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Title: The Scorpion Rules
Series Title: Prisoners of Peace
Author: Erin Bow
Date Started: June 29, 2017
Date Finished: July 26, 2017
Reading Duration: 27 days
Genre: Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Dystopian, Young Adult
The world is at peace, said the Utterances. And really, if the odd princess has a hard day, is that too much to ask?
Greta is a duchess and crown princess—and a hostage to peace. This is how the game is played: if you want to rule, you must give one of your children as a hostage. Go to war and your hostage dies.
Greta will be free if she can survive until her eighteenth birthday. Until then she lives in the Precepture school with the daughters and sons of the world’s leaders. Like them, she is taught to obey the machines that control their lives. Like them, she is prepared to die with dignity, if she must. But everything changes when a new hostage arrives. Elián is a boy who refuses to play by the rules, a boy who defies everything Greta has ever been taught. And he opens Greta’s eyes to the brutality of the system they live under—and to her own power.
As Greta and Elián watch their nations tip closer to war, Greta becomes a target in a new kind of game. A game that will end up killing them both—unless she can find a way to break all the rules.
The concept of children as bargaining chips for their parents’ cooperation stopped being strange (at least in young adult) after the debut of The Hunger Games, and many YA novels have risen out of the slush pile clinging to its coattails, but there’s enough of a spin on the paradigm in The Scorpion Rules to make it stand out. Games are still played, but they are far more subtle than the Capital’s spectacle (though to be fair The Hunger Games is more about navigating the subtlety than it initially appears); however slaughtering children for their parents’ mistakes still fits within that same motif. These futuristic dystopias showcase a potentially missable prospect: holding the future hostage to make us slaves to the past. When you are willing to kill off the next generation in order to control the prior, it shows a distinctive lack of progress even in a technologically advanced world. There is little hope in a regime whose best boast is that it can wipe entire cities off the map with ease.
Bow ties together the paradigm of “stranger in a strange land” seen through the eyes of those who’ve trod the path beautifully. Elián is exactly what the prisoners of peace need to remember they are. They don’t realize how broken in they’ve been to their robotic proctors and the Panopticon (all seeing eye) until one comes among them who refuses to be broken no matter what’s done to him.
The Scorpion Rules is quietly intense and brutally horrifying in its indifference. What both Talis, the shepherd of this “peace,” and the squabbling nation-states are willing to do is not for the faint of heart. The reason for potential war and this particular stalemate is a lack we may see in our lifetime: water. Greta and Elián share a bond in that their nations are nearly at each other’s throats for this resource, and if the peace is broken, both of them will die. Since the book opens with a child being taken away by one of Talis’s Swan Riders, it’s plain to see this is not a perfect peace.
The dialogue is minimal; the characters are diverse, and there are same sex relationships presented just as is. Narrated by Greta, all of the children have been together for so long that many words are no longer necessary, and they often speak in code, because “big brother is always watching/listening.” The ending is neither expected nor trite, and while the novel is slow to start, the writing is lush and prosaic, like wading through honey as opposed to drowning in mud.
Shares Paradigms With: SOMA; Hunger Games; I, Robot; Terminator