Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Scorpion Rules, by Erin Bow

I have several other reviews half-finished, but I made the mistake of going to the library, and The Scorpion Rules was on the New Books shelf. "Oh!" I said, "Everyone says this is so good! Maybe I should take it home so I can read it in a little while. You know, after I do all the other things I'm supposed to do."

So I took it home. Nothing else got done. I read it in two sittings (and would have stayed up all night if hubby hadn't intervened), and then I had to vacuum and wash the floors when I was done just so I could process. (So that's something productive, anyway!)

The Scorpion Rules is everything they* say it is. Compelling—I can vouch for that! Beautifully written. Intelligent. Heart-wrenching. Provoking.

Kudos to whoever wrote the blurb, because it's brilliant at saying everything important about the story without giving away anything. The premise is eye-catching: AIs have taken over the world and enforced peace by making world leaders give up their children as hostages. If countries go to war, their children are killed. I think how you feel about this book will depend on what you think is the most interesting thing about that premise.

For me, and apparently for Erin Bow, it's the psychology of the children who are raised together, knowing that at any time one child's parent may declare war on another's, and then both children must die. How do you wrap your head around that? How does it affect your relationships with each other, with your parents, with the AIs who are as parents to you and yet will kill you if so instructed?

It's seriously messed up, that's what it is, and so this is a book about seriously messed up kids who manage to retain their dignity, their sense of humour, their capacity to love—their humanity—despite the psychological (and often physical) torture they live through.

It's an intense book. It's also very funny at times. Best use of goats for comic relief in a YA dystopian novel. Wonderful, wonderful snarky amoral AI mastermind who loves 20thC movies.

Oh, the characters! So vivid, so realistic. Greta, the narrator, is barely holding it together, clinging to her ideals of duty and sacrifice. This is what a princess is; this is what a princess does. The others follow her lead because she's smart, she understands the implications of things, and yet she's blind to so much that matters. Elian—bleak, defiant, funny, unable to resign himself to his situation, Greta's opposite in so many ways. Graceful, compassionate Da-Xia. Prickly, protective Thandi. Silent Atta. So many different ways to respond to the horror they are living through. I'm not sure it's a book I'll reread, because it goes to some unpleasant places, but I would gladly spend more time with all these people.

The ending . . . I wasn't entirely happy with it, but it was satisfying. It did fit. And it could have been left as a standalone, but I'm very, very glad there's going to be a sequel.

I'm going to cross-post this on Goodreads because there are a few spoilery things I want to say, and I haven't figured out how to hide spoilers properly on blogger! So if you've read it, come over to Goodreads and tell me what you think.

I just discovered that Erin Bow is Canadian!! And she studied particle physics!! (And she writes great book reviews on Goodreads, but I am now getting far too distracted.) She's now my new favourite person I haven't met.

This makes my sixth Canadian book of the year (which started in July, so I'm not as behind as you think I am!). I'm well on my way to my goal of 13 for the 9th Annual Canadian Book Challenge. Check out John Mutford's blog The Book Mine Set for reviews of Canadian books of all persuasions.

*"They" being bloggers I follow and whose opinions I trust. Goodreads reviews are wildly divergent, and I think it's because not everyone gets this book.


  1. This sounds like quite a book. I can't imagine a book that will give me so much to think about that I will wash floors! Thanks for the review.

  2. Hi Kim, thanks for visiting my blog and reading my review for If I Fall, If I Die i would say that it's an adult/young adult novel.

  3. I looooved this book. Erin Bow's so talented, and The Scorpion Rules is absolutely devastating. I didn't know while I was reading that there was going to be a sequel, so the ending was extra-shocking. But I cannot wait to see what Erin Bow's going to do in this world next.

    1. I know what you mean: I thought it was a standalone while I was reading it, so when I got to the end I was like, "Oh! Okay. Well, I guess this is an ending that works, in a sort of "leave everything else up to the reader's imagination" way." I was so glad to see there's a second book coming!