The Scorpion Rules by Erin BowPrisoners of Peace #1
Published on September 22, 2015 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
Genres: Dystopian, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Greta is a Duchess and a Crown Princess. She is also a Child of Peace, a hostage held by the de facto ruler of the world, the great Artificial Intelligence, Talis. This is how the game is played: if you want to rule, you must give one of your children as a hostage. Start a war and your hostage 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. His rebellion opens Greta’s 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 deliver punishment. Which surely means that Greta and Elian will be killed...unless Greta can think of a way to break all the rules.
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I’m genuinely conflicted about this book. As seems to be the case for several of the books I’ve read recently, the books keep me hooked while reading but afterwards I’m just left with a feeling of… disconnection, for lack of better words. And that’s how I would describe reading The Scorpion Rules. Just as there is a disconnect between the AIs and humans in this world, there was a disconnect between me and the characters.
We’re left to a futuristic world where machines rule and the world has been divided into sections mostly ruled by monarchies. Each ruler is required to give up a child as a hostage, to be sent away and educated with other royal children, until they reach the maturity of eighteen. Okay, so far, I’m working with this. And the reason for the hostages? If a country goes to war, that child’s life is forfeit.
A little cold and creepy, but clearly effective in this world.
I had such high hopes for the story’s backdrop and they were fulfilled. Bow makes sure you understand the world in intricate detail that left me with very few questions but a lot of problems revolving around the characters. While I understand wanting to lead the reader through the world, to make them understand its intricacies as if they were the author themselves, it left too little room to develop the characters.
I read for the characters. Always have, and don’t see it changing in the near future. I enjoy a beautifully constructed world but if I can’t connect with the characters then the book isn’t working for me. Greta, the protagonist, is the perfectly poised crown princess that she’s meant to be — and utterly dull. I’d categorize her as a 2D version of the teacher’s pet. She behaved, did her duty, and never fought back. Her cohorts had a bit more color to their personalities but all I remember are singular descriptions. Gregori liked mechanics. Atta didn’t talk. Thandi was aloof. Xie loved and loved.
Perhaps it was Greta’s point of view that caused such bland descriptors but it is what it is. These characters move through their daily lives (because in all honesty, this story doesn’t really cover much beside their schooling until over halfway through) being hostages, working in the gardens, sitting through lectures. Not much going on.
the Plot Device Elian.
Something (or someone) has to shake things up so Elian is introduced. He’s a new hostage without an ounce of the “education” the others have and a perchance for getting into trouble. Elian makes sure that everyone knows the Children of Peace concept (the hostages formal name) is wrong and wants the others to see it too. The problem with his character is that it was as flat as the others. He became the new love interest to an irregular love triangle.
Yes, folks, The Scorpion Rules couldn’t get away from it.
I say irregular because instead of what I typically see (two guys/one girl), it’s the opposite with Greta in the middle. I liked the change and actually preferred it as the story progressed but it made Elian’s character specifically seem all the more unreal. He just wasn’t quite a full character in my eyes, if that makes any sense.
The final major player is Talis, the AI who rules the world. He comes in the body of a Swan Rider woman and plays the hero/villain to this world, both its savior but also its potential doom. A monster as he’s called. Yet I didn’t get evil villain or hero vibes. Just sarcasm and jokes. That’s essentially what his character consisted of and it was quite disappointing.
As I mentioned, half the story talks about their daily lives, then things are shaken up with an act of war. But I didn’t feel compelled to care what happened to the characters. I read on because the writing style is excellent, compelling, and the world itself was interesting. I think this book holds promise in a sequel (though I wasn’t too thrilled with the ending…) but for a first book I wasn’t feeling it.