Title: The Scorpion Rules
Author: Erin Bow
Release Date: September 22, 2015
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster imprint)
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 Elián 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 Elián 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 Elián'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 Elián will be killed... unless Greta can think of a way to save them.
The Scorpion Rules is powerful and intriguing, a world of power plays, of fear and death, of hidden things. Of hidden meaning. Of hidden words and feelings. Of power and control, of who has it, who wants it, and who ends up with it.
Greta's voice is compelling. Soft, intelligent, cautious. Knowing. She's lived her life as a hostage, a Child of Peace. She's always known that one day, if her home country goes to war, she would die. And she's not alone in this way of thinking, this upbringing. Until Elián arrives. Until he doesn't act like everyone else. Until he doesn't grasp the severity of his new situation. Until Greta understands what's coming, what needs to be done. It's never dawned on her that there could be another way, until it does. Until there is. Until Greta becomes the Greta she was meant to be.
The premise, the world-building, is genius. What a world where war could happen at any point. What a world where there would be such a real consequence for going to war. What would a leader rather risk: the lives of their people or the life of their child?
Talis is intriguing. Amoral, controlling, and witty. He's an evil artificial intelligence with layers, with a complicated past. Like with most characters, there's something about them that makes them stand out. Good or evil. Talis has reasons for his rules. They're based on human history, the fact that humans consistently screw up. Maybe now, with Talis in charge, with Talis taking their children, those in charge won't screw up so much.
Power. This book is about power. Who holds it, who wants it, who will push to take it, and who will use it. Talis has power. Of course he does. He's levelled cities. Destroyed countries. Killed thousands, perhaps millions. He's in charge. But. But. Talis isn't the only one with power.
More than anything, I wanted to understand this book. In some ways I think I do. This book says a lot about power, about rulers and rules, about decisions, about morality and mortality. The world-building is creative and inventive, the characters are flawed and rich with humanity. It's so rare that a book about international relations and politics and so many other complicated things like love and goats can be so human. Do not be fooled by the description, events will not unfold in ways you expect them to. Read this if you're looking for something smart and human, something unexpected.
(I received an advance copy of this title to review from Simon & Schuster Canada.)