Title: The Scorpion Rules (Prisoners of Peace #1)
Author: Erin Bow
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2015
Genre: YA Dystopian, YA Science Fiction
It’s funny because I have always confused this book with Maggie Steifvater’s The Scorpio Races…so I went in thinking this book was about racing of some kind. I only checked it out because its sequel, The Swan Riders, was sitting on the shelf (it had just come out, at least on the New Releases shelf in my library). I wondered why I had never read the first book, so I picked up both and checked them out at the same time.
I’m so glad I did.
I think we all have a little bit of book intuition inside of us…have you ever thought that? Or felt it?
It’s this nagging feeling inside you when you see a book that says, “Read me: I’m the one you’re looking for,” and we (a lot of the time) dismiss it as #coverlove, or preconceived ideas about the book, or even poor impulse control. I usually chalk it up to the poor impulse control. Mainly because if I’m feeling #coverlove over a book, I don’t think twice; I just grab it.
This, my book blogging friends, was book intuition.
I will say this: this book hasn’t gotten the best reviews. I’m confused. I thought it was diverse, original, fresh…well, you’ll see. I’ve waited for two days to write this review because I had papers or write…and I was also reading Vassa in the Night…so I put it off. But I can’t any longer. The review is bursting out of me, screaming to be written.
All right, I’m giving in to it finally. Let me first tell you about the book:
So, we start with a prologue…and I know what many writers advise: don’t start with a prologue! Well, I think it worked for this book. We are told the world was at war when the water started to dry up…and Talis saved them all by proclaiming The Utterances, casual-sounding advice taken as biblical law.
400 years later, we meet Greta Gustafsen Stewart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan-Polar Confederation. What a name, right? We call her Greta. She is a Child of Peace. See, Talis, the AI that was tasked to stop the wars and decided the best way to do that was to blow up a bunch of cities and create new rules, came up with a brilliant plan: what’s the best way to stop a war? Make sure each side “has some skin in the game.” So, when a monarch or President of a territory wants to rule (like, before they become the monarch/President/whatever else they want to call themselves), they must have a child. Then, that child is taken to a Prefecture. The Prefecture raises the child until they are 18, and then they can go home.
If the monarch decides to declare war on another territory, then that monarch/whatever you want to call them sentences their child to death. Great way to keep the peace, right? I’m a queen and my daughter is thousands of miles away, and I decide to invade Kentucky (but Kentucky is called something else, cause we are in the future), a Swan Rider is sent to kill their child and the child of the opposing party. So no war. Great. Every once in awhile, though, war is inevitable, and we start the story as Greta watches a plume of dust head toward the Prefecture. A Swan Rider. Though she has eighteen months before her 18th birthday, she’s been watching the reports…the Pan-Polar Confederacy has the Great Lakes…and the neighboring territory is thirsty.
The Swan Rider is not for her but for another boy. Greta is spared. But shortly after the boy’s death, a new territory is formed, and that new territory must part with their child. So Elián comes to the Prefecture…and he’s not a typical Child of Peace. All the other children know that they may one day die: Elián thinks Talis and his robot rules can go to hell. But Talis sees all and Elián is punished so frequently he has electrified scorpions attached to his skin to “correct” his behavior.
Don’t you love dystopian literature?
Up until Elián, Greta has been good and quiet. With her friend Xie, who she loves more than a friend, she tries to make sure Elián follows the rules…because when Elián is punished, everyone is punished. But slowly Greta starts to care for the boy who dubbed himself Spartacus on the first day (freer of slaves), and she starts to see the injustice in her and the other childrens’ situation.
But what can she do? Talis sees all…
Is It Classroom-Appropriate?
Omg, YES! This book has it all: robot-controlled (well, more like AI…robot is so passé) world, hostage children, diversity (Greta loves Xie, Greta loves Elián, race has disappeared), ethical dilemmas…it is so content-rich that I plan to make a lesson plan using The Scorpion Rules as an actor text. Even though there’s a sequel, the book doesn’t end with a cliffhanger to where meaning can’t be interpreted…the book can theoretically stand alone. I love that. I hate waiting for sequels to infer meaning from a book. A whole discussion could be raised over the logic of the Children of Peace: it technically works, so what’s wrong with it? Is it wrong if the people involved know that they are putting one life at risk for war? Oh, the topics to be discussed…the writing prompts that can be given…and there’s so much more that happens and I CAN’T TELL YOU, but I could use it in class.
Lexile.com suggests an age range of 14-17. I don’t see any problems with that recommendation. There’s no swearing (it actually says the word “expletive” in the book instead of having Greta swear), though one of the goats at the Prefecture is named Dipshit. Maybe that’s considered offensive. I don’t think it’s enough to warrant censoring the text. There’s a hint of intimacy between Xie and Greta…but nothing even close to explicit. I’m comfortable with the assessment. The score is HL600L, and that high-low designation is probably added because of the romantic relationships in the book. I don’t put too much behind the HL designations normally.
★★★★★! I loved it. I really did. I’m eager to see what happens next in The Swan Riders.
Gosh, I love that cover. I’m not thrilled with the paperback version of The Scorpion Rules, but I guess it matches the sequel. (I’m not putting it up here because I hate it). I encourage any fans of dystopian lit that are tired of “the chosen one” trope or the insta-love rule, then this one is for you. Greta is complex…she starts out clearly stating that her sexuality hasn’t been decided, and she has no real personality in the beginning…but we see her blossom once Elián comes. She tells him that he “wakes her up.” Like a sleeping princess. And I love the relationship between her and Xie. Xie would do anything for Greta though she doesn’t realize it right away.
I hope you guys ignore the reviews…a lot of people DNFed the book before it even got good. I never found myself tempted to, so I’m curious why they did. But nuts to them: they missed out on a treat. I haven’t even stopped thinking about it, even as I was reading Vassa in the Night. It’s on my Favorites shelf now.