I waited for what feels like forever to read Scythe earlier this year and to my relief, I loved it. Consequently, I had some pretty high expectations for Thunderhead. To make matters worse, there was also the typical worries about the dreaded middle book syndrome, or as I like to call it sequel suckage syndrome. However, I am very happy to report that Thunderhead (a) did not suffer from SSS and (b) largely lived up to expectations. Well done Shusterman! And…end review.
Who, What, Where?
Thunderhead picks up several months after the end of Scythe. Citra, now Scythe Anastasia, continues to live with her mentor, the honourable Scythe Curie, and has now developed her own unique approach to gleaning. This involves allowing her glean-ees to select their own demise no matter how weird or whacky – a realistic performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and a deadly James Bond style martini are a few choice examples. In doing so, she’s begun to make big waves throughout the increasingly conflicted mid-Merican scythdom.
“More and more scythes are coming to enjoy the act of killing. Conscience is becoming a casualty.”
After the death of Scythe Goddard, the order has slowly separated into two camps – 1) It’s totally fine to enjoy your job, even if it happens to involve killing people, and therefore you may murder in vastly creative and messy ways, and 2) Gleaning is a burden and an honour, and should be handled with compassion.
Tricky dilemma, right?
This isn’t the only thing on Citra’s mind as there’s also the small, nagging problem that someone is seemingly out to kill both her and Curie (How dare they! I love Scythe Curie).
Meanwhile, Rowan, the yin to Citra’s yang, is now an outlaw of sorts. Utilising the Thunderhead’s inability to interfere in scythe affairs, he’s fashioned himself a new persona, Scythe Lucifer, to hunt down scythes he believes to be unworthy of their position (aka Goddard ideology supporters).
“Rowan grinned. “Come now, Your Excellency, there hasn’t been a terrorist in hundreds of years. I’m just a janitor cleaning filth from dark corners.”
As you can probably imagine this path lands him in some particularly hot water which happens to involve his friend, professional partygoer, Tyger.
Aside from the familiar faces, book two also introduces us to Greyson Tolliver. Greyson wants nothing more than to give back to the Thunderhead by becoming a Nimbus agent. However, things soon fall apart when he’s given some information that acting upon would put him in direct violation of the Thunderhead-Scythdom separation. Thrown out of the academy, Greyson is cut off from the Thunderhead and labelled a dreaded “Unsavoury”. But it turns out that the Thunderhead may have a plan for Greyson after all, and it may or may not involve Scythe Anastasia.
Why you should read this book
Do I Laugh or Cry?
The tone of this series is really unique, mostly because the world it’s set in is so completely different and yet also the same as the real one. Real issues like religious persecution, racism, the dangers of technology, abuses of power, and the meaning of our existence all come up but they never develop in the way you’d expect. Well, duh Ashley, that’s because it’s a world with no death run by a supercomputer in which there are nutters who worship a giant tuning fork. Then there’s the not so real-world circumstances which arise that you could never have predicted. This is because they’re just so extremely outlandish that they’re almost comical, even though they might involve things that are disturbing or gut-wrenching. The climax of the book is a perfect example of this. Speaking of which…
Now that’s a Climax!
The climax/end of Thunderhead is outlandish, funny, heart-breaking and just generally fantastic. It’s worth wading through some of the quieter plot sections just to read the end of the book which involves *spoilers* a major character death, a cliff-hanger with our heroes in an awful position, a sinking island, murderous marine life, and the villain doing a fake rescue just to gloat. It’s all very bizarre and yet somehow it just works together. Now that’s some writing witchcraft, I’m telling you.
Inside the Mind of a Super Computer
In Scythe, the story was broken up by journal entries from several of the key scythes in the story, detailing their intimate thoughts about their profession and themselves. This time around we’re given insights into the thoughts of the Thunderhead. These segments are really interesting and provide a lot of extra information about the world, showcasing just how well Shusterman’s crafted it. Although, they’re also a little sad in that you can’t help but feel bad for the Thunderhead as it’s forced to watch the Scythdom become increasingly more corrupt whilst being unable to do anything about it.
“Rain is the closest thing I have to tears.”
However, I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen so many stories involving computers gone nuts that I was constantly on edge waiting for the switch to happen where the Thunderhead just snaps and goes postal.
Me the entire book: I know there’s going to be an AIDAN situation, I JUST KNOW IT. Is it now? It is NOW?
A Worthy Adversary
One of the things I was a little disappointed about with Scythe was the loss of the antagonist, Scythe Goddard. I worried about where the story’s conflict would come from following his decapitation and incineration. As it turns out, I shouldn’t have. Rowan and Citra were given a suitable (and familiar) villain to face off against which tested both their specific skills and different approaches to situations, with Citra perhaps more successful than Rowan (don’t you just love how vague I am? Avoiding spoilers is like making your way through a mine field). How this individual enters the story is pretty creepy and horrifying though. The more you think about it, the more you’re repulsed. Well, I was at least. Here’s a hint: Frankenstein. *shivers*
Why You Might want to Skip it
Where are we going with this?
One of the things that turned people off Scythe was its pace and direction. I didn’t really have this problem but with Thunderhead I’ll admit that I did have some difficulty in seeing where the story was leading for the first half of the book. Several major, and fairly compelling, plot threads are introduced and slowly developed, but it takes a good long while to understand not only how they relate to each other but also their overall importance. This was especially relevant to things like Greyson’s story as well as Tyger’s role.
It’s a bit like a giant puzzle with cool looking pieces that don’t seem to fit together until you discover some extra ones lying on the floor. And then you realise that pieces you thought were part of this puzzle actually belong to a similar one. I really hope you know what I mean. Hint: the similar puzzle is book three.
Yes, I know there’s a third book on its way, but there were a couple of things that I felt were left in a bit of an incomplete or unsatisfying place by the end of the book. The first is Scythe Faraday’s search for the hidden land of “Nod” in the hopes of finding a fail-safe against a corrupt Scythdom. The second is Greyson’s storyline which fizzles out and hits a sort of nothing point about a third of the way from the end. Here, he seemingly sits around doing nothing until the last couple of lines. These stories will definitely reach their stride in the next book but for this one, they were a little on the lacking/disinteresting side at times.
Everything is awful now. Why. Why. Why. Where is book 3? I need to make sure my babies are okay. So basically, if you can’t handle books without a proper resolution and everything tied up neatly in a bow, avoid this one. Because everything is awful now.
Overall, despite a few bumps in the road, I really enjoyed Thunderhead and am very much looking forward to reading book three, The Toll, whenever it happens to materialise. If you had a good time with Scythe, you’ll likely have a similar experience with Thunderhead. My recommendation is definitely read it. And if you haven’t read Scythe yet, firstly, what the hell are you doing here, and second, GO GO GO, DOOOO IT.