These two books in the Arc of a Scythe trilogy bring it to a close in a very satisfying manner. Neal Shusterman is a master at world-building!
Volume two really requires that you read Scythe first to understand the dynamics between the two main characters, Citra now going by Scythe Anastasia and Rowan who is known as Scythe Lucifer. The two teens have survived their apprenticeship and now are bound by duty to kill or glean some of the human population. Although society is now ruled by the Thunderhead, an all-knowing computer entity, the scythes live beyond its control. Politics and extreme factions have developed within the Scythdom and intrigue abounds. This morality tale has Citra and Rowan, plus a new teen Greyson, battling the old corrupt scythes for control. While they are killers, they are also at risk themselves and don’t know who to trust. Who will prevail?
Neal Shusterman is a popular dystopian series writer, as he comes up with very intriguing ideas (such as the Unwind series) that appeal to young readers. He sets a feverish pace in his books, with non-stop action, plus showcases teens as wiser than their elders. This is a winning combination for the YA set but doesn’t translate as well for adult readers. I’m really torn if I will continue with the series as I thought highly of the first book, but this second book was just too busy for my taste. If this series is kept to three books, I will finish it as I’m curious as to Citra and Rowan’s fates but I will pass if it continues longer than that. (Aside- I read these books awhile back, so this is my review from back then)
The Toll is the last book in the trilogy Arc of a Scythe and was better than I expected, with my audio edition being voiced expertly. In the previous book, Citra and Rowan now called Scythe Anastasia and Scythe Lucifer, are saved from death in a sealed capsule when evil Scythe Goddard destroys Endura and unjustly blames Rowan for its destruction and the death of many of the Scythes. During the three years they are entombed Goddard rises to become the leader of most of the world’s scythedoms. Upon their discovery, they are revived but ripped from one another and the book has them on different journeys, along with Greyson who has now become the Thunderhead’s mouthpiece. There is a jumbled chronology, with other characters added such as Scythe Farraday, gender-fluid ship captain Jeri, and island Nimbus agent Loriana whose stories weave in and out of the narrative. Slowly, all the threads begin to come together for a showdown between Goddard and Citra, Rowan and Greyson.
The story was smart and didn’t dumb down any of the political or religious analogies. As Goddard rose to power, a reader could definitely make connections between the narrative and recent US politics. Greyson’s transformation as a religious figurehead and the Tonists who follow him will make some think about faith that sometimes can morph into fanaticism if unchecked. Some characters were irredeemable and even some good characters make selfish and shortsighted decisions. The relationship between Citra and Rowan was always lukewarm and I never saw why either of them was held up as saviors. The late romance between Greyson and Jeri rang more true than an entire trilogy about Citra and Rowen, but frankly, all the family and romantic relationships seemed bloodless. I enjoyed this series as a whole and while the narrative could have been trimmed a bit, I applaud Shusterman for writing such a thought-provoking story.