pages.  Finally, I didn't hate the ending...but I didn't love it either.  I won't spoil things by going into any more detail, but if I had to put it in percentages, I'd say I was 75% moderately okay with it and 25% Meh.

As a final note -- I feel like if someone were inclined to write a paper drawing parallels between the world of the Scythes and, say, our world's current political climate or the psychology of dictators or certain military tactics, they would have plenty of material to work with.  At the very least, it's disturbing -- and that's all I am going to say about that.  

Do I recommend?  It's an okay one time read if you like dystopian.  I don't need to own it.

My Rating:  3.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Obviously some violence, but nothing graphic.  One character named "Scythe Lucifer." Some profanity (less than five instances, I think), some reference to intimacy between two characters (no description), and allusions to a relationship between one male character and another character that is gender-fluid.  

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