Title: The Scorpion Rules
Author: Erin Bow
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication date: 22nd September 2015
Buy at: BookDepository
The world is at peace, said the Utterances. And really, if the odd princess has a hard day, is that too much to ask?
Greta is a duchess and crown princess—and a hostage to peace. This is how the game is played: if you want to rule, you must give one of your children as a hostage. Go to war and your hostage dies.
Greta will be free if she can survive until her eighteenth birthday. Until then she lives in the Precepture school with the daughters and sons of the world’s leaders. Like them, she is taught to obey the machines that control their lives. Like them, she is prepared to die with dignity, if she must. But everything changes when a new hostage arrives. Elián is a boy who refuses to play by the rules, a boy who defies everything Greta has ever been taught. And he opens Greta’s eyes to the brutality of the system they live under—and to her own power.
As Greta and Elián watch their nations tip closer to war, Greta becomes a target in a new kind of game. A game that will end up killing them both—unless she can find a way to break all the rules.
This book is amazing. It is so utterly amazing that just thinking about it makes me squeal and think such incoherent thoughts that an otter’s squeaking (such as this) would sound eloquent in comparison. I apologise in advance.
So why am I so excited about this book? For far too many reasons. These are only the tip of the iceberg:
- Although this is a dystopia, it’s not your usual US-centric story. The characters are diverse, from every continent and every race, and there’s a plethora of queer characters, including bisexuals, and an f/f romance subplot (can we have a thousand exclamation points there?!).
- Speaking of romance, even thought the blurb makes it sound as if there’ll be quite a bit of it between Greta and Élian, that’s far from the truth. Indeed, there is very little romance in the book as a whole. Yes, these are teenagers with hormones. No, they don’t spend their time snogging or thinking of how to find time for kissing while their lives are destroyed by an AI overlord.
- An AI overlord who is possibly one of the best villains I have ever read. He is funny, sarcastic, charming, and beautifully intelligent. His logic is based on the idea that the only way of keeping nations from obliterating one another is by threatening the leaders’ children. I know, it sounds cruel, and yet, when you face the political climate of Earth, it makes you wonder if he isn’t just making the best out of a species-extinction situation.
- And this situation is a complex, only too believable one (you need only turn on the TV to see the similarities). The Earth is dying. After humanity used up nearly all of its resources, water is a prize to fight, even kill for. So what should you do when you rule a country who has just enough water for your people to survive and not a drop to spare? When your neighbour country can’t kill the thirst of even a tenth of their population and threatens you with war? Keep the water for your people and condemn your child to death or give in to your neighbour and inevitably see your people die?
- Although this is the kind of story that clearly aims at making the reader think and consider the world in shades of grey, it is not a philosophical book. There is no lack of action or character development, nor does the pacing suffer from it. If anything, it makes it all the more heart-wrenching. It makes you bleed for characters that are told to pick one of two impossible choices.
- Speaking of impossible choices, get ready for a mind bending plot twist that will defy every single YA dystopia trope you could have thought of. Honestly. This is not your usual YA book nor your usual dystopia. It just isn’t.
In short, if you like your dystopias action packed and fairly simplistic, you might have some difficulties here. There is action, but of a different sort, and quite a bit of information to digest. In my humble opinion, however, it is more than worth it. It’s not every day you find such a gem as this.
All in all, The Scorpion Rules is, without a single drop of doubt, one of the best reads of 2015. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that this is the sort of book I always yearn for: intelligent, defiant, empathetic, funny, subversive, and just really well written. My one complaint? That it didn’t last longer. Thankfully, it looks like there will be a companion to this book, which might just appease this reader’s heart for a while. But only for a while.
The book in a quote
“Did you know, the man who invented the atomic bomb once said that keeping peace through deterrence was like keeping two scorpions in one bottle? You can picture that, right? They know they can’t sting without getting stung. They can’t kill without getting killed. And you’d think that would stop them.” He gave the book another boot, and it flipped closed with a snick. “But it doesn’t.”