I’m happy to have Julia O’Connell here as a guest review today! Julia’s reviewing The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow.
Julia is a blogger and book-lover, mostly devoted to genres dark and dismal. She runs a gothic book blog called The Gothic Library (www.thegothiclibrary.com) and can also occasionally be found writing for the geeky feminist website, The Daily Geekette (https://dailygeekette.wordpress.com/). You can follow her on Twitter: @gothic_library; Facebook: www.facebook.com/thegothiclibrary; and Tumblr: http://thegothiclibrary.tumblr.com/.
I was lucky enough to receive an advanced reader’s copy of an exciting new YA dystopia novel called The Scorpion Rules. If you’re a fan of diverse dystopia and you like my review below, look for The Scorpion Rules in stores starting September 22nd!
Notes on Diversity:
As much fun as The Hunger Games was, it’s always nice to have a dystopian novel that acknowledges a world beyond America. The Scorpion Rules features a cast of characters that each come from a different country, and as a result represent different races, religions, and backgrounds. One of the most important characters is an Asian princess from the Chinese province of Yunnan. Another is a “racially indeterminate” Jewish boy from the Great Lakes region of what was formally America. One of the side characters is a girl from Africa whose hobbies include pointing out the Eurocentrism in their history lessons. In fact, a global perspective is essential to the premise of this book. However, this doesn’t stop all of the action from being focused on the America/Canada area. With one character from each region literally serving as a representative for those people, this book occasionally toes the line of tokenism and stereotyping, but for the most part, The Scorpion Rules is a largely successful example of a racially diverse dystopia.
Where this book most excels in terms of diversity, however, is in its inclusion of LGBT characters. This is one of the best examples I have read of literature with queer characters that is not “queer literature.” The main character, Greta, comes to understand her sexuality as the book goes on, in stolen moments when she can escape from the threat of war, torture, and death. Likely either lesbian or bisexual, it is unclear exactly how Greta identifies by the end of the book. What is clear, though, is that she is in love with (**minor spoiler**) a bisexual woman of color.
What really drew me into this book was its premise: after global disasters and nearly apocalyptic levels of warfare, a snarky and irreverent artificial intelligence named Talis decides to take over the world for its own good. Inspired by the practices of medieval warfare, Talis implements a hostage system in which a child is taken from each of the world’s leaders as surety against future wars (think Theon Greyjoy from Game of Thrones). The Scorpion Rules tells the story of Greta Gustafsen Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan Polar Confederacy, and the other hostages in her age cohort at the prison/school/work camp known as the Precepture. Greta is just months away from turning 18 and being set free, however, the odds are not looking good that she will last that long. Talis’s rules are clear: for any country that engages in an act of war, regardless of who is the aggressor, the children of all involved leaders will be killed. And the situation at the Pan Polar border is looking pretty shaky.
Life at the Precepture becomes even more unsettling when a new Child of the Peace is brought in–Elian Palnik of the Cumberland Alliance, a newly formed country on the Pan Polar Border. Unlike Greta and her classmates, Elian has not accepted his role as hostage and is willing to fight every day for his freedom. Elian’s actions and his punishments open Greta’s eyes to the negative aspects of the Precepture. Elian’s arrival triggers a series of events that change Greta’s life forever.
One thing I really appreciated about this book was its non-traditional love triangle, or almost lack thereof. One would think from reading the premise that this is all a set-up for a star-crossed love between Greta and Elian. And at times, the story seems to head that way. However, the author chooses instead to explore not only other sexualities, but also how a deep and meaningful friendship can exist in the midst of sexual tension.
The Scorpion Rules also delves into big questions about what it means to be human and where the boundaries exist between human and machine. It raises philosophical questions of morality and whether it is truly good to sacrifice an individual’s life to save thousands. Whether you’re interested in romance, global politics, or science fiction, this book has a little something for everyone. Overall, the plot is compelling and the characters focused on are nuanced and complex, though I think a few of the side characters could have used more screen time and fleshing out. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars for originality, depth, and the ability to keep me turning the pages late into the night.
Want posts like this delivered to your inbox? Sign up for my newsletter!