Series: Prisoners of Peace #1
Published by Margaret K. McElderry on September 22, 2015
Pages: 384 pages
Amazon • Indiebound • Barnes & Noble • Goodreads
In the future, the UN has brought back an ancient way to keep the peace. The children of world leaders are held hostage—if a war begins, they pay with their lives.
Greta is the Crown Princess of the Pan Polar Confederacy, a superpower formed of modern-day Canada. She is also a Child of Peace, a hostage held by the de facto ruler of the world, the great Artificial Intelligence, Talis. The hostages are Talis’s strategy to keep the peace: if her country enters a war, Greta dies.
The system has worked for centuries. Parents don’t want to see their children murdered.
Greta will be free if she can make it to her eighteenth birthday. Until then she is prepared to die with dignity, if necessary. But everything changes when Elian arrives at the Precepture. He’s a hostage from a new American alliance, and he defies the machines that control every part of their lives—and is severely punished for it. Greta is furious that Elian has disrupted their quiet, structured world. But slowly, his rebellion opens her eyes to the brutality of the rules they live under, and to the subtle resistance of her companions. And Greta discovers her own quiet power.
Then Elian’s country declares war on Greta’s and invades the prefecture, taking the hostages hostage. Now the great Talis is furious, and coming himself to mete out punishment. Which surely means that Greta and Elian will be killed...unless Greta can think of a way to save them.
You get two for the price of one today–Layla has a review of The Scorpion Rules for you, and Wendy has a giveaway + recap of the Erin Bow event she attended awhile back!
I enjoyed the hell out of this book. I have been in the middle of a fairly severe reading slump (and am also reading nonstop for my dissertation, so you know, take that into account, too) and The Scorpion Rules is one of the few books that have successfully broken through the haze of grumpiness I’ve been in for the last few months.
But The Scorpion Rules really worked for me. From what I can tell, though, it seems like it’s been a fairly divisive read – you’ll either love it or you’ll hate it. Luckily for me, I am firmly on Team Scorpion Rules (and Team Talis!).
If you like dark humor, morally ambiguous AIs, the odd interlude about goats, and having genre conventions overturned, you too may find yourself on Team Scorpion Rules.
Anyhow, here’s the basic premise of The Scorpion Rules: after one too many nasty human wars, the UN puts an AI in charge of finding a solution. The AI’s solution? To start blowing up prominent cities in order to grab the world’s attention! The AI, Talis, takes over the world, and puts some new rules in place; in order to rule, ruling families need to produce a child, which they then must send to UN-operated Preceptures until the child reaches 18. If war is declared between countries, both countries (regardless of who the aggressor is) forfeit that child’s life. Swan Riders, Talis’s emissaries, come for your beloved child and they’re executed immediately.
Greta, our protagonist, is one of the Children of Peace (what the children who are hostages are called) and heir to the Pan Polar Alliance. At the beginning of the book, one of her cohort is taken away by Swan Riders after war is declared. The nation that emerges in the wake of this war – the Cumberland Alliance – sends their child, Elián, to the Precepture where Greta is housed. His arrival sparks a chain of events that bring rebellion to the Precepture and to Greta herself.
First, here’s what I really liked about this book: I liked Greta a lot! She’s been raised to see her life as something that belongs primarily to other people – a thing through which peace can be maintained. Because she’s been at the Precepture since she was a young child, she’s really internalized much of what she’s been taught – she’s self-sacrificing, blindly trusts authority, and while she loves her cohort and her family, has a hard time forming emotional bonds because hey, they can be taken away at any moment. Elián’s arrival changes things for her; unlike the rest of her cohort, he’s been raised outside the Precepture, and doesn’t understand many of the rules that govern their behavior. He wants to rebel against the system! and this wakes something up in Greta, and forces her to think more critically about the Precepture; the AI in charge of it, who’s been like a father to her; and her role as a sacrifice.
What I loved most about this: this storyline doesn’t progress in the way that you’d expect. View Spoiler » For example, I thought that Elián, in addition to shocking Greta out of her complacency, would also become a love interest for her. And this happens a little, but is handled really, really well. They do share a few tender moments, but it isn’t anything more than “woo, exploring feelings.” While Greta does sacrifice herself for Elián, it isn’t because she’s wildly in love with him. And I really, really liked that. Additionally, Greta’s actual canonical love interest is her best friend, Princess Xie. YESSSSS. And it works much better as a romance, too. Xie has also lived at the Precepture for most of her life, but has responded differently from Greta – although I feel like, in all fairness to Greta, this is because Xie’s country is far more stable than Greta’s, so she’s fairly certain that she’s going to make it to 18. Anyway. tl;dr: f/f romance in this book, and it is pretty great. If you think it comes out of nowhere, it kind of does, but only, I think, because conventions have taught us to expect that the rebellious dude who shows up is destined to be the love interest. Whatever! It is there and it is canon and you can watch me throw a party over it. « Hide Spoiler
Last thing I loved: TALIS. More Talis in the next book, please. I would like to know more about the human-turned-AI who’s taken over the world, and um, get more backstory for him? He’s also super snarky and pretty morally ambiguous (in the sense that he cares not a whit for individual human lives, and sees human life as disposable. That is to say, he’s fine with blowing up a few cities if it serves the good of the world as a whole).
That said, I thought the pacing of the book was a bit off, and while I liked Greta, I felt like the supporting characters (the Abbott in particular, but also some of Greta’s friends) weren’t as well developed. I felt like I had a strong sense of who Elián and Xie were, but other than that … not so much. Also, while at the book’s end I could see how Elián had changed Greta’s perspective on her imprisonment, that wasn’t necessarily clear in the midst of the book. (So, I understand how the scene where she sees him for the first time is significant by the book’s end, but when I was reading about it? I kind of didn’t get the emotional impact of it.)
All things considered, this book is pretty great and if any of this has appealed to you, you should read it. I am pretty excited for Book Two, I am not gonna lie. Has anyone else read it yet? If so, what’d you think?
Erin Bow Dinner Recap
I am long overdue with this, but I wanted to share a quick recap of a lovely dinner I went to a few months back for author Erin Bow! It was hosted by our friends at Simon & Schuster at the Parkway Grill Atrium, and I was the sole blogger in attendance with a group of independent booksellers.
It was great to get a chance to hear what’s on the radar for bookstore owners and department heads this winter. It’s especially interesting to see the differences between what’s making the rounds for them compared to what gets bloggers excited, and a lot of phones were whipped out to take notes as we all added book recs to our lists. I enjoyed meeting the ladies who run many of my local favorite bookstores too, including the ladies of the children’s department at Vroman’s and wonderfully chatty Maureen and Romy from Once Upon a Time.
Erin chatted with us about the evolution of her book, which was originally titled Children of Peace, then The Art of Scorpions. The final title is taken from the quote in the beginning of the book even although, as she says, the book is 100% scorpion-free.
A few fun facts from the conversation:
- The Scorpion Rules started out as an Aztec fantasy. But her computer, which contained all her notes and manuscript, was stolen at Chicago O’Hare so she had to start all over again. (!)
- The book was purchased at auction, with seven publishers (seven!!) bidding on the manuscript. Erin said she was very lucky to have that kind of interest.
- There is a companion novel planned (two books sold), although there is a possibility for more.
- When asked about her background, Erin said, “Calling me a physicist is like calling someone who dropped out of medical school a doctor, but yes that’s my degree.”
- When asked if she was going to tour any of the places she’s going to destroy in future books, she said, “I may blow up Omaha, my home town. Or the Twin Cities where I went to grad school at the University of Minnesota, as long as I’m taking revenge on people.”
Erin was funny and engaging throughout the whole evening, and ended by saying she had to fight for this book, so it’s truly a joy to see it coming out in the world.
It was wonderful to hear the author speak about this new series, and such a pleasure to discuss the novel with a group of interesting women involved in books, too. (Okay, there was one gentleman there, but he was sitting all the way on the other side of the room.)
My thanks to Simon & Schuster for the invitation! If the synopsis for the book intrigues you at all, or if Layla has persuaded you with her wily ways, you definitely need to check this one out. And speaking of which….
We’re giving away a copy of the book! It comes in a collectible ARC box, for those of you who like to magpie these things.
- Just leave a comment below telling us why you’re excited to read The Scorpion Rules, and I’ll pick a winner after Thanksgiving.
- Bonus/brownie point if you retweet the giveaway—just be sure you include your Twitter handle below, and that your profile is public.
Open to US and Canadian residents aged 18 and older, or 13 and older with parental permission. Our usual giveaway rules apply. Good luck!
Giveaway and review copies were provided by the publisher. Photographs (I know, they’re terrible! *sigh*) by Wendy.