Monday, September 28, 2015

Two Books About Teens Used as Pawns in War

Reading the covers for The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow and The Unquiet by Mikaela Everett, you might not think they would have that much in common. I read them back to back and was surprised to find as many similarities as I did. Both have incredibly different premises and main characters, but there is quite a lot in terms of thematic development that the books share. Given this and that I wasn't motivated to write full reviews on either one of them, I decided to combine them.

The Scorpion Rules takes place in a future world where a climatic shifts caused the world governments to sink into chaos and war over food and water supplies. A clever AI named Talis stepped into this chaos and took over the UN. Now the world lives under the rules Talis has created and each nation's leader must send a Child of Peace to basically be held hostage until they are old enough to rule. If a nation goes to war, the child is executed. The book follows Greta Gustafsen of the Pan-Polar Confederation, the country that controls North America's greatest supply of fresh water. Her country is on the brink of war, and she knows what this means. Greta is prepared to go to her death with questioning dignity until a new hostage named Elián arrives and refuses to cooperate with the established order of things.

My favorite part of The Scorpion Rules were the parts when we got to hear from Talis. I loved his snarky rules and explanations for things. I didn't like the reality of him quite as much his musings though. Greta is a clever, stubborn heroine, and she is laudable. The relationships between all of the children of peace in their cohort are interesting, but there were huge parts of the book that just dragged for me where I wished it would get to where it was going faster. I can't put my finger on exactly why. It may just be that despite loving Erin Bow's writing, this is just not the sort of book I enjoy regularly no matter who is writing it.

The Unquiet is an interesting twist on inter-dimensional science fiction. There are two Earths and on each Earth there is an exact copy of every city, every nation, every person. Each person does not live the exact same life as their counterpart. This is known because contact has been made and for years people regularly video conferenced with their counterpart on the other Earth. But it became known that two of the same thing can not exist forever, and one Earth begins to lose people and crumble. The two Earths disconnect from each other while each tries to figure out what to do next. The Earth on the brink of destruction is only pretending. They have a solution. Slowly they begin infiltrating the other Earth with sleeper soldiers who kill and replace their counterparts and will be in place when the war to see which Earth survives begins. Lira was taken from an orphanage in Paris as a child and moved into the cottages to train to be a sleeper with a large group of other children. After passing a series of tests to prove her ability to problem solve and take another's life, Lira moves into the place of her counterpart and waits the call to go to war.

Lira's voice and story are truly fascinating. She captured my attention and admiration from the start. The relationships among the training Sleepers and how they carry on after leaving the cottages is fascinating. Part of their training is to form no attachments. They are pitted against each other and separated regularly. It is isolating and grueling and yet there are bonds that survive. The one great weakness of this book's narrative is that it is completely devoid of humor. It is a heavy story. Lira has to do some truly terrible things. It could have used something in there to break up the bleakness. And this is how I found myself getting bored with this one, though, again, I think this is more of a problem with me and the genre than the book itself which is eery and captivating.

In both  books teens are being used as pawns in wars and global politics that are beyond their control. They have absolutely no choice in this. All of their choices have been removed and failure to comply with the established order results in horrifying punishments. It was interesting to see how both books look at the inevitable community that results from young people being forced into these situations. There are alliances, wary friendships, some true enduring friendships, and some sex. I really liked the way both novels dealt with the ideas of sexual exploration in these scenarios. Bow's story is a bit more detailed in this as Greta experiences a sexual awakening over the course of her story. Lira is an observer of this in her story, though she does eventually get a romantic element in her story too. Interestingly in both books sex is used as an escape, a small rebellion, one of the few little choices the teens have. Yet the lack of choices the characters are allowed to make extends in to this realm as well. In both books the reproductive rights of the characters are also stolen from them, albeit in different ways.

The Scorpion Rules and The Unquiet have many tropes in common with popular dystopian novels, yet neither are truly dystopias. I keep seeing The Scorpion Rules  described as one, but would argue it's actually post-dystopia. The world has been righted. For the majority of the citizens the system works great. It only sucks if you're the kid of a world leader. There is the same sense of unfairness in both books that we see in dystopias though, and a desire that rises up in the characters to change things and fix it. There is a very realistic look at this though in that in neither book are the characters powerful enough to be the downfall of the systems they're trapped in. They have to actually sort out what their places in their societies will be and look like. They have to figure out how to deal with the hands they've been dealt. I appreciated this, but at the same time it left both stories ending rather hopelessly. For me anyway. Everything was just so bleak at the end of both stories. I did feel as though Lira would get some peace at least. I have mixed up feelings about Greta's ending.

Goodreads now has The Scorpion Rules listed as the first in a series, and I'm kind of disappointed in this because I think it worked well as a stand alone. Why does everything have to be a series????? The Unquiet is definitely a stand-alone. It was stated in the Goodreads synopsis and was a motivating factor in my reading it in the first place.

Both books are excellently well written and explore interesting topics even if I was unable to love either of them wholeheartedly.

I read a copy of The Scorpion Rules provided by the publisher, Margaret McElderry Books, via Edelweiss.

I read a copy of The Unquiet provided by the publisher, Greenwillow Books, via Edelweiss.

Both books are now available for purchase.


  1. All right, your review of The Scorpion Rules is the clincher for me: I'm definitely avoiding it.

    1. Since you and I seem to be having opposite reactions to all YA books this year, you may end up loving it. :)