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review 2016-09-21 12:14
“The Scorpion Rules” by Erin Bow
The Scorpion Rules - Erin Bow

"The Scorpion Rules" sat on my TBR list for a long time because I felt it was going to be grim and I didn't feel up to it. It is grim but it is also a beautifully told story about really bad things.


The basic premise is that, 400 years before the story, a (formally human) AI, Talis, took over the world, to save humanity from destroying themselves, and made war illegal. Talis takes a "Child Of Peace" from every ruler and holds them hostage. In the event that war is declared, the lives of the hostages of the warring parties are forfeit. The story is told from the point of view of a fifteen year old Crown Princess Greta, who has been held hostage since she was five and who will continue as a hostage until she is eighteen.


At this point you might think you know where this novel is going. Greta is the victim of an evil, despotic, AI.  A new hostage, Elián arriveswho, to quote the publishers blurb  "refuses to play by the rules, a boy who defies everything Greta has ever been taught" disrupts everything and who constantly tries to escape. Next, we'd expect some kind of "Hunger Games", "Divergent" rebellion in which our girl and boy hero struggle to free the world from evil.


Yeah, well, that shows you the wicked sense of humour that Erin Bow has. She's not going there. She's going somewhere new and exciting and difficult and constantly surprising.


This isn't a book for fans of action-packed, thrillers where the main function of the dystopian construct is to give the teens the chance to rebel while falling in love. I've seen lots of one star reviews for this book where the reader was "bored", "confused" or "so didn't care". They should open a copy of "Maze Runner" and move on.


This is a book about power and responsibility and obedience and sacrifice and dealing with the reality people will always find a way to go to war and that other people than the ones who took that decision will pay for it in blood.


It's also a character driven book.


Greta is a wonderful creation. She lives each day knowing that today she might be asked to walk calmly from her school desk, abandon her studies of languages and politics, and submit with dignity to her death in the Gray Room. She is deeply afraid that she will fail and dishonour herself. She holds on to her sanity through rigorous study and discipline. She is so focused on this that she does not understand her power over her peers, does not see how she is loved, does not take in the struggles of the people around her. Until things change.


Talis is not some cardboard cut-out evil AI. He is witty and charismatic and thoughtful and capable of great compassion. He is also ruthless, deadly, and barely remembers what it meant to be human.


The relationships between the characters are not what they'd first seem or what the dystopian genre has led us to expect. Greta cares as much for the Abbot AI who is both her jailer and her mentor as she does for her mother.Elián is not the love interest, even though he wants to be, that role falls, in a quite delightful way to Xie who is a Princess and a Goddess to her people.


The ending... well I won't discuss it here except to say that it was as disturbing as it was unexpected.


"The Scorpion Rules" is a book of strong emotions and a good deal of violence. Not the blow 'em up and count the bodies video-game sort of violence, but the slow, vicious, cruel kind of violence that changes everyone touched by it."Scorpion Rules" made me think. It made me angry and it twisted my emotions around the writer's little finger.

Wonderful stuff.


So wonderful that I put the next book, "The Swan Riders" on pre-order. It arrived yesterday. It WON'T linger in my TBR pile.


Madeleine Maybe does a superb job of narrating "The Scorpion Rules". Take a listen the extract below which has Talis explaining his first rule of stopping wars: make it personal.



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text 2016-09-03 19:15
Reading progress update: I've listened 375 out of 622 minutes and I'm blown away
The Scorpion Rules - Erin Bow

"The Scorpion Rules" sat on my TBR list for a long time because I felt it was going to be grim and I didn't feel up to it.


It is grim but it is a beautifully told story about really bad things.


The basic premise is that, 400 years before the story, an AI took over the world, to save humanity from destroying themselves, and made war illegal. The AI takes a child from every ruler and holds them hostage. In the event that war is declared, the lives of the hostages of the warring parties are forfeit. The story is told from the point of view of a fifteen year old Princess who has been held hostage since she was five.


I'm about half-way through at the moment and the nearest comparison I can think of is "Hunger Games" but that's more for the impact of it than the content. It makes me think. It makes me angry and it twists my emotions around the writer's little finger. Wonderful stuff.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-02-05 22:05
Wellspring of good for those who want to dig
The Scorpion Rules - Erin Bow

Erin Bow writes books for me.


Now, I don't mean that literally, she doesn't even know me, but so rarely do you find an author who not only writes well, but writes to your predilections. Someone who avoids popular cliches you find tiresome, who ruminates on themes that sometimes are overlooked, and digs up ideas that set your brain's gears spinning off into action. She is the kind of author who writes off-beat or strange meshes of genres that hit all my sweet spots. I loved her Plain Kate and felt my heart crushed at Sorrow's Knot, so I was willing to read whatever story she came up with. Even if it involved a lot of animal husbandry (which, in fact, this one does).


The Scorpion Rules has one of those fantastical dystopian genre premises that give a lot of preconceived notions of how it should go. There are child sacrifices and evil overlords, idealistic youths and conflicts between love and destiny. But each of these premises are given small turns, twists, or outright refutations. And none of this is done as a metatextual rebuttal to YA juggernauts like The Hunger Games, but a different concept that spins out into its own way.


The plot seems like a regular dystopian setup: the world's resources have been squandered, and that leads to rebellions and wars. The answer to stopping the wars have been a return to the old system of hostage taking, where each ruler had to give up their heir as a sacrifice to keep them from going to war needlessly. Otherwise, the ruler would be essentially executing their child as the first blood. And, aside from some semantic quibbles I would have with this set up, it's a lot more plausible than some of the other plots I've read. Or, at least the snarky AI that's behind all the oppressive rules makes it easier to accept.


It also runs counter-current to most YA narratives. Where survival and freedom are the most coveted prizes, what would it mean to know your life in captivity may be the thing keeping your countrymen from slaughter? Also, where most YA show how a society has obviously turned to the worst, and most rebellions lead to the society approaching something closer our status quo, what about a necessary evil that actually does prevent war?


Greta is an interesting protagonist. I know other people have said she is dull and passive, but I think the best description for her is stoic. This is a character who was taken at five years old to be a hostage, ruled over by an omnipresent AI that has blown up cities for any perceived infraction, and told that her life is forfeit if her country goes to war: even if it is only in defense of itself. That circumstance would create a learned helplessness in anyone. So, naturally, Greta accepts the rules she cannot change and seeks to bear them with dignity. Including one line where she refuses to "gawp" and I award points to any story with the accurate usage of gawp in it. In fact, one of the more sadistic characters marvels at how she "can just take it" and accept this abuse, as both a condemnation and praise of her. And that complicated nature is why I find her compelling.


Her dialogue is very precise, and there is an overwhelming sense of resignation to much of it. The first chapters discuss her growing awareness that one of Talis's executioners might be coming for her, and her small permissible act of kindness to hold the hand of the boy who was taken instead. Reading her narration is often an exercise in what she doesn't say, not like the unreliable narrators that make readers guess between truth and lies, but readers who sift through semantics and see how Greta shies away from reporting some of the more horrendous (or in the case of goat mating: awkwardly graphic) scenarios and holds back unpleasantness even from herself.


Elián is the opposite of Greta, a boy who was never expected to rule and thus reacts to becoming a Child of Peace hostage the way anyone else would: immediate and futile rebellion. I like that he is the counterpoint to her: brash where she is circumspect, passionate where she is measured. At one point he says she sounds just like a textbook, but she uses that to spin off a veiled warning at his plans of escape, subtle enough for their robot overlords to miss in its doublespeak. Elián is the chaotic good to her lawful, and I find it easy to believe that they would change each other profoundly in their time together.


I also love that they both love each other, but it is not the romantic love so often touted in YA. I love that Greta doesn't bend the rules because of her all-consuming passion for him, but because she promised she wouldn't let him die. I love that she loves him and loves someone else at the same time [spoiler]and I love that the someone else is also a girl that compliments her diplomatically careful persona[/spoiler]. I also really love how these two different interests are not presented in a way that has competing sides of a love triangle, but different facets that are both responsible for Greta's growth throughout the novel.


As for the plot itself, I really don't want to spoil what happens. Only to say that Bow does not attempt to follow formula, and people who expect a lot of the similar earmarks of dystopian fiction, such as passionate ideals and breathless pacing, will be very disappointed to read a story where much of the rebellion comes from silent acquiescence and withholding their true feelings about circumstances.The finale is not a climax between two major forces, but something far more philosophical [spoiler] namely: a transhumanism manifesto as Greta decides to bargain her life to join Talis as an AI, the last 50 pages dealing with how she has retained some parts of her humanity and also how much she has lost. [/spoiler] The pace of the book is slow and methodical, like a diplomatic negotiation that peels back layers to get to the truth of it.


And that's precisely why I love it.

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review 2015-11-30 19:23
The Scorpion Rules Book Review
The Scorpion Rules - Erin Bow

A very interesting and different take on the popular dystopian genre. A little dull for me to thoroughly enjoyed but I did like the complexity of the evil leader and the fact that it is that different from the hundreds of other dystopian novels out there. 


The U.N has been taken over by the evil ruler Talis. Children are taken as hostages and grown up as Children of the Peace. Greta is a duchess and a princess and one of these hostages used to succumb her mother and the Queen waiting for the day The Swan Riders to arrive, ready to die. But then Elian shows up and Greta begins to learn that everything isn't a simple as it seems. 


My issues with this book lie in the fact that the characters feel to dull and lifeless for me really enjoy. Yes, they're hostages and supposed to be but when I can't find myself liking any of the characters I start to not like the book. 


That and the constant, boring references to goats. I could have used more excitement, romance, anything other than goats. 


But that being said, I will probably be checking out other books written by this author and will be recommending this to fans of the genre. 

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review 2015-11-14 00:00
The Scorpion Rules
The Scorpion Rules - Erin Hunter Wow. So that happened. If nothing else, this book is a hell of a ride, plotwise, and that's only book one! Without giving away too much, it's a pretty unflinching look at what it's like to grow up in an abusive system, and what coping mechanisms one builds. It's also one of the more original looks at Our Robot Overlords, and what one might do about them.

I really liked Greta, our heroine, and how you slowly realize how closed off and damaged she is because from her PoV she's fine, they're all fine, everyone's fine together (ahaha, no they're not). Until it comes to crunch time, and not even really then. I also, for once, liked her love triangle. Adding more girls is apparently the way to get me to do that.

I would warn for some pretty graphic torture, and general PTSD.
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