- The Toll
These books were April’s unexpected win. They had been on my TBR for quite a while (as usual), but I didn’t have high expectations for them. They just sounded kind of… weird, I guess, and I wasn’t sure if they would be my kind of weird. Well, they absolutely were. I was completely sucked into this trilogy, and even if it didn’t end the way that I personally would have chosen, I still appreciated the way everything came together.
In the future, an AI named Thunderhead has indeed become sentient and now rules the world – but whereas people from the past feared this would lead to all sorts of evil situations, in reality it has solved all of humanity’s problems. Hunger, homelessness, poverty, disease, crime, war – all things of the past. Since the Thunderhead took charge of humanity, it is able to perfectly predict and control everything. Even death is no longer something that happens naturally, because humans have been enhanced with speedy healing nanites in their systems to take care of things even if something wildly unexpected happens – which rarely does, because of the Thunderhead’s ability to predict and prevent accidents and tragedies. When people get old they can “turn the corner” and basically reset themselves back down into their 20s and start life over, feeling just as young and fit as ever.
But this has led to the potential of overpopulation on Earth. To solve this, a organization was created to deal out death. These people are called Scythes. Different Scythes are in charge of different regions of the world, and are given certain quotas of death to meet (and no exceed) each year within their region. If a Scythe taps you for death, there is nothing you can do about it. And the only area of Earth that the Thunderhead doesn’t interfere with is Scythe business – Scythes operate outside of the rest of the world.
This system has worked for many years. Death rates are still a tiny fraction of what they were during the Age of Mortality, and most people live to “turn the corner” many times. But there is a new rumble in the ranks of the Scythes, a group that doesn’t view death as a serious, somber responsibility, but instead believe that killing should be embraced and even enjoyed, that Scythes, rather than living quietly and unobtrusively on the outskirts of society, should instead be front and center, rulers of humanity. And it is at this time that Scythe Faraday takes on two apprentices, Citra and Rowan – two apprentices who end up changing the course of history.
Were these books perfect? Absolutely not. There were definitely gaps in the world-building and certain aspects that didn’t make a whole lot of sense if you really dug into them. But on the whole, I found the concept to be intriguing and engaging, the pacing excellent, the characters likable (or hate-able as necessary) and completely blasted through all 1500+ pages in just a few days. I didn’t completely love the way the series ended… it’s not exactly what I would have done… but it was still a solid ending that pulled together most of the loose ends.
Maybe part of it was that I had pretty low expectations for this series, but I really enjoyed it a great deal, and definitely see myself rereading these sometime in the future. I’m not always a fan of dystopian fiction, but I really found these engaging, and look forward to seeing what else Shusterman has written.