Title: The Scorpion Rules
Author: Erin Bow
Published: September 22, 2015
Note: I received an advance copy of this title for review purpose. Receipt of a free copy does not guarantee a review, as I only review books that I am enthusiastic about recommending.
In the future, the UN has brought back an ancient way to keep the peace. The children of world leaders are held hostage—if a war begins, they pay with their lives.
Greta is the Crown Princess of the Pan Polar Confederacy, a superpower formed of modern-day Canada. She is also a Child of Peace, a hostage held by the de facto ruler of the world, the great Artificial Intelligence, Talis. The hostages are Talis’s strategy to keep the peace: if her country enters a war, Greta dies.
The system has worked for centuries. Parents don’t want to see their children murdered.
Greta will be free if she can make it to her eighteenth birthday. Until then she is prepared to die with dignity, if necessary. But everything changes when Elian arrives at the Precepture. He’s a hostage from a new American alliance, and he defies the machines that control every part of their lives—and is severely punished for it. Greta is furious that Elian has disrupted their quiet, structured world. But slowly, his rebellion opens her eyes to the brutality of the rules they live under, and to the subtle resistance of her companions. And Greta discovers her own quiet power.
Then Elian’s country declares war on Greta’s and invades the prefecture, taking the hostages hostage. Now the great Talis is furious, and coming himself to mete out punishment. Which surely means that Greta and Elian will be killed…unless Greta can think of a way to save them.
Characterization and badassery
What we have in this book is a group of under-eighteen kids, wise beyond their years due to their awareness of how the world works. The three main characters that drive the action are fully-formed, interesting characters in their own right. Elian has a brassy, intrepid brand of rebellion. Xie has a quiet inner peace. Our protagonist, Greta, has an iron backbone that helps her hold up to her duty, until Elian awakens something bigger in her.
They’re wonderful characters, and I ended the book wanting to see more of each of them.
Plot and pacing
I chose this book based on the idea of the hostage children. It seemed a unique premise, and the book turned out to be even more inventive than I’d expected. The Scorpion Rules offers an increasingly science fiction take on a dystopian, while consistently delivering pathos and hard truths. There’s no “the one.” There’s no brilliant “fix” for the problem. There’s heart, heartbreak, strength, and sacrifice.
The pace clips right along, with no drags anywhere at all.
Prose and editing
Part of the reason the pace is smooth like butter is the prose. What beautiful prose! This is a book you will see, feel, and smell as you read it. The world is so clearly described that the images seem very intense. This gives the story even greater impact.
The most negative thing I can say about the whole book is the author’s tendency toward past progressive tense. “He was standing” versus “he stood,” for example. This caught my eye many times throughout the book. Though not a serious issue, it does create a bit of wordiness and lack of tightness. But really, if this is my biggest complaint in a book, we’re doing darn well.
I loved the humor. There was nothing laugh-out-loud funny for me, but there were so many dry observations and amusing descriptions that I felt quite amused, rather frequently. The sense of gentle humor worked brilliantly to lighten a story full of so many immutable, hard realities.
“If I got stuck on a desert island, my one book would definitely be Why I Stuck You on This Desert Island, Signed, Your Insane Robot Overlord.”
“The soldiers bunched up here and there, watching and bewildered. How useless are guns against those who are fearless. How foolish, to set force against innocence. Their strength made them small.”
I loved this book. As soon as I was done, I started thinking of all the things I wanted to say about it in a review. There’s so much astuteness, combined with such a fresh idea, smacking a doomsday scenario right in the face, but being heartwarming and inspiring at the same time. That’s a combination of traits rarely seen in one book. I wish every book I read could be so well executed.