Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman Book Review

Did you guys notice the human face looking to the side in the cover of the last book, Scythe, and the two in this one? It’s crazy, for the longest time I did not notice the head shapes as they corresponded to the handle pattern in the axes against the cloaks. I always thought it was the hoods and blades and that was it. I still found the covers amazing. Now I love them even more.

A little bit of time has passed since Citra Terranova was put into power as Scythe Anastasia Romanov, and Rowan Damisch has put himself under a black hood, the only colour a scythe is not allowed to be, and is now executing scythes that abuse their power under the alias of Scythe Lucifer. (I’ll keep calling them Citra and Rowan to avoid confusion; the first names characters are given are often the preference anyway.) Just so we know what we’re talking about, this is the second book in the Arc of a Scythe trilogy and in this world, everyone is immortal because they can always reset their age down to however old (or young) they select. The only thing is, to quench the resource bombardment that comes from overpopulation, people named scythes are put into the job of gleaning people, which means dead and dead for good, because there are a variety of ways one can die and then be nursed back to health within days. But there are some ways you cannot revive someone with all the technology in the world, and the main two ways are dying by a fire, burning your flesh into ash, and acid that, well, does the same thing, except turn it into bloody goo. That’s what Rowan has been doing. The book opens with him traumatizing a scythe that defies the hefty rules put into place preventing scythes from gleaning over racism, sexism, xenophobia or religion. But in the wake of the demise of Scythe Goddard, the world has not gotten happier. His virus of scythes having the freedom to kill because they have to kill and like to kill has spread. Meanwhile, on the other spectrum side, whenever Citra has to glean someone, she doesn’t do it automatically, she gives them a month’s notice and injects them with a poison that would glean them in a month’s time if they tried to run anyway. She does this so they can die how they prefer, and give them time to right whatever wrong’s they’ve made and try to finish their lives honestly. And some scythes are very on board with this. And some are not. A plan to execute Citra and her mentor, Scythe Curie, is put in place, but a boy named Greyson Tolliver finds out during his application to a prestigious academy, and his conscience forces him to act on the trap, despite being told of what would happen to him if he did so. He’s marked as unsavory, a term used to describe someone who doesn’t like our system and is untrustworthy with living in the perfect world. What will all this lead up to?

This book took a while to read, but I didn’t really mind. It took a while not just because it’s over 500 pages, but because it has an unconventional storytelling style. I suppose like the first book in Shusterman’s Unwind dystology (and maybe it’s like that for the other books, haven’t read them yet), this book doesn’t hold onto a particular story goal. The thing is, I liked it better when he did that in the first Arc of a Scythe book. Let me backpedal to explain. About 100 pages into the last book, it was explained Citra and Rowan would have to fight within several months for an honorary scythe title. That gave the book and story its destination, allowing us to imagine what could possibly happen as we rolled through the pages, and it gave us a reason to read on just a little more before we have to turn out the light. But in Thunderhead, a handful of stuff happens and is either quickly resolved or brought to hell. Greyson’s transition and acceptance of a new title that gets dropped on him, a play put into place at the request of someone Citra must glean, Rowan’s endless vigilante journey and his best friend Tyger’s internship; we’re all not sure where it’s supposed to be going. Also, sadly, with so many points of view and no clear destination, the book feels much slower, and not in a good way. But would I say it was unenjoyable continuing to read about the utopia wrapped in pig’s blood and the different calamities all these characters live through in spite of the “perfect” system? Heck no.

Greyson’s story at first satirizes our adamant yet blind justice and penal systems, and then makes fun of those of us who like to rebel just because it gives us purpose. The idea of unsavories and the horrors society puts in place to control them and prevent more from popping up is genius and demonstrates the attempt to unpolarize anyone who feels the utopia isn’t perfect. The antics Greyson goes through which seem put there just because Shusterman had the space to makes this chapter in the trilogy feel like one of those TV series with five different characters being chronicled slowly but progressively. An election ends up coming into fruition halfway through the book, and it’s smart on how best to remind people that oftentimes, when people are put into unprecedented levels of power, they ignore some rules along the way and with a little bit of extra homework, it’s possible to prove their corrupt rulebreaking and bring the wheels running over the tulips to a halt.

The Thunderhead’s constant quotes as the chapters go along feel like the official soul of a machine, someone who needs to protect humanity the best way by default and isn’t prepared when someone really needs him to break the rules to help.

The ending was tremendous, despite not really having suitable foreshadowing for how the climax goes down, which I would’ve preferred having in there somewhere. Sacrifices are put forward, more than I ever thought would happen, and the Thunderhead ends up doing something that has me biting my nails off every morning for the final book, and what world we’ll possibly have by the time the dust will clear at the end of the saga. Thunderhead is not as page-turning as the first book but it’s still strong, memorable and successfully commentative of social science. Bring on the final book, The Toll! I’m ready to tackle and stab it.

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