The Scorpion Rules

“You cannot control a man if you take everything from him. You must leave him something to lose”

Title: The Scorpion Rules

Author: Erin Bow

Series: Prisoners of Peace # 1

Publication: September 22nd 2015 by Margaret K. McElderry Books

Pages: 384

Source: Publisher at ALA Annual

Summary 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.

What will happen to Elián and Greta as their two nations inch closer to war?

My Thoughts:

This book was brilliant. There were moments that made me laugh, moments that made me tremble in my chair, moments that made me cry, moments that melted my heart, and moments that made me want to rip my hair out at the roots. This book has it all, and it delivers it through a cold but much needed message.
The Scorpion Rules is not a typical dystopia. It takes The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, and Divergent and basically gives them the middle finger while laughing manically – actually, Talis would be laughing maniacally because he is just that strange. This book starts off with a very informational prologue, basically, it is explaining what the hell went down a couple hundred years in the past from when this book takes place. Long story short, humans were killing humans, Talis – an extremely advanced AI system – was tasked with finding a solution, and his solution was to blow up cities to get people’s attention. It worked, he became like some evil, computer overlord thing, and it all basically goes downhill while also solving a lot of problems from there. He has also removed all weapons except for things such as swords, crossbows, and knives. He wants you to get blood on your hands if you kill. Talis’ answer to world peace is this: the Children of the Peace. Basically, if you want to rule, you must have a child – and that child is taken away from you. It usually happens when they turn five or six years old so you have time to bond with them before they are taken away. Because, the grand scheme of it all is that if you start a war – your child, your hostage, will die. Brutal, but effective.
Greta Gustafsen Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan Polar Confederacy, spends her days, then years, as a hostage at Precepture Four in Saskatchewan. She was amazing. I don’t know what I liked the most about her, her willingness to do what needed to be done, her dignity, her bravery, her ability to think things through and come up with a logical solution. She was a beautifully crafted character, so different from the norms of a young adult dystopian protagonist yet still having that same spark that I love. She was responsible, she knew her duty and she wasn’t afraid to do it – no matter the cost.
The rest of the characters were just as compelling, though some were more so than others. I loved Elián. I loved him, loved him, loved him, loved him. Getting the picture? The first words out of his mouth are these: “Hi. I’m Spartacus, and I’m here to lead you in a slave revolt against an unjust syst-“ Elián is a pop culture nerd, and I loved it. He quotes movies that no one else understands but the reader and the AI systems, and it is pretty entertaining. He uses the quotes, his innuendos, and his snide commentary to constantly push at the boundaries of what he can get away with saying about revolution – failing more often than not. He was a really interesting character.
As usual, I am trying very hard to avoid spoilers, but, I need to make something very clear to you. This book is not a typical dystopian, as I have already said. Rather than this being focused on overthrowing a corrupt government like all of the other books out there, this is a detailed overview of what can lead people to war and the consequences it can have.
Talis is not a bad guy, despite his overlord status – I actually really liked him. As much as I enjoyed all of the other characters, Talis and the Abbot were some of my favorites, Talis mostly. I will never forget him, forget his humor and his capability to reason things through. Yea, sure, Talis is an artificial intelligence system, but he wasn’t always – and that is what makes him and the Abbot so special. They were both humans once, uploaded into this computerized version of themselves. They feel, though it takes more effort. He is a beautiful character for a multitude of things, but what stood out to me the most was how much he actually cared about the children of the percepture. He saves Gerta, he heals her, he protects the children, he basically saves the day. He isn’t all good and he isn’t all bad, and I love that about him. He sort of reminded me of Ultron from the Avengers, but only better.
One thing I did not like was the pacing. This book had too much in it. It bothers me even more now that I know it is a going to be a series. This book had far too much going on, if it was going to be a standalone – fine, but I felt like I read an entire series in the scope of one book. Too much, too fast.
There are so many books marketed as the next big dystopian hit, hoping to knock The Hunger Games and Divergent off their pedestals – but this book does it without trying. The Scorpion Rules has no rebellion, and the evil overlord is one of the most likable, entertaining characters in the book. But, The Scorpion Rules is disturbing, suspenseful, vivid, and it doesn’t sugar coat anything. There is brutal torture, cold hearted murder, entire cities decimated, and one little farm in the center of it all.
The Scorpion Rules is a compelling story of transformation and choice when all options seem lost. It plays with the ideas of sacrifice, science, human mentality, the willingness to go to war while knowing the consequences, and the nature of our choices. It toys with the meaning behind the greater good, how far is too far when lives are at stake? I highly recommend this book, there are some very disturbing scenes – I will never be able to look at an apple press the same way again. I would say this book is appropriate for ages thirteen and up, though, as I have already said, there is some very disturbing material – but it’s worth it. Oh god is it worth it in the end.

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