Greetings and salutations! By now, you will have noticed that mysterious puzzle pieces have been/will be appearing on various blogs. Why are they there? What mystery will be revealed? Alas, I cannot spoil the secret, except to say that the mystery tied in with the excellent The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow. My thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada for the chance to participate and to promote one of my top books of the year. Check out the image above for the list of participants – be sure to visit Brains, Books and Brawn for piece #1, and check out A Cupcake and a Latte tomorrow for piece #3!
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 Precepture. 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 Precepture’s newest hostage and biggest problem. Greta’s world begins to tilt the moment she sees Elián dragged into the school in chains. The Precepture’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?
There are so many wonderful reviews out about this book already that i kind of feel that whatever I might say in a review has already been written so beautifully – see here, here and here for some amazing reviews. That being said, this is one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time and I firmly believe that everyone should have it in their hands this fall. Here, then, are five reasons why you can’t miss The Scorpion Rules:
The World Building
Take everything you thought you knew about our world, add healthy doses of historical details, redraw the boundaries, shake it all together with a pinch of bloodthirsty goodness, a soupçon of unlimited potential of a very smart AI and a dash of “what is going on here?” and you will have this unique and creative and wonderfully sinister world that Bow has created. There’s enough of the sense of familiar to draw you in, only for you to realize that this is a world that you don’t know and that all the rules have changed. Bow’s use of language is rich and detailed, giving you a sensory feel for your surroundings. I could taste the dust in the air, smell the apples, feel the squash – and sense the fear and determination in the children. Hold on to your goats, because there’s a lot to learn.
The Children of Peace may be hostages, but they are not victims. Greta, Elián, Da-Xia and the others are strong, resourceful, intelligent and fully aware what their lives are worth. Greta in particular is an incredible character, and it was fascinating to watch her reveal herself in tiny bits and pieces, and for her to find her strength and will. She has been raised knowing that her life may be declared forfeit at any time, but when the situation changes, she realizes that her sense of duty comprises many layers.
Relationships are intense and unexpected; there is romance, but it develops in a way you may not anticipate. Elián is a catalyst as much as a hostage, and very presence brings the characters into their own. Even the Abbott is more than the sum of his parts (literally) and when you realize the truth about him, your heart will break. As for Talis … well, let’s just say that Talis is beyond all expectations (spoilers!). Talis’ relationship to Greta is adversarial, but it is also one of admiration and interest. I don’t want to reveal too much, except to say that their interactions were totally absorbing.
The Shades of Grey
This whole book is written in shades of grey. The “villains” are charming and smart and personable, and the “good guys” can be villainous. Bow manages to create a blurry line between what is right and what is fair, exploring concepts of right and wrong and ethics of action without becoming preachy or boring. Bow asks the questions about what it means to be human, about the question of choice, about what constitutes a relationship and about what is right versus what is kind. Through Talis, we can examine the ‘what if’ options – what if someone drew a line in the sand and acted upon it? What if someone said no more, and follow through until everyone understood? The realities are not nearly as clear as our politicians would lead us to believe,
Let’s not deceive anyone – there are moments within this book that left me tense and on edge and wanting to close my eyes. Then there are moments with goats. Bat Brain and his friends are necessary comic relief, that release of the pressure valve that is building throughout the book. Unexpected moments of wit are found throughout the book, causing you to laugh suddenly in the middle of the horror – and believe me, the horror is real.
Whatever you read on the back of this book, disregard. This book is more than any blurb could possibly explain (and whomever was tasked with writing the back copy for this book has my admiration). Just as I thought I knew where the book was going, it blew past the marker and took a sharp ninety degree turn into “what the hell just happened?”. Like Greta, we are trying to make sense of what is happening, and only just staying on track. There’s no spoiler in saying that there are twists and turns that will shock you at times, but honestly? It’s so worth the ride.
The Scorpion Rules is out now from Simon & Schuster Canada. copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. It is available for purchase at your favourite book retailer or to borrow from your favourite library. ISBN: 9781481442718, 384 pages. A