Thunderhead

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for Scythe. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Thunderhead was written by Neal Shusterman and first published in 2018. It follows the continuing story of Citra and Rowan – two youths who live in a world where humans are functionally immortal and the population is controlled by an order who are known as the Scythes. The book forms the second part of the Arc of a Scythe series and follows Scythe (2016). At the time of writing, no further instalments have been announced.

Ever since she passed her trial, Citra has struggled with leaving her past behind. Although she is now a true Scythe, it is hard to think of herself as being Scythe Anastasia rather than the girl that she once was. Her revolutionary gleaning method has also been drawing the attention of her fellows. Her decision of letting her victims choose the terms of their death is unheard of, and the order is divided on whether or not they support this. While Citra is initially unconcerned about their opinions, her view changes when an attempt is made on her life. Someone has noticed how influential Citra is becoming and will stop at nothing to silence her forever.

Meanwhile, Rowan now walks a different path. He has taken Goddard’s ring and now operates from the shadows as Scythe Lucifer. His targets are those Scythes who abuse their power – the ones that kill for sport or deliberately target racial minorities. While the Scythes initially struggle to stop him, matters change when Rowan finds himself captured and at the mercy of a Scythe with a horrifying agenda. His captor is about to put a terrible plan in motion, but first they wish for Rowan to suffer.

It’s clear that the world is in a state of flux and not necessarily for the better. Although the Thunderhead – the AI that controls most of the world – can see the coming storm, it is powerless to directly do anything to stop it. The best it can do is manipulate certain key players into positions where the can make a difference, although in doing so it puts them in grave danger. Meanwhile, Faraday may also have found something that could change the course of history – a legendary city, hidden from both the Thunderhead and Scythes alike. However, travelling there is unspeakably dangerous. One slip up and he will likely find himself permanently dead…

Before I begin, I feel that I should note that Thunderhead picks up roughly a year after Scythe left off and isn’t really forgiving for newcomers to the series. If you want to fully understand what is going on, I suggest that you read these books in order. If you don’t, I feel that you will quickly find yourself very lost.

In some ways, Thunderhead’s world building felt a lot stronger than that of Scythe. Last time around, the focus was largely just on how the Scythes function and we didn’t really get much of a look at the wider picture. This time, we get a much better feel of the lay of the land. While I did not really understand how the Thunderhead functioned previously, this time it is a lot clearer how it controls the world, as well as the limitations of its power. We also get a few choice hints as to what brought about the Age of Morality, as well as the fact that these changes to the status quo aren’t really all that great for the long-term survival of the human race. And this blew me away. The world of Thunderhead is vast and enthralling; completely original and eager to suck the reader in.

However, as amazing as the world building was, I did feel that the plot was perhaps a little weaker than that of the first book. Thunderhead is incredibly long for a young adult novel and really felt as though it lacked focus. While the previous instalment really just focused on Citra and Rowan as they competed to become Scythes, this time there were a number of other threads. The omniscient third person narrator followed Citra, Rowan and Faraday, but it also regularly focused on newcomers Munira and Greyson, as well as giving voice to the Thunderhead itself. It even sometimes gave voice to a number of other characters, many of which were secondary characters in the previous book.

For the most part, these threads felt disconnected. Thunderhead was very much a middle novel, taking a lot of time to manoeuvre the principle cast to where they need to be for the next instalment. The only two plot threads that really collided were Citra and Rowan’s, and this was not really until the climax of the novel. This was a bit of a shame, as it meant that the plot of Thunderhead is a difficult to define in its own right. It felt more as though it was an extended to build up to what looks to be an explosive final instalment.

Yet, despite Thunderhead’s length, I found that I never got bored. That is not to say that the book was flawless. It shared Scythe’s tendency towards exposition and annoyingly glossed over a few early plot points, such as Tyger’s fate. However, Shusterman is masterful in the way that he builds tension and this is precisely what kept me turning the page. It was clear from the very first attempt at Citra and Scythe Curie’s life that something terrible was building, but it was not until the final few chapters when the true horror of the villain’s plan became clear. This horrifying twist was unpredictable and it did make me very excited to find out what will happen to the survivors in the next book.

In terms of characterisation, Thunderhead was also very strong. Citra, in particular, has an excellent character arc in this book. I liked the way in which the narrative flipped between referring to her as Citra and as Scythe Anastasia, depending on her psychological state on page. The awkward thanksgiving dinner with her family and the way in which young Scythes have begun to look up to her also served to emphasise just how far she has developed as a character.

While it felt as though there was a lot less focus on Rowan in this novel, his spell as Scythe Lucifer also raised some moral dilemmas. While it was hard not to root for him as he was targeting some pretty terrible people, there was a lot of room for ethical debate in the way that he chose his victims. I also thought the way that his rash actions in Scythe came back to haunt him felt very fitting. So much of this book could have been avoided if he had not targeted his enemies so viciously in Scythe.

The two newcomers – Munira and Greyson – were also set up well in this novel. While it did not feel as though they were given a lot to do this time around, both of them were introduced as strong and well-rounded individuals. While I would have liked to have seen more of Munira in particular, I am still incredibly curious to see what role they will play in the next instalment.

Anyhow, that’s about all that I have to say. All in all, Thunderhead was a bit of a middle novel. While it was a thoroughly enjoyable read, it still felt as thought it was mostly just set up for the final instalment. Still, based on the climax of this novel, I am now very eager to see this series through to the end. I really can’t wait to see what horrors the next book will have in store for Citra and Rowan.

Thunderhead can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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