In a world where death has been defeated and people can be brought back from the dead, as well as being able to reverse the ageing process, there has to be a way to control the population. Whilst most of life is controlled by a super computer, the process of deciding who will die (on a permanent basis) has been given to a group called the Scythes. When Citra and Rowan are chosen as apprentices they have no idea what changes this will bring to their lives. Their teacher, Scythe Faraday, is a strict but fair master and upholds the strong moral code that the Scythes are meant to follow. However there is a growing group of Scythes who actually find enjoyment in killing people. After their teacher mysteriously dies Citra is taken on by a famous Scythe, while Rowan finds himself part of one of the new and very radical groups. They are faced with the prospect of one killing the other when they have finished their training and one has been chosen as a new Scythe, so how will they cope with this dilemma?
This is a superb story which can be read at several different levels; in fact it was a Printz Honor book in the USA. It can be seen as a straightforward Science Fiction novel set in a dystopian world and where the characters learn to cope with the world in which they find themselves. At a deeper level this is a tale that asks many moral and philosophical questions about a future world and our ability to maintain empathy and humanity; as the quotation says “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We are given two very different versions of what the role should be for a Scythe and the contrast seems very stark, yet there is a feeling that the dividing line would be only too easy to cross. This is one of those stories that linger in the mind and keep you thinking about the themes that it covers. The second book in this sequence will be published in the late spring and I am really looking forward to reading it. Definitely a great story for those fans of dystopian tales.