Thursday, September 24, 2015

ARC Review: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

Title: The Scorpion Rules
Series: Prisoners of Peace #1
Author: Erin Bow
Published: September 22, 2015 by Algonquin Young Readers
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: 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?

**** I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher at BEA in exchange for an honest review. This fact has not changed my opinion. ****

The Scorpion Rules is not a book that was on my radar until I went to BEA. It was pretty popular there so I figured I would look into it. It came at a time where I was feeling a little burnt out from dystopia and I wasn't totally sure about it but I heard some good things so I picked up a copy and I am so glad I did. This book is so much more than meets the eye.

One of the things that makes this book so creative is the world. The Scorpion Rules is the kind of book that reminds me that dystopia is a subgenre of science fiction. If you are going into this book expecting a run-of-the-mill dystopian read you may be disappointed. If you're expecting a more classic hard science fiction post-apocalyspe story, you may also be disappointed. But for me, Erin Bow effortlessly combined the two. Yes, the end of the world has come and gone leaving us with a central power who is dubious at best. But that central power is an AI (or robot if you didn't know) and technology plays a big part in the world and plot development. What I liked so much about this world and the blend of the two is that you can almost forget that we're dealing with an AI or an advanced society to begin with. It's so perfectly developed that it feels natural and that's what makes it so interesting. It's like science realism. The world is both lush and subtle at the same time. It's fully-formed and Erin's world-building is the perfect kind of show style that you can totally immerse yourself it.

But Erin Bow continues to break the traditional tropes of dystopia and science fiction with the characters in The Scorpion Rules. The book is full of a diverse cast of characters that balance out the book. Many of them are interesting but they don't jump off the page like the main characters. Our main character is Greta, she is a "Prison of Peace" kidnapped to prevent her country from declaring war. But she's not your typical revolutionary hero. In the years she has spent in her role she has come to terms with her position. She's not trying to fight it even when she starts to doubt that it is doing what it set out to do. And yet she is still a really compelling protagonist. For a lot of the book she is a pawn in someone else's game but as her character develops that begins to change. She's smart and logic. But this makes her constantly question and doubt. Her strengths and weaknesses make her relatable and really interesting. But my favorite character was probably Talis, the AI who is essentially the antagonist. But he's not your typical sinister overlord. He's trying way to hard to be liked and to blend in. He's almost ridiculous but in the best possible way. The characters are unique and it makes them so interesting.

Furthermore, the romance in this book is so unique and compelling. It may appear on the outset that this is a typical kind of romance. A badboy type character comes in, shakes things up, and the MC falls for him. And yes there are some elements of that but if you think that is all there is to it, you would be wrong. There's not a lot of instalove here in fact the real romance is a slowburn and doesn't involved Elian at all. But there isn't even really a love triangle and if there is it works. The true romance of the story grows, changes, and evolves with the character and her knowledge of herself and feelings toward others. This made it all feel so realistic and mature so when it finally happened I was so committed and invested. The key romance in this book was different, it was unexpected, and it was fantastic.

But the thing that made the biggest impression on me was the plot development. I could see the progression of the book. It's not that I solved a twist or anything, I just knew that's the way it was heading. And I didn't want it to go that way and yet I was still so entertained. By the point we reached the climax I was so invested in the characters and their struggle. It was a slow build to a conclusion that had me riveted at the same time it had me reeling. When it was all over I was left emotionally raw and with a huge desire to process what has happened because it was so complex.  But part of that complexity lead to some issues with the pacing for me. It was a bit slow in the beginning and the book shifted and changed with relatively little segue. And then it ended on a cliffhanger which was just a little too frustrating after they cranked my adrenaline up in such a short span of time.

A lot of what made the plot and world of The Scorpion Rules so good were some of the themes it addressed. Once again with these themes Erin Bow played with the traditional tropes of dystopia and science fiction. I'm used to an analysis of power and control when it comes to dystopia. Of course it was there. The whole premise of taking hostages of rulers to prevent war addresses that. But it was so not typical. Maybe that was because of the antagonist. Talis' ridiculousness made you wonder about if this was a good idea but Greta's feelings were so different. Same thing with the themes about technology and whether or not they solve or create problems, a very common Sci-Fi theme. Talis makes you wonder sometimes but Greta offers some interesting counter-arguments. It is the kind of book that really makes you think and that is one of the main reasons that I was left so entertained and yet unsettled when it was all done.

On the whole, The Scorpion Rules was a fantastic and engaging read. It had a science fiction world that combined elements of dystopia in a way that played with tropes, interesting characters, and a plot that made you think with tons of suspense and action.

I give The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow 9 out of 10 stars

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Buy/Borrow. If you are looking for something a little different that combines elements of science fiction and plays with the traditional tropes of dystopia then pick this book up. If you are looking for a book that will make you think with lots of suspense then pick this book up.

Have you read The Scorpion Rules? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!


  1. I was going to pass on this one but I think I'll actually add this one to my TBR--after reading your review, I'm really intrigued. I love the way you say the romance develops. Sounds like a great read! Nice review!

  2. I am really kicking myself now for not picking this one up at BEA, but I thought that it'd be yet another dystopian and like you, I'm quite burnt out on dystopians. So very intrigued after reading your review and others similar that say that this book does NOT go in the usual ways at all!

  3. Ooh, I'm really excited for this now! I didn't know much except, what you did, that it was hyped at BEA, but I love the more hard sci-fi aspect and it's SO nice to see a girl who can have multiple relationships that aren't triangle-y. Nice review!

    Sarcasm & Lemons

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