Genre: dystopian (YA)
Pairings: f/f, f/m
Queer Representation: cis bisexual, implied cis gay
Rating: five stars
Humans have wrecked their world and in an effort to repair the damage, they managed to make sentient, humorous AIs. The AIs will have none more of this human shit, thank you very much, and concoct a great plan: take the firstborn from every person in power and hold said child hostage. If the kid turns 18, great, they get to go free and have one of their kids taken. If their country goes to war while the kid is still hostage, the kid gets killed. And it all works fairly well.
Greta is a princess and one of the royal hostages. When a neighboring country tried to go to war with hers over water rights, Greta must come to terms with her preconceived ideas on the world, how it is run, and must face some dark truths in order to save her friends, her country, but not herself.
Fundamentally, this book is THE HUNGER GAMES, without the angsty love triangles, the three-book agonizing arc, and a wishy-washy protagonist. I do actually really like THE HUNGER GAMES, but this book showed everything that trilogy could have been. Proactive protagonist? Check. Inevitable humor in the face of death? Check. Self-sacrifice that isn’t a cop-out? Double check. Bonus: a love triangle that works as an actual triangle, and not a 1980s Girl Talk game (But do you love Mark or Mathieu more? If you won’t answer then you have to put on this zit sticker! (full disclaimer–I never had a chance to own that game and I may still be a little bitter about it)).
While the base plot may be a bit cliched, the pacing is well done. I often run into pacing problems in YA books (and adult epic fantasy, too) with there being little to no character or plot movement during the first 75% of the book, then BAM! Everything comes at once, leading to an action-packed ending that you barely made it to. THE SCORPION RULES hit the ground running with the first chapter, and had only a small lag in the first fifty pages wherein we get introduced to the world at large. Very manageable. The main arc took off right around the halfway point, and I was unable to put the book down after that.
The three main characters, Greta, Da-Xia, and Elián (behold the love triangle), have distinct voices and are very well rounded. Greta’s interactions with the other two are believable and very in tune with her age (16), and her eventual romance unfolds as delicately as in THE TIGER’S DAUGHTER. Elián is a spitfire of a character, and his sarcasm, paired with the AI’s humor and pop culture references, kept the book from being depressingly dark.
The Joys of Being Morally Dubious
My favorite part of this book is that everything is in shades of grey. Yes, the AI is brutal in the killing of royal children but the explanation for why that is is laid out very well. Humanity, when we do get to interact with it, only reinforces the need for the AI and its rule, and in several places it is hard to know who to cheer for. The book ends on a very hopeful note that Greta might be able to make a change to the existing structure but as an adult reader, I’m left to wonder if a change is actually needed? The AI’s basically fulfilled their purposes. Humans are, more or less, at peace. Natural resources are being conserved and the Earth is stable again. In this book, I think I might have to side with the AI: And really, if the odd princess has a hard day, is that too much to ask?
THE SCORPION RULES is a fast paced, extremely well-written book that should appeal to THE HUNGER GAMES fans, dystopian YA readers, and most of the adult SFF market. It’s going directly on my kid’s shelf for when she is old enough to read it, and I’m looking forward to getting the sequel.