The Toll by Neal Shusterman Book Review

I read The Toll a year ago when it was first released and I spent an entire month trying to think about my feelings. And my disappointment made me not even excited anymore to write a review. Now, I was disappointed, but not really angry. There have been much huger disappointments I’ve read in my years. My two-and-a-quarter grade is my expression of how the usual goods are delivered but stretched, scattered, throughout a 620-paged beast.

The end of the last book was a harrowing ambush by Scythe Goddard, who managed to establish himself basically ruler of the world after not gleaning but murdering the committee who voted against him by sinking the island of Endura and feeding them to the sharks. And the Thunderhead, the giant artificial intelligence that dictated everyone and prevented rule breaking, has deemed everyone unsavory (basically, the state you go to in life when you become a law breaker, and therefore no one trusts you and you have no access to the Thunderhead’s privileges.) Except one kid who dared save Scythe Anastasia and Scythe Curie from an attack and was deemed unsavory for it; Greyson Tolliver, a kid who’s now established himself as The Toll, the only man who can still talk to the machine in the sky.

The book also left off with Scythe Anastasia (Citra) and Scythe Lucifer (Rowan) freezing themselves in this sunken safe, side by side, and when a wreckage crew operating away from Goddard’s instruction digs them up, it turns out the two of them have been asleep for three years, deemed dead long ago. Goddard is hated but beloved, and beloved enough to be untouchable. But his greatest little enemies are back, and he won’t be in his diamond-stutted bed forever.

I loved the first Scythe, and the sequel Thunderhead was a lot of fun and delivered what I wanted it to but a bit overcrowded. The other two Scythe chapters used several points of view but managed to balance them so none got too in the way of the other and something was always happening. The amount of viewpoints Shusterman’s used is almost always too many, but he knew how to keep me invested. Also, the endings to both novels had me begging whatever Thunderhead is up there for the next one. The Toll was a book I did devour like the others. I even read it the fastest. I raced through it, and really enjoyed a fair bit of it. But when I put it down, I didn’t feel the same appreciation for the series. I felt some dissatisfaction.

I think it’s because this time the book doesn’t just shift viewpoints but even time points. This isn’t called “The Scythe Chronicles”, especially for this chapter. And it took me majorly out of the story because it’s just a bit too much, a bit distracting and jarring. Whenever a chapter commenced, I had to remind myself if something didn’t add up that the date has been switched and perhaps put in reverse, and having to try and organize it all in my head didn’t captivate me.

When it’s finally established Citra and Rowan are awake and set to head out, they’re separated again just like in the last book, and that wasn’t what I was hoping for. They’ve barely fought side by side in this series even though they are on two of the covers together. I cared the most about them and their relationship, and it seemed to be stalling majorly on that point. Many chapters opened with a statement from Curate Symphonius and a direct criticism. Now, here’s a way of looking at the book. The “facts” presented and the debates around them were fascinating. But there was other stuff I would’ve preferred reading, and its predictability .

Some very good stuff in this book was the exploration of the humans adapting to the inconvenience of having no Thunderhead support. I loved how much more Scythe Rand progressed and her feelings for Tyger, an ordinary guy with dreams of partying as an occupation. Tyger is the exact opposite of toxic masculinity and is the prime example of who heterosexual girls and homosexual boys should aspire to look for in someone.

There’s also a confrontation that is already epic, but then gets more so by leading to half a dozen new twists. The ending, though…? A little icky. Even kind of painful if you let yourself think about it too long. And a resolution with one of the characters is happy for them but a bit…off-putting and weird, plus it involved a very big character who didn’t get the satisfying ending he deserved.

I still recommend this series. I’ve read book series where one entry ruins the whole thing, and this isn’t one of them. It’s still a fully realized universe and a great look at how authoritarians take power. But just like how the cover’s main colour and therefore signature colour for this book is supposed to be purple but is more green and therefore tediously derivative of Thunderhead’s cover, this final entry should’ve rethought some decisions, which is a shame because this was very close to becoming one of my most favourite series of all time.

If you like this, I’d try New America: Reawakenings by Tyler Davis, and the Red Rising and Red Queen series

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