8 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: THUNDERHEAD by Neal Shusterman

Title: Thunderhead

Author: Neal Shusterman

Genre: Speculative Fiction, Dystopia, Young Adult

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: January 2018
Paperback: 504

Rowan and Citra take opposite stances on the morality of the Scythedom, putting them at odds, in the second novel of the chilling New York Times bestselling series from Neal Shusterman, author of the Unwind dystology.

Rowan has gone rogue, and has taken it upon himself to put the Scythedom through a trial by fire. Literally. In the year since Winter Conclave, he has gone off-grid, and has been striking out against corrupt scythes—not only in MidMerica, but across the entire continent. He is a dark folk hero now—“Scythe Lucifer”—a vigilante taking down corrupt scythes in flames.

Citra, now a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, sees the corruption and wants to help change it from the inside out, but is thwarted at every turn, and threatened by the “new order” scythes. Realizing she cannot do this alone—or even with the help of Scythe Curie and Faraday, she does the unthinkable, and risks being “deadish” so she can communicate with the Thunderhead—the only being on earth wise enough to solve the dire problems of a perfect world. But will it help solve those problems, or simply watch as perfection goes into decline?

Stand alone or series: Book 2 in the Arc of a Scythe trilogy

How did I get this book: Review Copy from the publisher

Format (e- or p-): Print


In the future, dead isn’t really dead unless a Scythe is involved. Rowan and Citra know this better than anyone–both were apprentices under the Honorable Scythe Farraday, and under his teachings learned the value of human life in a post-mortal world. When illness, old age, and accidental deaths are reversible–all thanks to an all-knowing Artificial Intelligence called The Thunderhead–someone needs to step in to cull mankind from overpopulation. Enter the Scythedom, and the hooded, bejeweled members that make up its ranks. Scythes operate completely autonomously, without any direct influence or interaction with the Thunderhead; as a self-governing body, it is important that the Scythes are seen as wholly separate from the supercomputer that benevolently runs all other facets of human society.

With great power, however, comes great responsibility. The Scythedom alone has control over life and death–each Scythe has a quota to fill, lest the world fall into overpopulation and chaos–and with this power, inevitably, comes corruption. Rowan and Citra learn this the hard way when their former master chooses to fake his own gleaning, rather than remain a part of a Scythedom that allows sociopathic killers, like Scythe Goddard and his lackeys Rand and Volta. In Scythe, Rowan escapes the machinations of Goddard and execution at the hands of the Scythedom, but is forever an outsider. Now, in Thunderhead he is Scythe Lucifer–an avenging angel in black robes who hunts down corrupt and power-hungry Scythes, burning them and scattering their ashes so that they cannot be revived. Citra has also grown in power and ability, becoming fully ordained as Scythe Anastasia and companion to the Grand Dame of Death herself, Scythe Curie.

Though they are apart and their lives couldn’t be more different–Rowan an outlaw, Citra a rising star in the Scythedom but also amassing many enemies–Rowan and Citra are both in grave danger, especially when it becomes clear that someone is attempting to glean Citra and Scythe Curie and frame Rowan’s “Lucifer” for the job. Inexplicably, a third human finds his life intertwined with Citra and Rowan’s–an earnest boy named Greyson, who has loved the Thunderhead his entire life and who now finds his devotion tested in ways he can scarcely imagine.

All the while, the Thunderhead watches in quiet dismay–and it plans and schemes, with only the best intentions for its human wards at heart…

Thunderhead, the second novel in Neal Shusterman’s Arc of a Scythe series, is utterly awesome.

I loved Scythe when it first came out for many reasons, but mostly because of its thought-provoking premise concerning human mortality. What happens when we are no longer mortal? What does humanity become when youth can be requested at any given time, and throwing oneself off buildings is what passes for a routine teenage act of rebellion? Shusterman explores this theme beautifully and in more depth in this second novel through the lens of Citra’s young beginnings as Scythe Anastasia. Her method of gleaning–giving her carefully selected subjects a month to conduct their business, close any open loops, and even choose how they want to die–is a fascinating insight into human behavior. More fascinating in this go-around, however, is the way her method is scorned or carefully regarded by other Scythes; some find her gleaning an act of mercy and wisdom, and many of the younger Scythes start to flock to Citra, eager to accept her as a possible leader. Others, however, do not take so kindly to her new ways and yearn for the blood-soaked days of Scythes like Goddard. These followers of the so-called new order of Scythes think it a waste, unnatural even, to deny their power and want higher quotas and the freedom to glean as they wish.

Enter the eponymous Thunderhead.

The Thunderhead is a supercomputer made of the sum-total of humanity’s knowledge. It is a benevolent rule, but it is also intensely aware of the problems in its perfect, supposedly peaceful universe. The Thunderhead is bound by the rules and the people who created it–but it is not without recourse. While we’re familiar with Rowan and Citra and their struggles, it is utterly awesome to get to know The Thunderhead as a character in its own right in this second novel. Like I said, it’s a kind of benevolent overlord–certainly, it thinks of itself as such and tells readers as such in each of the novel’s many interstitials and epigraphs–but even an artificial intelligence’s intelligence can be tried. The Thunderhead, when given hits at its genesis and when seeing the horrors that Scythes can inflict upon each other, doesn’t really seem so benevolent after all. (I really cannot wait to discover what happens with all of the threads concerning The Thunderhead’s creation in book 3.)

The other new character introduced in this novel is a human: Greyson. A nondescript young man from an emotionally distant and utterly disinterested family, Greyson grows up devoted to The Thunderhead. When he passes tests, or struggles with rejection and lonliness, it is The Thunderhead who consoles him and who acts as his erstwhile parent. So, when the time comes to pick a career, Greyson decides to work for The Thunderhead–and in return, The Thunderhead gives Greyson the hardest job of his young life. Greyson is The Thunderhead’s gamble in this book–while the AI cannot interact with Scythes and cannot break the rules foisted upon it and the Scythedom, it can use others to help enact its plans. For better or for worse, the lonely but intensely moral Greyson is the perfect vessel for this action. I loved reading about this character, his slide into undercover work, his self-discoveries and doubts, and the choices he ultimately makes with both Citra and Rowan’s lives on the line.

And then, there’s a whole bunch of other really dramatic stuff that happens in this second novel–involving old foes and friends, Rowan’s past actions, and Citra’s future. It’s all REALLY, really intense, and I can’t really talk about any of it without spoiling you. Suffice it to say, the action in this second book is real, as are the stakes. Ending on a dramatic cliffhanger, Thunderhead is every bit as tantalizing, thought-provoking, and badass as its award-winning predecessor.

Absolutely recommended–and I cannot wait for book three.

Rating: 8 – Absolutely Awesome

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