2 In Review

Review: Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

Review: Thunderhead by Neal ShustermanThunderhead (Arc of a Scythe, #2) by Neal Shusterman
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on January 9, 2018
Pages: 504
Format: Hardcover

Rowan has gone rogue, and has taken it upon himself to put the Scythedom through a trial by fire. Literally. In the year since Winter Conclave, he has gone off-grid, and has been striking out against corrupt scythes—not only in MidMerica, but across the entire continent. He is a dark folk hero now—“Scythe Lucifer”—a vigilante taking down corrupt scythes in flames.
Citra, now a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, sees the corruption and wants to help change it from the inside out, but is thwarted at every turn, and threatened by the “new order” scythes. Realizing she cannot do this alone—or even with the help of Scythe Curie and Faraday, she does the unthinkable, and risks being “deadish” so she can communicate with the Thunderhead—the only being on earth wise enough to solve the dire problems of a perfect world. But will it help solve those problems, or simply watch as perfection goes into decline?

I didn’t have my blog yet when I read Scythe by Shusterman last year, but suffice it to say that I spent the entire time I had that book in my hands with my jaw agape in some form or fashion. It evoked a feeling of helplessness, of anxiety because this society Shusterman is describing could come together tomorrow. This world where “the cloud” has taken over and controls everything but the ultimate equalizer – death itself – is so like what we are plummeting towards, you can really see our descent into this world happening in slow motion.

Of course, this meant that I immediately bought Thunderhead as soon as I finished Scythe … and then I put it on my shelf and forgot about it for nearly a year. Not for any really compelling reason, but moreso the fact that a Shusterman book is intense. There are contemporary romantic comedies, and then there are heavier science fiction books … and then an 11 on that scale is a book by Neal Shusterman. I have to be in the right mindset for these books to hit me in the right place – I have to be ready for them. So nearly a year later, with some trepidation, I cracked the spine on Thunderhead – I should never have been worried. It felt like coming home.


How I’d Describe This Book to My Friends

I actually wound up describing the primary villain of Thunderhead to a few bloggy Twitter buddies as Donald Trump, if Donald Trump was legally authorized to kill people at will and was flashy and gross about it. Without getting too much into spoilers from the first book, there are two “camps” of scythes – the people trained and legally able to “glean” people in a world that has solved every single possible problem and therefore conquered death. There are scythes who are good-hearted people, who only glean those who have lived many, many long lives (in this universe, you can sort of hit a soft reset and return your body to age 30 even if you’re 300 years old – you can do this as many times as you like, as often as you like, until you are gleaned) or who’ve done something worthy. And then there’s the “new” sort of scythe, who kills indiscriminately and with wild abandon. They decorate their robes with rhinestones and jewels, they kill people for looking at them funny, they’ll hop on an airplane and massacre the entire flight crew and passenger population for shits and giggles. These are not good people.

Anyway, the primary crux here is that the “good guy” scythes are ultimately trying to get out ahead of the “bad guy,” Trump-esque scythes. We meet a couple of new characters but by and large we see the ones we loved in the first book continue to flourish and thrive. Some scythes are like, “hey dudes, why are you gleaning so many people? Can you, like, not? It makes us look bad.” And the new order scythes are like:

^ for the record, this is what Scythe Goddard looks like. You cannot convince me otherwise, it’s too late.

The Bottom Line

There are so many clever little easter eggs that get wound into the fabric of Shusterman’s novels. Each scythe, upon being granted the title, chooses what is essentially their “patron saint” name, and that’s the name they go by for the rest of their days (a scythe can only die by their own hand – otherwise they will literally live forever). One of my favorite things about this series is all of the scythe names – some of my favorite names include Scythe Goddard (invented the rocket and basically the ‘space age’ in general), Scythe Rand (as in Ayn Rand, this is a book blog so I’m not giving you any more information), Scythe Curie (Marie, of course), Scythe Faraday (electromagnetism!) …

What happens when we are no longer mortal, when dying isn’t a problem any longer? (the worst you can do to yourself is ‘splat’ – or do what would normally kill you but instead just winds you up at a revival center). The stakes to being alive, to being mortal are essentially gone forever. So what happens now? The other thing I loved about this book was getting to hear the Thunderhead itself’s point of view – the Thunderhead being what happens when what we know as “the cloud” ascends to a whole new level and runs everything for us – sort of like AIDAN from Illuminae, only less homicidal.

Overall, this was everything I loved about Scythe, and then some. I don’t know when The Toll comes out, but suffice it to say that Thunderhead ends on an even bigger cliffhanger than its predecessor and I will be waiting with bated breath for the day I can preorder it on Amazon.

“An arrogant head of state gives permission to all nature of hate as long as it feeds his ambition. And the unfortunate truth is, people devour it. Society gorges itself, and rots. Permission is the bloated corpse of freedom.”

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  • Reply
    January 22, 2019 at 4:20 am

    I agree with everything you said (exempt for your mental image of Goddard, I think in my head he is more charming/slimy…someone you are both attracted to and at the same time want to punch in the face).

    I’ve booktalked this series so many times at the middle school, the book is never on the shelf at our library LOL. It’s just SO GOOD.

  • Reply
    November 12, 2019 at 6:45 am


    I thought of trump too after reading Goddard’s oration as highblade … for the betterment of midmericans and make our scythedom great again! Haha

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