by Erin Bow
To be published on September 22, 2015
by Margaret McElderry Books
Source: ARC from Book Expo America
Synopsis from Goodreads: 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 Precepture. 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 Precepture’s newest hostage and biggest problem. Greta’s world begins to tilt the moment she sees Elián dragged into the school in chains. The Precepture’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.My take: I'm not sure that the synopsis above does The Scorpion Rules justice, though it's a difficult book to describe. There were things I liked quite a lot and some that I found less than satisfying.
First off, while that synopsis suggests lots of cliche, this book does also also have some original elements. The premise is very similar to a bunch of other futuristic/post-apocalyptic stories and other YA: environmental ruin leads to global unrest and destabilization which leads to the redrawing of national borders and new alliances. It also leads to the rise of AI (evil robots!) As the machines get smarter and the humans get more effed up, the machines take over, with the brilliant idea that each new geo-political region will send the child of their ruler (most regions seem to have reverted to monarchies for some reason) as a hostage for peace. If that region acts with hostility toward another before their hostage's eighteenth birthday, their hostage dies. (I'm also not sure why the parent-rulers only care about the kid's well-being until eighteen, but whatever...)
This probably sounds like a familiar (and yeah, Hunger Games-y) premise, but in this story it felt well-drawn and well thought out. (And in fact, child hostages like this are apparently an actual Historical Thing, which is both creepy and interesting.) All the hostages live on a farm somewhere in Canada that came off to me as half hippie commune, half prison camp. The hostages grow vegetables and herd goats and are tended by robots and watch as their compatriots suddenly get dragged away to be murdered.
Then a HMNB (Hot Mysterious New Boy) shows up and he's cute and rebellious and wild and our narrator (Princess Greta) is drawn to him AND her region is about to go to war with his over water rights. Can you say smoldering hate to love romance?
But no -- that's not what happens. This book definitely has some surprises up its sleeve (and some unexpected humor and poignancy as well.) Overall, The Scorpion Rules felt more a political chess game crossed with a Man vs. Machine story like The Terminator than an angsty YA story.
There's plenty of diversity in the characters, given the fact that the hostages come from all over the world. But I didn't really connect well with Greta, the main character. There's romance, but not the romance most readers will expect. (I liked that it was not the insta-love I was expecting.)
To me, the ending was seriously weird. If there's a follow-up book, I'm not sure I'd want to read it. But all in all, I found The Scorpion Rules a smart, well-written (if a little dryly narrated) book that won't be exactly what you expect. If you're of the "if the YA mold ain't broke don't fix it" school, you might give it a pass, but if you could use a break from the typical YA, give this a try!