Be warned, spoilers are ahead! I’ll be talking about some plot points of Scythe as well as Thunderhead in this review, especially after the break.
I just finished Thunderhead, the second book in the Arc of a Scythe series by Neal Shusterman, and it certainly delivers. If you’re not familiar, Scythe, the first book in the series, introduces us to Citra and Rowan, two fairly ordinary people pulled into anything but ordinary circumstances when they’re selected to be apprentice Scythes. The world had advanced past disease and death; no one dies of natural causes anymore and instead just revert back to an earlier age when they decide they’re beginning to feel old. Thus, people live multiple life-times without a care. The only way anyone dies permanently is if they’re selected for gleaning, by a scythe, humans who have the job of maintaining balance in population and determining who dies and when.
For most this occupation is a necessary evil, something to not take enjoyment or pride in but something that simply has to be done. However, in the first book a faction is introduced that perhaps take a bit too much enjoyment in their duty and feel that they should be able to glean as they please without limits, quotas, or restrictions. Shushterman is masterful at world-building, and establishes a complex world where a mixture of the cloud and AI, Thunderhead, has taken over most tasks, humans are able to come back to life unless gleaned, and life and death is put in the hands of very select humans.
Spoilers after the break!
Corruption and the political side of the scythedom plays a big part in both books, with Scythe resolving with Citra as a full-blown Scythe, Anastasia and Rowan resolved to act unofficially to cut out corruption in the order by gleaning other scythes as Scythe Lucifer. While between each chapter in Scythe were excerpts from journals of various scythes, a window deeper into the world of the scythedom, Thunderhead splits each chapter with musings by the Thunderhead itself, an almost all-powerful AI that controls practically every aspect of human life but can’t touch death and is not allowed, by its own design, to interfere with issues of the Scythes.
This plays a big part of the second book. While corruption was a key point of the first, the second often involves the Thunderhead able to see inklings of bad things coming, or able to see the plots and coups being planned in secret, but isn’t able to directly warn anyone or interfere. In between chapters it laments its inability to help, questions if humanity should be allowed to be the arbiter of death in the first place, and ponders how far it can go without ‘directly influencing’ what is going on.
Shusterman introduces a few new characters that add depth to the plot, and the information from the Thunderhead expands what we know about the world as a whole rather than just the Scythedom. The strange and mysterious Tonist religion is expanded on, and more about the life of the average person in society, whether they conform to the rules or not.
There are plenty of twists and betrayals throughout, as is common with Shusterman’s writing, expect a lot of turns of events especially in the latter half of the book and a lot of things not being exactly what they seem. While originally I had heard this was only meant to be two books, Thunderhead left off on a massive cliffhanger (sorry if you’re not a fan of these, but it’s a good one, I promise!), with the third book, The Toll (tentative title, from an interview), still forthcoming. I’m excited to see what the next book will bring, and how the world will change giving the gigantic scale of the climactic events of Thunderhead.
Thunderhead is a really great book that keeps the momentum of the previous book and shows no sign of slowing down.