Book: “Thunderhead” by Neil Shusterman
Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, January 2018
Where Did I Get this Book: bought it!
Book Description: 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?
Previously Reviewed: “Scythe”
Review: Looking back, I’m kind of surprised that “Scythe” didn’t find its way onto my Top 10 reads for the year list. Just goes to show that I read a lot of amazing books last year, so even great ones that I completely enjoyed reading failed to make my Top 10. But reading “Thunderhead” just hit home again how much I enjoy Shusterman’s writing and the complex, nuanced, and entertaining world he has created in this series. If anything, I think “Thunderhead” takes this entire series to a new level.
Starting off a year after the events of the first book, Citra has settled in to life as a scythe and Rowan has fully committed to his rogue existence attempting to weed out the corruption that he sees within the organization. But beyond these two, we get two new voices. One is the Thunderhead itself who oversees the action of this story with increasing dismay and almost tragic realizations. And the other is a boy named Greyson Tolliver who has practically been raised by the Thundhead and who wishes for nothing more than do commit his life to helping it. But between them all, will they have the power to halt the terrifyingly fast descent into corruption that is taking over the Scythedom? Especially when new power come onto the scene with their own plans for the future of scythes?
As far as characters go, I was always fully on board with Citra and Rowan, and their arcs in this book just further reinforced my love for them. As a new scythe, Citra has come up with her own gleaning methods: she chooses to let her targets know she has selected them, but then gives them a month to come to terms with it and select the method with which they’d like to go. This seems perfectly in line with Citra’s morality and was also a fun surprise as it answers a moral question that we had at bookclub when we reviewed the first book, about the fact that some of the methods of gleaning were more gruesome than others and it would be rough having that completely left up to chance. So it was fun to see Citra recognize that same concern and solve it in her own way.
Further, this choice, as well as the way that she side-stepped having to glean Rowan in the first book, have lead her to become somewhat of a celebrity and leader among the younger and newer scythes. Citra is reluctant to take on this role, but throughout the book, she learns the importance of providing leadership, even if it’s not something you crave. Perhaps especially if it’s not something you crave.
Rowan’s arc is a bit less predictable, and I can’t get into many of the details of his story without resorting to spoilers. But I like the fact that his rogue existence is presented as incredibly challenging. The scythedom isn’t just sitting back and letting him do this. However, there is a lot of confusion about the fact that the Thunderhead, particularly, IS essentially just sitting back and letting him dot his. This complicated power balance between the Thunderhead and the scythedom is key to this story, and the path that Rowan walks is just one example of it.
When I saw that this book was titled “Thunderhead,” I knew that we were going to get a lot more information about the benevolent AI that runs the world in this series. In the first book, I remember particularly enjoying the fact that the Thunderhead was presented as a completely positive force, so I was worried that in this book we were going to fall back on the rather trope-y “but OF COURSE the AI is evil and trying to take over the world!” That doesn’t turn out to be the case…at least so far…dun dun DUN.
I was particularly pleased to see the interlude sections between chapters that before were made up of various scythes’ journal entries were completely given over to the internal musing of the Thunderhead. It was fascinating reading through the “eyes” of this being and exploring its own thoughts on humanity, its own awareness, and the balance that it has created between them. Further, the Thunderhead has its own role to play, and I loved the creativity and emotion that was given to a being that could have simply been a glorified computer system. By the end, I was completely invested in the Thunderhead as a character itself and upset on its behalf with regards to certain things that were happening. The ending, in particular, leaves some huge question marks about the Thunderhead’s future, and I can’t wait to find out where this is all going.
I also very much enjoyed the introduction of Greyson Tolliver. Through him, we get to see a lot of the inner workings of the rest of the world, outside of the scythedom and their work. For one thing, there is an entire organization that is centered around doing work for the Thunderhead, and this is where Greyson Tolliver first dreams of working. We also explore the lives and society of the “unsavory” members of the population, those who fight against the norms of the world. This could have so easily become a stereotypical portrayal of rebellion and anger, but instead it went in directions that I never would have expected. We also get to see more of the motivations and society of the Tonists, the sole remaining religious organization of the world.
In so many ways, this book took what now seems like a very insular little story in the first book, and blew up it up by ten times the magnitude. This world is so much more complex and complicated than I first thought! With the unsavories themselves, the “free states” like Texas where the Thunderhead is experimenting with letting humanity have more free reign, the ways that the Thunderhead has attempted to move society past any point where they might romanticize the past, and the history of the scythedom and the creation of the Thunderhead itself. There’s just so much!
Through all of these things, Shusterman explores what it means to be human, what makes certain choices and expressions of emotion important to some and not to others, and how corruption can creep its way into even the most perfect of societies. By the end of the story I was both compulsively reading, unable to put the book down, but also absolutely dreading what could happen on the next page. Shusterman has definitely raised the stakes with this one, and while you should absolutely check this book out RIGHT NOW, be warned that you’ll be left completely ruined while waiting for the next one!
Rating 9: A fantastic sequel that expands this world exponentially and leaves readers craving more!
“Thunderhead” is still a new book and so isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Best artificial intelligence books.”
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