Saturday, November 7, 2015

The scorpion rules by Erin Bow

Greta is a Child of Peace, a duchess and crown princess who lives in the care of the great Talis as a hostage in case her country goes to war.  Her life is simple, structured, and she knows beyond the shadow of a doubt that her death could appear on the wings of The Swan Riders that carry out the sentence of death on behalf of Talis - an AI can't travel very well after all.  Life in the Precepture school is peaceful and everyone knows their place and their purpose, but life is less certain for Greta now that this is a threat of war on her border, and when a neighbouring country declares war on her country the retaliation is swift and deadly, and her class at the Precepture school is one student less.  

Greta has never questioned the decision of Talis to hold children as hostages, it makes it more personal for rulers to know that they will lose their child if they declare war, but it doesn't take away the fear that she won't reach her eighteenth birthday and the relative freedom of life beyond the walls of the Precepture.  When the new student arrives to replace the one they have lost, Greta knows that war is that much closer, and for the first time she truly understand what living under the threat of death is really like.  When unexpected guests arrive at the school things take a dark and very serious twist, and Greta may have to make the greatest sacrifice of all - and this time she knows what she will be losing.

The scorpion rules was a gripping and totally absorbing read, mostly because it is too easy to see these events playing out in the future.  There have been various versions of rogue AIs in different movies and television series, but what makes this so much more intense and realistic is that the AI was once a human mind so there would be understanding behind the calculating act of completely destroying cities to remind the humans that they are no longer in control and can't be trusted to look after themselves.  At first it seems as though Talis is nothing but a brutal unthinking machine, but as you are absorbed into the story you come to realise that it is the perfect way to make people think twice before declaring war - what ruler would declare war if they knew their child's life would instantly be forfeit?

There is more to the story than moralising though, through Greta we see her changing view of the world - a world she has always kept at a cool distance.  For years she has lived in a world separated from reality, and when her eyes are opened she realises that the world is more brutal, more loving, more twisted than she knew - and that she has the chance to save a small part of it.  This is a very satisfying read, and though it feels complete in itself it does seem to leave space for sequels in the same world, even though they may not include Greta directly.  This is not a light and fluffy read, there are some pretty brutal moments, but it lacks the seemingly gratuitous violence of series like The hunger games where teenagers are used as sport as well as tools, Greta and her friends may be bargaining chips but they are not treated as entertainment.  

This was a real pleasure to read and deserves to be discovered.  An intelligent and engaging read for teens.

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Reviewed by Brilla

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