As the second installment in Neal Shusterman’s Arc of a Scythe series, Thunderhead takes us back to the post-mortal utopia, which is watched over by the benevolent, all-knowing artificial intelligence known as the Thunderhead and where death only comes by the flawed, bloody hand of the Scythedom. But since Rowan and Citra’s last appearance at the conclave, the Scythedom’s political arena has only grown more fractured and dangerous—especially since murdered scythes have started turning up across the country.
What began as ideological differences on the methods and responsibilities of gleanings (government-sanctioned assassinations) has since evolved into a great divide between the old guard and new order Scythes. Citra, now ordained as junior Scythe Anastasia, continues to glean with respect and compassion. Meanwhile, Rowan has donned a black robe and has given himself the name Scythe Lucifer, living as a vigilante and slaying corrupt scythes. Yet no matter the approach, each character soon learns that there are things in their world far worse than death.
As the Thunderhead watches the scythes tear themselves, each other and perhaps the rest of the planet apart with their nearly unrestricted power, all it can do is find loopholes in the laws and hint at possible solutions. And as its omniscient frustration mounts, the Thunderhead threatens to crack wide open in retaliation.
Shusterman’s writing in Thunderhead is never predictable, and his skillful control of the narrative is as strong as it was in his Printz Honor-winning Scythe. The addition of the normally placid Thunderhead’s frustrated journal entries interspersed between these chapters is as intriguing as the stories behind the Scythedom’s bloodstains.
Justin Barisich is a freelancer, satirist, poet and performer living in Atlanta. More of his writing can be found at littlewritingman.com.