Hello everyone, and welcome back!
My third read of this month was a dystopian with a protagonist with two love interests, which sounds potentially dreadfully boring but actually worked out decently well?
Yeah, let’s just get right to it.
The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow
This cover is okay. Its relation to the book feels a little loose, to be honest with you, but from a design perspective, it feels fine. This is not the commentary you come looking for, probably.
The Scorpion Rules is a dystopian about a far-flung future where an AI has taken over and, post-icecaps melting and other global disasters, has “outlawed” war. Small wars are still waged, but sacrifices must be made: any ruler of a state must give up their own child as a hostage, and that child is forfeit if they engage in war. The moral complication of this: that means that states who have war declared on them also sacrifice children; it’s also complicated by the fact that these wars are often over rights to basic necessities like drinking water.
Our protagonist is Greta, who grew up used to the idea that she’s a hostage and who has tried to be very royal and austere about all of it. She’s grown up in a sort of commune where the “Children of Peace” learn and work together, farming the land while constantly monitored by a straight-up Panopticon. That more or less works for her until her friend Sidney dies, a defiant boy named Elián shows up, and she realizes the suffering her friends have gone through—her best friend Da-Xia in particular.
This book is a little slow for this type of book; it’s not exactly action-packed. It spends more time on worldbuilding, which is fine because the world is relatively interesting. I do wish we had more time to get to know the characters, because the other Children of Peace Greta lives with feel only shakily fleshed out, despite their importance to the story. That definitely feels like a weakness.
The “villain” (not a straightforward villain here) has a fun and interesting voice and set of motivations, though, which I don’t find happens overly often. A lot of people are inclined to love villains; I’m really not one of them, but I found Talis pretty interesting here, so that was a significant draw to keep reading. His logic, though ruthless, is pragmatic, and his continuous use of humour and pop culture references in his proclamations is pretty charming.
There’s also a nice twist on the typical dystopian here in terms of the love interest situation. Greta’s love life is pretty secondary to the rest of what’s going on, and also plays out a lot differently than usual. There’s no “love triangle” in terms of lots of jealousy and drama; there are just people who care for each other, and do some kissing, and are more or less understanding about it. There’s also some queer romance, so yay!
Greta’s “asleepness,” for lack of a better word, does stretch credibility to some extent, because she thinks back on children she’s seen dragged away screaming to die through no fault of their own, so the fact that she hasn’t much questioned the morality of the world around her (and whether or not she’s a kind of slave) seems…messy. There are also definitely some complicated ethics in this story that it feels like the novel doesn’t want to fully dwell on, like decisions the characters can make that might lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, or the notion of sympathizing with torturers.
Honestly, I feel like other than providing a great villain and an interesting world, this book stumbled quite a bit in pacing and developing its characters. But it also didn’t follow the typical plot to the letter and overturned some tired dystopian tropes, to the point where I’m interested in where it ended up, and I might pick up the sequel to see what happens. I hear it’s pretty different, so that could be good or bad, but it will take place in this world and the villain should remain a part of it, so I might like it?
Any favourite dystopians of your own? Shout out your recommendations in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!