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?
Tell Me More: It takes a lot to pull me into a dystopian YA novel, and I’m not above admitting that if you distract me enough with great characters and an intense hook, I likely won’t notice it’s a dystopia until I’m settled into the story. The Scorpion Rules was a science-fiction book in my head, and it wasn’t till after I’d finished the book that I realized the dystopian setting and elements. I consider it a strength of the novel that it slipped me past my own preferences, and led me into a story that doesn’t hold back.
Greta’s world reveals itself almost matter-of-factly, led by the no-nonsense narration of Talis, the AI governing said world. We learn of Greta’s status as a Child of Peace, living in a Precepture with fellow children of royalty and political figures. She feels like a leader already, even among goats and farmland, and it’s easy to see the leader she will be in the future–if her country doesn’t forfeit her life by declaring war.
The setup is horrifying: for every declaration of war, the children of the ruling parties are forfeit, their lives the price for a country’s decision to fight. Talis is the nonchalant facilitator of this covenant, created to ensure that war would not be the first thing two countries think of when faced with a conflict. It brings the conflict closer to home for the rulers, who rarely suffer the same consequences of war as their subjects, a rather clever insight on Talis’ part. We see the consequences play out in Greta’s bubble, and the awareness that she and her friends have of their mortality. We see how they come to terms with that mortality, and the decisions they make to take back what control they have over it, and Erin Bow’s narrative reminds us of the way humanity has always learned to adapt and grow and remain human at our core.
The Final Say: The Scorpion Rules is a book that rewards careful reading, and the historical/cultural references that Erin Bow scatters throughout the story never feel out of place or forced.
Wondering what Greta’s world looks like? Collect your next map puzzle piece here!
Erin Bow is the author of The Scorpion Rules, which received three starred reviews; the author of the acclaimed Russian-flavored fantasy Plain Kate, which received two starred reviews and was a YALSA Best Book of the Year; and the terrifying YA ghost story Sorrow’s Knot, which received five starred reviews and was a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year.