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 Prefecture. 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 Prefecture’s newest hostage and biggest problem. Greta’s world begins to tilt the moment she sees Elián dragged into the school in chains. The Prefecture’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?
Patience is someone else’s virtue – Talis, the Book of Utterances
A nicely fitting quote to start off this review, as once again I am skipping ahead to look at a book that isn’t due out to til the end of September. Like with Illuminae my gut was telling me to read this now and so I did. And I am so glad. My gut seems to be on to be something.
The Scorpion Rules is dystopian sci-fi set about 400 years from now. Humans left the earth to go to hell in a handbasket and soon the population dropped like flies due to shortages of basics like food and water, but also due to wars over things like food and water. The UN decided that the best way to try and figure out how to end all the fighting was to let an AI by the name of Talis do the thinking for him: he decided to take control of the sub-orbital weapon systems and began systematically wiping cities off the face of the map until they started listening to him. After a few days, they got the point. He then implemented the Children of the Peace system: you want to rule, you put up your heir as collateral. You don’t go to war, they’re free at 18. They can then marry, produce an heir of their own, and the cycle begins anew. Go to war, and your child is killed. It actually works pretty damn well. Until it doesn’t. And then everything goes to pot.
First off, these are two things I like right away: there is nary a whiff of The Hunger Games or Divergent to be found. I didn’t actually think they were publishing genuinely unique dystopian books in YA anymore, so kudos to Simon & Schuster for that. Furthermore, there’s a groundedness here that actually feels believable. The Hunger Games is a classic for a reason, but there is some suspension of disbelief that people would just be willing to sacrifice their children for ritualistic slaughter so damn easily. At least here the children have a chance to live: find a diplomatic way to resolve things, and everything will be okay. Not always easy to do mind, but it IS doable. Another thing I like is Talis. Although I loved Illuminae there was more than a hint of HAL in AIDAN. Talis feels entirely like his own unique person with distinct personality. He’s kind of a snarky bastard, and as I’ve already tweeted at Erin, I would love if the final edition of this had some kind of version of the Book of Utterances because I’d love to read more.
Moving beyond that, I love Greta. I love her stoicism. Her bravery. Her sense of self-sacrifice. Her acceptance of her fate and her ultimate fate for that matter can be seen as kind of a downer, but then you look at how she saved others at the same time and I can’t help but admire her for her strength. More than once she is referred to as the leader of The Children of Peace and you can understand way. I also love her interactions with the other characters: especially Elián and Da-Xia. I like how Erin toys with the hint of romance between Greta and Elián, but that she ultimately realizes her love for Da-Xia. Elián helps her to realize that there is some virtue to passion and fight – something almost beaten out of them by the Abbott, but Da-Xia has been there for her since she first came to the Precepture. It’s all so quiet and lovely and the kind nuanced look that can be hard to find in adult fiction, let alone YA.
If I have any quibbles, it’s that I’m not totally sold on the title. To be honest, I find it kind of a generic thriller title. I feel like I could go to the store and find Tom Clancy’s The Scorpion Rules. It’s apt, but it doesn’t grab you. The former title, Art of Scorpions is a little more cumbersome on the tongue, but I think it’s also more intriguing. Likewise, the cover art just misses the mark for me. It’s a bit abstract: once you see the scorpions it all makes sense, but until you see it, it’s just kind of weird. That said, it still is kind of eye-catching and sometimes that makes all the difference.
I have to say, YA sci-fi might be kind of limited, but what it lacks in quantity it seems to be making up for in quality. If you want a smart, mature book that does things differently than most, go pre-order this, even if you don’t normally read YA. The best way to get more books like this is to support the ones that are out there or in the pipeline. I know I will.
Verdict: Buy It
Available: September 22nd