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The Scorpion Rules (Prisoners of Peace) Hardcover – September 22, 2015
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From School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Talis's first rule for stopping war is to make it personal. The powerful AI ensures the world's leaders know the exact cost of any declaration of war by taking their children hostage as Children of Peace. If war is declared, the lives of both nation's hostages are forfeit. Greta Gustafson Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan Polar Confederation, is a seventh generation hostage at Precepture Four where she has lived most of her life. She embodies the ideals of the Children of Peace and knows to follow the rules even with her country on the brink of war. New hostage Elián Palnik refuses to accept any of the tenets of the Children of Peace, causing Greta to question everything she believes. Masterful, electric prose and wit make even the hardest moments bearable in this work as Greta and her friends endure countless hardships with the grace and aplomb befitting the world's future leaders. Bow weaves together science, ethics, and humor in this science fiction novel that delves deep into the human condition and questions the nature of choice and what must be sacrificed for the sake of the greater good. This book is further strengthened by a diverse, memorable cast of characters with realistically complicated relationships (romantic and platonic), brilliant plotting, and shocking twists. Guaranteed to have high appeal on many levels. VERDICT Bow delivers a knockout dystopian novel that readers will devour with their hearts in their mouths.—Emma Carbone, Brooklyn Public Library
*"Masterful, electric prose... Bow delivers a knockout dystopian novel that readers will devour with their hearts in their mouths." (School Library Journal, Starred Review)
"Bow has crafted a true sci-fi narrative around the AI premise, utilizing an imaginative world and well-developed characters. Through Greta’s conflicts, the author explores what it means to be human." (Booklist)
" This is a smart, compelling read that explores the complicated nature of love, family, peace, war, and technology; fans of Johnson’s Summer Prince and Collins’s Hunger Games who are searching for an empowering and intelligent read-alike need look no further." (The Horn Book Magazine)
"This is fearfully superlative storytelling- electrical tension crackles in every elegant word. The finest fiction I'veread this year." (Elizabeth Wein, author of Code Name Verity)
“Bow's amoral artificial intelligence overlordis one of my favorite characters in a while.” (Maggie Stiefvater, author of The Raven Boys)
“In Fairy Tales, princesses are always worried about who they are going to marry. Greta is more concerned with her responsibilities as a future head of state. Erin Bow’s Greta is my kind of Princess.” (Megan Whalen Turner, author of The Thief)
“The Scorpion Rules is one of the most inventive, devious, exciting and thoroughly enjoyable books I’ve read in years. Very highly recommended!” (Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of ROT & RUIN and THE NIGHTSIDERS)
“Clever and unexpected, THE SCORPION RULES is a game-changing novel about the consequence of war and the brutality of peace. Unforgettable!” (Suzanne Young, New York Times bestselling author of The Program series)
Top customer reviews
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Enter Greta, crown princess of Pan-something or other. She's pretty, smart, all the other kids at the hostage school adore and look up to her. She's also a total bore and a goody-goody. Then a new boy comes to hostage school from a newly formed area in the Americas. Elian is all like, no, you can't treat us like this, we're human beings, and gets tortured a bunch.
Up to this point, I'm intrigued and excited for where this book will lead. But then it just got messy. There's a weird, contradictory bi-sexual love triangle, a lot of plot and world building that makes no sense, and a main character that was kind of a big baby through most of the story.
The AI was awesomely snarky though.
Overall, I enjoyed the first third, but the rest just dragged, and it felt like a very unsatisfying conclusion.
It’s an Omelas-type dystopia- a world where the good of the many depends on the suffering of the few. In this case, the few are the children of 25th century world leaders, who are kept hostage throughout their childhood (or as long as their parents are in power) to ensure that their parents don’t start wars. If their parents do, the children are killed. Greta Gustafsen Stuart, our narrator, believes in the system even though it keeps her as a hostage at risk of death. She has a strong sense of dignity, both as a person and in terms of her position as a “Child of Peace”.
Elian, a new arrival at the monastery-like residence of the hostages, has an entirely different idea of dignity. He’s defiant in the face of what he sees as an unjust system, comparing himself to Spartacus, and while the children’s robotic minders go to extreme lengths– even torture– to get him to comply, he continues to rebel until it becomes clear that he’s not the only one who’ll suffer if he keeps it up. In another author’s hands, Elian would be the love interest, but while they kiss a few times and grow close over the course of the novel, Greta’s major romantic relationship is with her (female) roommate, Xie.
Greta is slow to question the system, but she eventually sees the wrongness of her captors’ treatment of Elian– and then they turn on her, too. Ironically, it’s while she’s being tortured with the induced nightmares of “Dreamlock” that the residence is invaded by Elian’s people, who have figured out a way to declare war without sacrificing their hostage. The country they’ve declared war on is Greta’s, and they will stop at nothing to use her against her family.
Oh, did I mention that this whole hostage system is run by an AI?
Talis, the AI, is not happy with the hostage-taking of the hostages. He arrives to sort things out. The trouble is that his idea of sorting things out often involves killing people and destroying entire cities.
I don’t want to summarize the entire plot, but hopefully that gives you an idea of how much you’d like this book. One of its great strengths (it’s written by an ex-physicist) is how well-thought out the AI’s and the technology are– and they become increasingly important as the plot goes on. I normally loathe stories where a person “uploads their mind,” because they fail to take into account that the lack of continuity between the consciousness in the body and the consciousness in the copy, but a few books do it well (Peter Dickinson’s Eva springs to mind). This book doesn’t address all my concerns, but it explores the concept in more interesting ways than most do,
I wish the geopolitics had that same depth– while the cast is diverse (Xie is Asian and Elian is Jewish and “racially indeterminate, like many Americans”), I didn’t feel that the future countries from which the hostages besides Greta and Elian, who are both North American, come were that plausible or textured.
Another weakness is that sometimes concepts are introduced out of nowhere when they become necessary, like “dreamlock,” which was introduced so abruptly that it didn’t feel like an organic part of the world.
However, the strengths more than outweigh the weaknesses. I stayed up till two to see what happened next in this tension-filled story. Erin Bow isn’t afraid to go dark, hard places (and I’m not talking about the violence, but about Greta’s choice at the end and its fallout). Furthermore, characters on all sides of the conflicts have depth and pride, have standards below which they will not sink, even if those standards are very different from person to person.
Greta is a great heroine. I love people who can see past their own self-interest, and while she’s not exactly right when she believes in the hostage system, she’s also noble. I loved her, and I hope she narrates the companion novel, due out next year, as well.
A nonspoilery standout moment in terms of emotion was Greta’s mother’s insistence that Greta not be painted in her monastic Child-of-Peace outfit, because she wants one picture of her not dressed as “Joan of bloody Arc!” And you know it’s because Greta might well die in her role as a Child of Peace, and her mother wants some reminder that’s not connected to the hostage system.
I am waiting on tenterhooks for the sequel. Next year can’t come fast enough.
Review also here:[...]
In this world, the polar ice caps melted suddenly and wars broke out when people from the newly drowned areas moved to higher ground. Then the plagues came and reduced the population by half and half again. To control the constant warfare the UN appointed an artificial intelligence named Talis to restore the peace. He did so by instituting the whole hostage taking thing. A ruler couldn't rule unless he or she sent their child to one of the Prefectures. Four hundred years have passed and the system has mostly worked. But it has taken quite a toll on the children who are hostages and who know that they could be killed at any time.
What surprised me most was that so many of the characters managed to show strength and not turn into quivering heaps. Greta watches the news and studies the ancient thinkers. She's particularly fond of the Stoics. But her precariously balanced world is shaken when a new hostage arrives. Elian is from the country that neighbors hers and he wasn't raised to be a hostage. His grandmother has recently taken charge of the military of her country. Elian's struggles to fit in and the torture that is used to make him comply, open Greta's eyes to the undercurrents of the life she has been living.
When Elian's grandmother's forces take over the Prefecture, they draw the attention of Talis and lead Greta to make a life-changing decision.
The characters were richly drawn and well-rounded. The world building made complete sense to me. Perhaps the most interesting character beyond Greta was Talis. He was once human but now he is a self-confessed monster. He is willing to do quite horrible things to stop the world from sliding back into a time of constant wars. At the same time, he is a man out of his time who has almost forgotten what it was like being human. He is so focused on the big picture that he doesn't really see what effect his actions have on individuals.
I really enjoyed this story and look forward to reading the sequel to find out the results of Greta's choice.
Most recent customer reviews
Quick & Dirty: An interesting reading experience about a dystopian world.
Opening Sentence: Sit down, kiddies.Read more
This was a really interesting dystopian book. AI's rule the world and "kingdoms" give their firstborns as hostages to the AI's to keep the peace.Read more