“Scythe” unfolds in a future where humans have conquered death, and the Scythedom, a group of trained individuals called scythes, are tasked with managing population growth through “gleaning” – a permanent form of death.
This dystopian world, no longer governed by traditional systems but by an advanced AI called the Thunderhead, grapples with the consequences of immortality, including a loss of life’s meaning.
The narrative centers on Citra and Rowan, two teenagers unexpectedly chosen as apprentices by Scythe Faraday. Their lives are upended as they enter the world of scythes, learning the art of killing and confronting the heavy moral implications of their role.
Faraday, a believer in random selection based on historical death statistics, guides them through their training, which includes attending funerals of those they glean.
Contrasting Faraday’s principled approach is Scythe Goddard, a flamboyant and ruthless figure who indulges in mass gleanings. The story takes a darker turn as Goddard’s actions escalate, revealing the corruption and power struggles within the Scythedom.
Citra and Rowan’s journey is marked by challenges, including the shocking decree at a Conclave that the successful apprentice must glean the other. Amidst this, their relationship evolves, strained by the rules of the Scythedom and their own moral dilemmas.
The plot thickens with the mysterious self-gleaning of Faraday, leading Citra and Rowan to different mentors.
Citra, under Scythe Curie, delves into the darker aspects of their duties, while Rowan, now with Goddard, is exposed to a brutal and dehumanizing side of the Scythedom.
The story reaches a climax with Rowan’s transformation under Goddard’s influence, Citra’s pursuit of the truth behind Faraday’s death, and a series of shocking revelations that lead to a violent confrontation.
The novel concludes with Citra emerging as a scythe, adopting the name Anastasia Romanov, symbolizing hope for a better future. She cleverly grants immunity to Rowan, now known as Scythe Lucifer, who begins a rogue mission against corrupt scythes.
Citra Terranova emerges as a protagonist driven by empathy and determination. Initially horrified by the concept of gleaning, her journey into the Scythedom under Scythe Faraday’s mentorship reveals her inner strength and moral compass. Her character arc is marked by a transformation from a young girl questioning the ethics of her society to a mature Scythe Anastasia, who approaches her role with solemnity and a renewed perspective on the necessity of gleaning. Citra’s emotional depth is further explored through her evolving relationship with Rowan, marked by both competition and deep affection.
Rowan Damisch, initially an ordinary teenager, becomes an apprentice to Scythe Faraday after demonstrating a rare compassion during a gleaning. His character development is significant, as he navigates the moral complexities of his training and his own internal battles. Torn between his innate empathy and the brutal teachings of Scythe Goddard, Rowan’s journey is a poignant exploration of identity and morality in extreme circumstances. His transformation into a vigilante, Scythe Lucifer, symbolizes his rejection of the corruption he witnesses and his commitment to justice, albeit through unconventional means.
Scythe Faraday stands as a beacon of wisdom and integrity in the narrative. His methodical and compassionate approach to gleaning, based on historical death statistics, contrasts sharply with the more sadistic methods of other scythes. Faraday’s character embodies the novel’s exploration of ethical dilemmas, and his decision to fake his own death to protect his apprentices underlines his selflessness. His past romantic relationship with Scythe Curie adds a layer of depth to his otherwise stoic persona, revealing a capacity for love and vulnerability.
Scythe Curie, the Grand Dame of Death, is a figure of both infamy and respect. Her mentorship of Citra is marked by a different style than Faraday’s, emphasizing the importance of acknowledging the humanity of those gleaned. Curie’s backstory, including her past with Faraday and her role in the Age of Mortality, adds richness to her character, painting her as a figure shaped by both regret and a deep sense of duty.
Scythe Goddard is the novel’s primary antagonist, embodying cruelty and corruption. His flamboyant and ruthless nature starkly contrasts with the more principled scythes like Faraday and Curie. Goddard’s lack of depth and development serves to highlight the dangers of power unchecked by moral constraints. His eventual demise at the hands of Rowan signifies a rejection of his twisted vision for the Scythedom.
1. The Moral Implications of Playing God
“Scythe” delves deeply into the ethical quandaries associated with the power to decide life and death, a role traditionally ascribed to natural forces or a divine entity. In a world where death has been conquered, scythes are tasked with the responsibility of gleaning, effectively ‘playing God’.
This theme is explored through the characters of Scythe Faraday, who chooses his victims based on historical accident statistics to mimic natural death, and Scythe Goddard, who indulges in mass gleanings for pleasure.
The book raises questions about the morality of such power, the potential for abuse, and the psychological impact on those who wield it.
It forces readers to confront uncomfortable questions about the value of life and the ethics of artificially controlling population in a world free from natural death.
2. The Loss of Meaning in an Immortal World
The novel portrays a society that has achieved immortality, leading to a profound shift in how life is perceived and valued.
With the elimination of death, traditional life milestones and the sense of urgency that drives human ambition and achievement are lost.
This theme is explored through the experiences of the younger generation, particularly Citra and Rowan, who struggle to find purpose in a world where natural life cycles have been disrupted.
The narrative examines how the concept of immortality affects societal norms, relationships, and personal aspirations. It questions whether the elimination of death, a defining aspect of human existence, inadvertently leads to a loss of meaning and a sense of stagnation.
3. Corruption and Power Struggles in a Utopian Society
“Scythe” presents a seemingly utopian world overseen by the Thunderhead, an AI that has replaced traditional government.
However, the novel reveals the darker side of this society through the Scythedom, an autonomous entity exempt from the Thunderhead’s oversight. This autonomy leads to corruption and power struggles, as seen in characters like Scythe Goddard, who abuses his role for personal gain and pleasure.
The narrative explores how absolute power, even in a society that has solved many of humanity’s greatest challenges, can lead to corruption and moral decay. It serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of unchecked power and the importance of accountability and ethical governance, even in a world that seems perfect on the surface.
“Scythe” is a compelling exploration of morality, power, and the value of life in a world where death is no longer natural. It presents a chilling yet fascinating vision of a future that questions the very essence of human existence.