The Scorpion Rules (Prisoners of Peace) by Erin Bow (2015)
YA Fiction | Sci-Fi
“The world is at peace, said the Utterances. And really, if the odd princess has a hard day, is that too much to ask?
Greta is a duchess and crown princess—and a hostage to peace. This is how the game is played: if you want to rule, you must give one of your children as a hostage. Go to war and your hostage dies.
Greta will be free if she can survive until her eighteenth birthday. Until then she lives in the Precepture school with the daughters and sons of the world’s leaders. Like them, she is taught to obey the machines that control their lives. Like them, she is prepared to die with dignity, if she must. But everything changes when a new hostage arrives. Elián is a boy who refuses to play by the rules, a boy who defies everything Greta has ever been taught. And he opens Greta’s eyes to the brutality of the system they live under—and to her own power.
As Greta and Elián watch their nations tip closer to war, Greta becomes a target in a new kind of game. A game that will end up killing them both—unless she can find a way to break all the rules.”
pooled ink Review:
Blunt Announcement: You will either be really into this book (at least its concept) or you will find it the biggest waste of your life. There’s not a lot of room in-between but I’ve no doubt some of you will manage.
I stumbled upon this book a while ago when browsing the lovely shelves in a bookstore and while I jotted down its name I did not buy it at first. The blurb and the cover had me all but hooked it’s true but when I casually scrolled through reviews for some light investigating they were determinedly split. One half thought this book was pure genius while the other half thought it one of the dullest wastes in YA history (filled with goats no less). So I felt conflicted, but in the end I like to make my own decisions and so I finally returned to the store, snatched the book, and sat right there on the carpeted floor and began to read.
Ironically it was Talis who won me over.
I strode out of the store wallet lighter and book in hand ready to read it for myself rather than staying on the fence listening to other people’s opinions. And for all of that, now here is mine:
So first and foremost one cannot deny that Erin Bow has presented us with quite the intriguing concept. I love it. Oh yes I really do. Is it harsh? Is it cruel? Is it far-fetched? Is it quite near? That I will leave up to you to decide for yourself but in my humble opinion I daresay it’s at least in the seat next to chastisingly brilliant.
And while the concept I boldly applaud I cannot give such review for the execution. But don’t panic, the book in my opinion was quite good just not as good as the foundation. So here comes the part where I delve a bit deeper in why and at the end of which I hope we shake hands, either in agreement or in parting of opinions. Either way let’s get to it.
The highlight of this novel, for me, is the world-saving villain: Talis, a Class Two AI.
I adore the wicked humor in Talis because with every word he utters I am conflicted between wanting to blast him into oblivion and giving him a gold star for his excellent level of sass. I mean it’s a bit hilarious because as extreme, all-powerful, and cruel as Talis’s actions may be a part of me deep down knows that I’ve certainly had days when I get fed up with the politics, the bribed governments, the sadistic terrorists, and the repulsiveness in the world and I too just want to nuke them off the face of the earth, slap the world hard in the face, tell ‘em to shut the hell up, sit up straight and behave. I think the difference is though that I’m a human that feels empathy and sympathy as opposed to an AI that zeroes in on the problem and the most efficient route to solving it without feeling ethical or moral conflictions within. However that being said I think the key element to Talis and his character in this book lays firmly on that fact that he was a human once.
So I am not at all saying I approve or condone Talis’ actions, in fact I find much of his gleeful theatricality the height of distasteful and if I had been present I would surely have been sick (my stomach definitely turned as I tried desperately to keep my imagination restrained during certain…punishments), but I cannot lie and say that I don’t see the non-debatable logic behind most of his major decisions. And it is this, perhaps, that is rather terrifying.
Talis is basically the bad guy that we all have the potential (and perhaps a bit of desire) to be from time to dark time if only we had the power and a severe lack of humanity to do so. Perhaps such darkness is tucked away deeper in some than in others, so you that are reading this will feel varying degrees of agreement/disagreement but that, once again, is up to you.
Case in point:
I had just made a note about ruling the world. -Greta
The Scorpion Rules is definitely more of a rationed read than a quick shot. While the language moves swiftly keeping you bobbing eagerly from page to page there’s just something about it that makes one stagger the book rather than sitting down and swallowing it whole in one. This isn’t a bad thing it’s just a characteristic I feel like pointing out. …Perhaps it’s the weight of the content that makes us need to take a step back, take a breath, mull over things, and then ready ourselves to dive back in…
Erin Bow clearly did quite the expanse of history research, seemingly reaching out to perhaps more than just Google, while simultaneously interjecting these scraps of history throughout the book in an organic way rather than unnatural and forced history trivia pop-ups. I like it. It adds some meat onto the bones of this world we may wish to shake our heads in stubborn defiance to see the possibility of. It reminds us that as cruel as these events may seem it has all been done before, time and time again. Clearly, we do not learn. We are like a strong-willed dog that, no matter how many times you tug the leash sometimes choking the poor rebellious creature, will refuse to heel only pulling back briefly before finding something new to chase after. …And in many ways I wonder if this is not a bad thing at all…
Okay, so a popular question for YA books is romance. The romance in this book is quite mild which fits just fine seeing as it is important but far from the point of the story. In a sense one could call the romance that is injected a love-triangle but to be honest beyond the powerful bonds of camaraderie, friendship, and that potent something that binds people together when they’ve suffered through something life altering together, there isn’t much left that I would personally define as romance. “Playing coyotes” and kissing becomes more of a form of desperate release than a declaration of true love.
But I will say that it’s a tad ridiculous that whomever kisses Princess Greta suddenly has her ready to do anything in the world for them. So is there romance? Yes, I suppose, but it’s a side note and not the thing that turns the page. But for those of you who care or are curious the love-triangle is quite interesting as Greta’s interests lie between a girl and a boy. Props for being different but I’ll say it again. It didn’t feel like romance, mostly just desperate release and the need to know you’re not alone.
Another case in point:
‘But– You don’t love me.’
It was not that simple. Not nearly. ‘I–I’m sixteen years old.’
Overall I’d say that this is a thinking book. Oh you most certainly can lay back and drink reading it for the story that it is, but if you let yourself you’ll find yourself thinking about the message that the story is trying to convey. Don’t plop down carelessly on a squishy couch, turn on music’s Top 40 in the background, and tear open this book grinning expecting a fun adventure to unfold. The Scorpion Rules demands a straight-backed chair and silence because although it has humor, it has love, it has action, it above all has horror, loss, and despair. I don’t say this to dissuade you from reading it because it’s really quite the interesting read. I simply say this to prepare you.
The calmest thriller one may ever read weaving terror with utter composed dignity at a regally appropriate stomach-churning pace. Royalty, Artificial Intelligence, hostages, order, two-steps forward, one-step back, and a world-saving villain that will give you a double-take conflicted between nodding and despising his no nonsense tactics. Read it and weep at its alarming possibility, then look down and realize you’ve run off the edge of a cliff suspended only so long as you don’t look down so be sure to catch the little bauble of hope floating by before you fall.
P.S. FYI I’m not entirely sure this is actually a series. The booked seemed to end with an open finality but the author has indeed mentioned that she is working on a companion novel…so whether that means a sequel or…what? Anyway, just passing along the info! Oh, also, sorry for writing the world’s longest review haha but I guess there was just a lot to say.
Purchase here: The Scorpion Rules
Similar Recommended Reads: Scythe by Neal Shusterman, I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier, The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Young Elites by Marie Lu, The Host by Stephenie Meyer, 1984 by George Orwell, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Meet Erin Bow!
TEN THINGS ABOUT ME:
1. I’m a physicist turned poet turned YA novelist.
2. I am world-famous in Canada, which is kind of like being world-famous in real life.
3. I wrote a book about Greta Gustafsen Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan Polar Confederacy: THE SCORPION RULES, Simon & Schuster Fall 2015
4. I wrote a not-at-all-cute book with a talking cat in it: PLAIN KATE (called WOOD ANGEL in the UK), Scholastic Fall 2010
5. I wrote a book about cat’s cradles that can repel spirit zombies: SORROW’S KNOT, Scholastic Fall 2013
6. All these books will make you either cry on the bus or snort milk out your nose. I am dangerous to your dignity and should be stopped.
7. I think Hufflepuff is the best house, Xander was the best Scoobie, Five was the best Doctor, and Spock was the best everything.
8. I am married to another novelist, and we can actually pay our bills.
9. My daughters want to be scientists.
10. My bookshelves will always be full.