Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman Review

The first book of the Arc of a Scythe series introduced us to a world in which death has been conquered by technology. Humans need never fear illness or old age, thus overpopulation has grown worse, and the institute of the Scythedom has arisen in order to cull the population. Thunderhead continues to follow the journey of junior Scythe Citra and former Scythe apprentice, Rowan. While Citra is faced with death threats due to her newfound fame and influence, Rowan has issues of his own, having gone rogue and being on the run from the Scythedom. 

Thunderhead has been getting so much hype since it’s release last month. It’s all over bookish social media! And every review I’ve seen of the book has been not only positive, but glowing. Even my favourite author, Maggie Stiefvater, is calling this book the next The Hunger Games. As I type this, Thunderhead currently has an average rating of 4.55 on Goodreads. Pretty impressive, right? Literally all of my Goodreads friends who have read the book gave it either four or five stars, and to those people, I say, I’m sorry, but I really  didn’t think Thunderhead was all that great.

Okay you’ve been warned, now it’s time to rant . . .

One of my main issues with this series is that I truly cannot imagine a future in which humanity collectively looks at our overpopulation issues and says, “Hang on, I’ve got an idea! Why don’t we randomly select a few dozen citizens and give them a literal license to kill? That oughta keep the population down!” Surely the people of the future would first rifle through their Chinese history books and decide to try the whole one child policy thing out first? There are characters in this book who have twenty children. How is that legal in this world?? And if that didn’t work out, how about something more standardised, like an arbitrary death age? (Though I admit, I stole this idea from the cartoon Futurama). Shusterman infers that the Thunderhead doesn’t like restricting such personal freedoms. But surely, limitations on freedom are better than allowing an anarchic group of sociopaths to thrive? I get that Thunderhead is speculative fiction and that I don’t need to consider it logical to enjoy it, but the whole concept of the Scythedom just seems so radical that it distracted me from focusing on the story.

The other thing that bugs me about this book is how two dimensional the characters are. I still don’t think any of the mains are complex or interesting enough for me to like them, let alone care about what happens to them. Time and time again, our leads are thrown into dangerous situations, yet while reading, I never seemed to care whether they lived or died. The characters and the relationships between them are just too black and white. We have heroes and villains, but we don’t know the villain’s motivations or understand their actions at all. Personally, I absolutely love a good villain. But I want them to have a backstory and there to be some kind of method to their madness. The villains in this series are too simplistic in their evilness. They do bad things simply because they can. The new order Scythes seek power and change, yet why are they so intent on causing chaos? And sure, the heroes are noble and all, but they’re also boring and self righteous. Ultimately, Thunderhead had only one character that I actually liked. His name is Greyson Tolliver, and he is a precious cinnamon roll who needs to be protected at all costs.

Now that I’ve aired my grievances, it’s time to move on to what I liked about this book (other than Greyson). As I said in my Scythe review, I do enjoy the world of the novels. It’s elaborate and detailed, and the idea of the internet rising up and becoming humankind’s benevolent ruler still has me intrigued. I also like that Scythe and Thunderhead made me think. Technology is something I generally take for granted and don’t spend much time questioning. Shusterman’s work had me pondering the relationship between humans and technology in all sorts of new ways. It’s also generally quite entertaining, I still think the series would work well as a movie. Ultimately though, my opinion on Thunderhead is that it stems from a really cool idea, but the concept wasn’t executed well enough. A fun premise doesn’t make up for a lack of character development, and what is a book without great characters? For me, it’s simply average.

My rating:

two and a half stars

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