The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow
(Prisoners of Peace #1)
Published: September 22nd, 2015 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
Genres: Young adult, science fiction, dystopian, LGBT, speculative fiction
Trigger Warnings: Violence, death, blood, war, gun violence
Pages: 384 pages
The children of world leaders are held hostage in an attempt to keep the peace in this “slyly humorous, starkly thought-provoking” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) novel.
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.
For decades, we’ve been speculating what exactly will happen in the future once artificial intelligence has progressed to astronomical heights. Out of all the theories that exist, I don’t think I’ve yet to see one as extreme — and compelling — as the one posited by Erin Bow in the beginning of her Prisoners of Peace series, The Scorpion Rules. With a tongue-in-cheek approach to maintaining prosperity, a genuine and resolute heroine, and fascinating proposal of our future, I found The Scorpion Rules to be an overall enjoyable experience, despite a few drawbacks in pacing and information overload.
In a distant future, the countries of Earth have finally come out of a period of consistent war and famine. At this point, humanity cannot be fully trusted to run things smoothly, so Artificial Intelligences have taken it upon themselves to take control of the precarious peace. The solution comes in the form of a non-hostile hostage situation: the eldest child of each world leader is held in captivity and is killed if their home country declares war on another. Greta, Princess of the Pan Polar Confederacy, has three years to go in her forced hostage living and hopes that her mother can keep her cool long enough to ensure her freedom. However, tensions are mounting between her homeland and neighboring Cumberland; if her country goes to war, there’s a target on her back. With that, she just might contemplate accepting her fate in dying — one way or another.
With the vast over-saturation of dystopian-based settings in young adult fiction lately, it’s always refreshing to see a book that actually feels original. When it comes to the world within Bow’s pages, I can’t say I’ve seen one quite like this. I love the concept of a reluctant peace established by a bombastic AI that can possess the bodies of whomever gives him permission to do so. Furthermore, Bow merges futuristic technology beautifully with that of the current era, creating a wonderfully immersive world that makes it simple for the reader to picture exactly where the story takes place. When it comes to building the natural world in which Greta and the other Hostages reside, Bow’s writing is so clear and eloquent; the voice she creates for her main character fuses wonderfully with the way she approaches her world building.
Granted, is Greta still The Chosen One that is indicative of all of the protagonists of this genre? Absolutely. However, her development from quiet, intelligent princess to bold, confident young leader is a gradual and natural one. Despite being a princess, she isn’t the ideal leader right away and has to get used to her role. Gradually, we see her shed her childhood naivete that comes hand-in-hand with the kind of isolation she’s grown up in. Of course, she’s not alone: accompanied by fellow hostages Xie, Elian, Grego — among others — Greta is given a full range of peers that allows her to find her footing. Furthermore, and maybe this is a little bit of bisexual bias, I absolutely love the way the romance between her and her romantic interest blooms, especially given the significance it holds at the end of the novel. It’s so satisfying to see actual positive bisexual representation in a genre where it’s just as invisible as it is outside the pages.
I will say that this book is not without its faults. As mentioned before, there’s a lot within this book pertaining to the development of Artificial Intelligence. At points — many of these points, actually — I found myself completely glossing over the bits and pieces describing the way AIs work within the world, because I literally just could not wrap my mind around it. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, Bow added another layer of complexity to the mix that pulled me out from the story. It feels like she got caught way too much inside her head in figuring out the intricacies of the AIs that she decided the readers would pick up on her jargon; this is clearly not the case.
It wasn’t even just this portion of the story that pulled me out: it was almost anything that deviated from Greta building relationships with those around her. At one point when it came to the geopolitical relations with some of the countries represented in the Precepture, the histories became so convoluted, I put the book down for three months. Three months. Mind you, I’m a total political nerd outside of this blog, so for me to get confused by politics for three months, things might be far too murky. This is exactly what I meant about the divide between natural world vs. artificial world earlier on. Bow can verbally paint a pretty picture and make relationships bloom, but when it comes to the less floral parts of prose, she falls flat.
Overall, though, I truly did enjoy this book — when Bow wasn’t forcing her readers to get sidetracked by the intricacies of AIs and trying to parse out complex political rivalries. It truly is a rarity to see characters like Greta come alive in the dystopian genre and, given the way the book ended, I’m excited to see where she and her romantic interest go in the next book. I just hope that Bow has learned how to edit down her thoughts to appeal to those of us who aren’t former physicists.
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