Sunday, June 19, 2016

Book Review: The Scorpion Rules

Title: The Scorpion Rules (Prisoners of Peace, Book 1)
Author: Erin Bow
Genre: YA, Dystopian Science Fiction

(Note: This is one of two books my friend Rita—the queen of YA fantasy romance—gave me to help me relax after a stressful April. A big shout out to her for the recommendations.)


“Did you know the man who invented the atomic bomb once said that keeping peace through deterrence was like keeping two scorpions in one bottle?…All I did was invent the bottle.”

World peace requires certain sacrifices. Princess Greta Gustafen Stuart of the Pan Polar Confederacy just happens to be one of them. A “Child of Peace,” she’s held hostage by the AI overlord Talis. Should her mother, the ruler of what used to be Canada, go to war, Greta will die. And war is coming. The broken remnants of America are in terrible need of water—water Greta’s mother has, but refuses to give. 

And then Elian arrives. The grandson of the general of the Cumberland Alliance, he ought to be her mortal enemy. But his infectious laugh wins her over and his defiant spirit awakens her to the injustice in their lives. Will Greta continue to accept the Scorpion Rules? Or will she find the courage to smash the bottle?


I began reading with certain assumptions about YA Dystopian fiction in mind. This book blew them out of the water.  

Assumption #1: I expected shoddy world-building.

Or, not shoddy, per say, but vague. In my experience, Dystopian fiction is an excuse to mash-up advanced technology with a primitive way of life. That initially seemed to be the case with The Scorpion Rules. In a world with robot proctors and advanced healing technology, why do the children spend most of their day weeding gardens and tending goats?

It is perhaps a strange thing that the children of kings and presidents should concern themselves with the sex lives of a herd of milch goats, but come the end of August, it was time to do just that.

There are reasons, though—the same reasons, it turns out, that people are going back to organic farming. This is a world where over-consumption has damaged the earth so much that Talis, the AI overlord, has forced the people into a sustainable lifestyle. The Precepture—the bubble community of hostage children—is meant to be a model of “environmental rationalism,” so it possible that Greta and her friends are expected to live an extreme agrarian lifestyle most people don’t have to deal with.

Plus, I liked the goats. The Goat Wars was one of my favorite parts of the story. 

It turned out the nanny goats had nosed the gate open and were heading for the melon patch. Now, among the children of Peace, melons are almost everyone’s favorite, because of the way they have to be eaten as fast as they come in. …So everyone who was out was keen to protect the patch. …The cohort of fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds, who’d been waging war against the quackweed in the newly planted kale beds, picked up their hoes and headed over at the quick march, as orderly as a Roman legion.

As the plot progresses, it turns out that both the low-tech farm and the high-tech robots have pivotal roles to play. The world may seem contradictory at times, but it feels genuine and there is a reason for it. Elements of setting, in other words, are not cherry-picked for color. The world functions as a cohesive whole.

Assumption #2: I expected a love triangle.

And yes, this book has one.

“You’re royalty, Greta. A celebrity. Like—like Guinevere.”

 Da-Xie actually laughed aloud. “Guinevere!”

But it didn’t go where I expected. At all.

Elian swung the empty [potato] riddle in one hand and looked from Atta to Grego. “If she’s Guinevere, that makes you two Lancelot and Arthur. Which one’s which?”

It’s not just that I completely mis-guessed who Greta ended up with. The relationship itself was tested in ways I’d never have foreseen, and the future of Greta and her love interest was ambiguous. For those who want a neat little happily-ever-after wrapped in a bow… well, sorry, this isn’t for you. Love is a lot more complicated than that.

Assumption #3: I expected an action-packed ending. 

Don't get me wrong. There is fighting, violence, and high-stakes action that hits about the middle of the book. But the ending—the actual ending—was slow-paced, thoughtful, and character-driven.

We could have talked about any number of things—the work of the garden, the work of the classroom, the recent revolutions in Sidney’s part of the world… We didn’t, though. There are so few moments of quiet. And what is prettier than an apple orchard in summer? The grey and ordered trunks, the sharp-sweet taste of under-ripe apples… We let them conjure a mood of peace and tender-heartedness.

It was also unexpected. Not to say that the ending came out of nowhere or threw out a big twist. About three-fourths of the way through, you know what’s going to happen and it works with what’s been set-up. It’s just that, for me, as a writer, after reading the jacket and the first page, I already have ideas about where the story will go, and this time, I was dead wrong.

On the whole, I found the book to be a thought-provoking meditation on the nature of war and peace and the sacrifices we make. It was deeper and better researched than a lot of other YA I’ve encountered. At the same time, I did enjoy it. I loved the description of the world, I loved the characters, I loved the slow-simmering tension

…and I loved the stupid, stupid goats.

No comments:

Post a Comment