Book Review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Please welcome the newest member of Team Midsummer: Leia! Leia and Jess both grew up in the suburbs of Charlotte, NC but didn’t meet until they were both students at East Carolina University. After serving as Orientation Assistants during the summer of 2008, they stayed in touch. Give a big welcome to her and help us celebrate her first official review:

Leia holds her Ph.D. in Educational Foundations and Inquiry and is currently a professor of Educational Research. She has been an avid reader for as long as she can remember, and is absolutely obsessed with everything Potter. Her favorite book series include Harry Potter, A Court of Thorns and Roses, and the Gemma Doyle trilogy. She is also obsessed with pugs.

 

 

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery: humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now Scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

Scythe is the first novel of a thrilling new series by National Book Award–winning author Neal Shusterman in which Citra and Rowan learn that a perfect world comes only with a heavy price.

I needed a good story to help break through my post-ACOWAR book hangover, and I certainly found it in Scythe. I have meandered between books, not really committing to any one in particular (and finishing all at a slow pace since none could keep my attention for long)… until I stumbled upon this book.

Shusterman is a name that I tend to hear in passing in the book clubs that I frequent, but I had never read his work before. A friend picked up Scythe and insisted that it was right up my alley – and I can’t thank her enough. It is a fast paced read which picks up to a break-neck speed about halfway through. This is definitely a book that I lost sleep over this week.

Humanity has reached a point where death is no longer a guarantee. Instead of continuing to age, individuals are able to turn back their genes in order to relive their younger years – often resetting to their early twenties. Sickness and pain are things of the past, as “nanites” are injected into the bloodstream of all people in order to keep their bodies healthy and healed. “Splatting,” the process of killing yourself in creative ways, has become a popular past time – splatters are revived and able to continue their lives within a few days. This presents a problem, of course, as people continue to reproduce and the earth is more and more populated.

In order to cull the population, Scythes are trained and ordained to glean the lives of individuals. Each Scythe, however, is given the freedom to glean as they see fit. The book follows Citra and Rowan as they serve and apprenticeship under the great Scythe Faraday.

Citra and Rowan are fantastic as main characters, and I found myself holding my breath as their journey into Scythedom intensified. While a romantic interest between the two is hinted at, it is not a main part of the story itself. This would normally be a turn off for me – I am definitely a fan of romance – but its near-absence never phased me. I feel that anything more than what is present would have felt wrong for the characters, which are focused instead on perfecting the art of death.

I am notorious for predicting story arcs and twists, but never saw the majority of this book coming. Because of this, I am hesitant to say more about the book, lest I spoil something for future readers. The experience was one that I will not soon forget.

4.5 Bards

 

Guest Review & Author Interview: Daybreak Rising by Kiran Oliver

Team Midsummer has reached out to a few friends to participate in our celebration of LGBT History Month, and Jessica’s college friend, Leia, decided to step to the plate to hit this one out of the park! Check out her review of indie author Kiran Oliver’s Daybreak Rising, and the interview below!

 

Celosia Brennan was supposed to be a hero. After a spectacular failure that cost her people their freedom, she is offered a once-in-a-lifetime chance at redemption. Together with a gifted team of rebels, she not only sets her sights on freedom, but defeating her personal demons along the way.

Now branded a failure, Celosia desperately volunteers for the next mission: taking down the corrupt Council with a team of her fellow elementally gifted mages. Leading the Ember Operative gives Celosia her last hope at redemption. They seek to overthrow the Council once and for all, this time bringing the fight to Valeria, the largest city under the Council’s iron grip. But Celosia’s new teammates don’t trust her—except for Ianthe, a powerful Ice Elementalist who happens to believe in second chances.

With Council spies, uncontrolled magic, and the distraction of unexpected love, Celosia will have to win the trust of her teammates and push her abilities to the breaking point to complete the Ember Operative. Except if she falters this time, there won’t be any Elementalists left to stop the Council from taking over not just their country, but the entire world. 

Sitting down to write this review wasn’t the easiest thing. I’ll be frank with you; I loved this book. ADORED it. However, in the spirit of being honest, I should also tell you that I adore the author. He and I have been friends for about six years – and he introduced me to my husband. I’ve spent the past few days trying to separate my love for the book from my love for Kiran, but I’m not totally sure that that’s possible. I’m going to do my best to write this review in a non-biased, non-spoilery way!

First, Daybreak Rising’s main character, Celosia Brennan, has dealt with life-crushing failure. This isn’t a spoiler – you learn about it within the first few pages of the book – and it sets the frame for who Celosia is as a person. Through the book, she has this intense weight bearing on her shoulder for what happened before Daybreak Rising begins. You will have to read it to see how she grows from this position, but trust me… the journey is definitely worth it!

Celosia’s journey includes many characters who are people of color and characters who fall many places along the sexuality and gender spectrums. Honestly, I’m not sure that I’ve read a more diverse book. These characters added a richness to the story that made me feel like I was making new friends that were real. Kiran’s character development made them real for me.

Another unique piece of the book is the way that magic and technology is woven together. At first, I felt a bit uncomfortable and nervous about the combination, but the two coexisted so seamlessly that it felt natural.

Overall, I don’t want to say too much about Daybreak Rising. It was such a unique, exhilarating experience that I won’t soon forget.

4 Bards

fourbards

 

 

 

 

Author Interview:

Leia on behalf of Team Midsummer (LKC): Thanks so much for agreeing to do an interview. I am really excited to be reviewing your book and everything!

Kiran Oliver (KO): No problem! Thank you for thinking of it!

 

LKC: What inspired you to write this novel?

KO: Honestly my wife. We were doing email-based role-play based off Harry Potter …judge me all you want… and she actually put a stop to it and said, “Look. Your writing is at the point where you need to just sit down and write a book.” so I did. She’s been telling me to write one for years, but she finally put her foot down.

 

LKC: Did you purposefully set out to write with such a diverse cast of characters?

KO: Yes. Absolutely. That’s always been something I was focused on. Particularly as my wife is a queer person of color and I’m a transgender guy on the autistic/ace/queer spectrum myself along with being Jewish. The cultural, religious, and gender/sexuality/romance diversity was important to me to have in there.

 

LKC: One of the things that I love so much about Celosia is that, at the start of the book, she has experienced some major, seemingly life crushing failure. What made you decide to write about a character who had experienced this?

KO: I honestly was just like, “OK. I’m really tired of the standard heroine that has the world at her feet just waiting to be ordered around by her/she can do no wrong. Let’s flip that on its head.” so with Celosia, I was basically like, “Here, have some crushing failure. Now let’s see how you bounce back from it.” having her have to earn the respect of not only her comrades but the entirety of Esonith is something that’s very important.

 

LKC: I happen to know that you are an avid role player. Were any of your characters influenced by characters that you RP?

KO: You can put in there: Yep. I’ve been playing World of Warcraft for about 7 years. Kayvun has a lot of ties to my character Caoilainn. Particularly her accent. Though I’ve got to say Kayvun had a better upbringing than Cai did.

 

LKC: What was it like writing about your RP character(s)?

KO: It was so loosely done that in the end I could see glimpses of Caoilainn in Kayvun, but she became her own person entirely by the end of it. The only things still really ringing true for Caoilainn’s influence are Kayvun’s accent.

 

LKC: Can you tell us a little bit about the world building involved in Daybreak Rising?

KO: That was honestly the best part for me. I really enjoyed it. I think my favorite locations have to be Dakul and Basau. Though, in the next book I’m really looking forward to showing everyone what the Ardonians have been up to over the last 7 years. I worked incredibly hard to bring realism in terms of religion and culture into it. This is really seen in Basau and Dakul especially. I also enjoyed the breakdown of not only currency and culture, but magic between regions.

 

LKC: I really loved the way that you combined magic with technology. What made you decide to do that?

KO: I figured it was something that’s usually not done. Often, books are either hard to the left or the right. Either it’s your usual fantasy with oil lamps and furs, or there’s so much technology you feel like you need a PhD in Computer Science just to read the book. I thought it would be best to create a comfortable blend of the two.

 

LKC: What can we expect from you in the future?

KO: I’m going to be working on the next book in the Embers of Redemption series for later next year to be put out by a new publisher, as will all my future titles. More on that publisher later, folks. I’m working on a novel called Dragonsong at the moment, which is a lovely blend of similar futuristic magic and technology in a much more modern secondary world, with a university setting for a large chunk of the story.

 

LKC: That sounds right up my alley.

KO: It involves shapeshifting dragons, centaur baristas, badass knife-wielding princesses, and Knights wearing neon that are kind of your average jocks. It’s glorious.

 

LKC: What do you hope readers take away from this book?

KO: That even if you fuck up beyond belief, keep pushing forward. Keep improving, and don’t give up. Anything is within your reach.

 

LKC: What do you want to say to young LGBT readers, maybe something that you didn’t hear?

KO: Your gender identity is valid. Your orientation is valid. It might change as you get older, and that’s OK. Don’t let anyone put you in a box. If you think a community is becoming toxic, get away from it as fast as you can. Find friends that will support and respect you.

 

Daybreak Rising is on sale for $1.99 this week.  Check it out!

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