The Scorpion Rules
by Erin Bow
Expected Publication Date: September 22, 2015
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Obtained Via: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for consideration for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the final work.
View at the Traffic light:
A world battered by climate shift and war turns to an ancient method of keeping peace: the exchange of hostages. The Children of Peace – sons and daughters of kings and presidents and generals – are raised together in small, isolated schools called Preceptures. There, they learn history and political theory, and are taught to gracefully accept what may well be their fate: to die if their countries declare war.
Greta Gustafsen Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan-Polar Confederation, is the pride of the North American Prefecture. Learned and disciplined, Greta is proud of her role in keeping the global peace, even though, with her country controlling two-thirds of the world’s most war-worthy resource — water — she has little chance of reaching adulthood alive.
Enter Elián Palnik, the Prefecture’s newest hostage and biggest problem. Greta’s world begins to tilt the moment she sees Elián dragged into the school in chains. The Prefecture’s insidious surveillance, its small punishments and rewards, can make no dent in Elián, who is not interested in dignity and tradition, and doesn’t even accept the right of the UN to keep hostages.
What will happen to Elián and Greta as their two nations inch closer to war?
Wow, was this book a surprise! The first chapter starts as an introduction to Talis, the snarky villainous AI that basically rules the world. Then, the book radically shifts to focus on Greta, the actual main character, who is a hostage and a Child of Peace. Basically, The Scorpion Rules takes place in a future where humans invented AI, and then global wars were breaking out, so the UN decided to use an AI to decide the best course of action to make the world more peaceful. . . but nobody realized what would happen was that particular AI, Talis, would decide the best course of action would be to put himself in charge of the world. To make war personal, Talis decided that royalty and world leaders would have to give up their children to keep the peace, and if countries declared war with each other, then the children would die.
Greta happens to be one of these children, and it’s through her that we see this new future world. While I think many will be quick to label this a dystopia novel(and I understand why–the world does have some dystopia hallmarks), the inclusion of robots and artificial intelligence made this one land squarely in the realm of Sci-fi political thriller for me. However, for all the hallmarks of a thriller the book has, the main focus is on Greta’s journey from resigning herself to her fate to realizing what makes her human and what it means to have the opportunity to make a choice. It’s this lovely theme that runs through the book, even while the book on the surface is action-packed(and it is. It’s a SUPER intense book where you really feel like the characters can be in danger at any time.)
Perhaps what I loved most about The Scorpion Rules was how it took used conventions and turned them on its head. For example, the summary above mentions that Elian, a new child of peace, comes to the compound where they’re held and basically wakes Greta up to possibilities. If you’re read a lot of YA dystopia and science fiction, as I have, you’re probably expecting that they fall head over heels in instalove and make a daring escape, right? But that’s not how it goes down. There is a type of love that develops, but it’s not necessarily romantic. Love is a huge theme in The Scorpion Rules–both romantic and otherwise–but the “otherwise” part of love never plays second fiddle to the romance. And while Greta may love Elian in a fellow-sufferer type of way, when she wakes up to the world around her she realizes that her romantic feelings lie with Xie, her roommate and best friend. The way Greta’s sexuality and the way she realizes she has a greater capability for love than she might originally thought is one of those threads that mirrors the book’s theme of humanity and exploration of such so very well.
There was a space inside me, cupped and still. It was small as cupped hands; it was large as the sky. It was untouched and it was touch itself. It was empty and it was full. I held love there, like a treasure.
I just want to gush about this book forever, basically. There’s so many different points I want to mention, like how Talis is a terrifying villain but also somehow way too fun to read in all of his snark and immaturity–which makes him all the more scarier of a villain. The intensity never lets up, either. And even though it’s become a bit of a cliche for a book to use AI to make us explore our own humanity, it never FEELS that way. There’s these wonderful themes of sacrifice and what it’s like to have a choice after not having one before, and how powerful that can be, even if you’re giving something up. The romance between Greta and Xie starts suddenly, but it also develops in a way that shows you it’s not a surprise to any of the characters(except Greta herself), and the world-building is so natural that you never get the feeling heterosexuality is compulsory in this particular world, either. Perhaps the best part, though, is how LOVE becomes the central theme by the end of the book, but without valuing romantic love over other forms of love, which you rarely see in any kind of media.
In summary: this book made me feel ALL THE THINGS. For the first 10-15% you read it & wonder what the hype is about because it sounds like it’s going to be a standard YA science fiction/dystopia story, one that’s well-written certainly but nothing novel. Then, it takes all those tired conventions and smashes them to smithereens wrapped up in lovely sentences. I am secretly hoping it gets some shiny stickers at the end of the year.
Loved.It. Totally took my expectations and did something completely new with them, which is one of my favorite things about reading. I pretty much loved everything about this one, from the first chapter to the very last sentence. 5/5 cupcakes.