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Monday, January 18, 2016

"The Scorpion Rules: Prisoners of Peace 1" by Erin Bow (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

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OVERVIEW: The world is at peace, said the Utterances. And really, if the odd princess has a hard day, is that too much to ask?

Greta is a duchess and crown princess—and a hostage to peace. This is how the game is played: if you want to rule, you must give one of your children as a hostage. Go to war and your hostage dies.

Greta will be free if she can survive until her eighteenth birthday. Until then she lives in the Precepture school with the daughters and sons of the world’s leaders. Like them, she is taught to obey the machines that control their lives. Like them, she is prepared to die with dignity, if she must. But everything changes when a new hostage arrives. Elián is a boy who refuses to play by the rules, a boy who defies everything Greta has ever been taught. And he opens Greta’s eyes to the brutality of the system they live under—and to her own power.

As Greta and Elián watch their nations tip closer to war, Greta becomes a target in a new kind of game. A game that will end up killing them both—unless she can find a way to break all the rules.

FORMAT: The Scorpion Rules is the first in a series of YA sci-fi dystopian novels. It stands at 384 pages and was published September 22, 2015 by Margaret K. McElderry Books.

ANALYSIS: When I read the summary for The Scorpion Rules, I was extremely excited about the book. It had a Hunger Games vibe, but it sounded like it had a concept and a plot that was unique enough to separate it from all the traditional run-of-the-mill YA dystopian novels out there. I was actually relieved to see an author take a chance and stray from the norm. Unfortunately, what was presented and what readers got were two totally different things.

Before I can even begin to review this novel, I have to mention this book has goats - lots and lots and lots of goats. The goats are supposed to be used for what I can only assume is comedic relief, as there are some scenes with the goats running wild or doing silly things to the characters. Things would have been okay if that was how it was used – sparingly. Sadly, it wasn't.

There are lots and lots of details about the goats. The goats mating habits, their importance to the world, the way the characters take care of the goats. In fact, the first half of the book is spent so much time on the goats. With so much focus on the goats, you would assume they would serve some sort of purpose to the story or turn out to be some superhero that saves the world, but they didn't. They were just goats being goats. And readers got to learn a lot about goats.

It almost felt like the author was given a challenge of 'create a dystopian novel like Hunger Games, but make sure to use goats as a major part of the plot'.

Why am I so focused on the goats? It is because while so much time and energy is spent bringing up the goats, the characters of the book are overlooked. There wasn't a whole lot of character building or getting to know the characters for who they are. If a little less time had been spent on the goats and more time spent on the characters, this might have been a different book and I would have felt differently, but it wasn't.

Greta, our main character, came across as extremely flat. She appeared to be wishy-washy in how she thought and I couldn't for the life of me figure out what made her so special. It felt almost like one character was just picked to be the star and she happened to be in the right place at the right time. I just felt nothing for her and didn't understand why everyone turned to her for advice and guidance.

If you can get past the goats, the book does eventually start to pick up in terms of plot. Unfortunately, this was a case of 'too little, too late'. It wasn't until the book was more than halfway over that things started to pick up – right around the time when Talis (the big, bad guy) comes onto the scene.

Talis was really the only character that really stood out to me. This could be why the book seemed to pick up once he came on the scene. He was charismatic, fleshed-out in terms of development, and was just really, really good at being bad. In fact, without him I don't think I would have enjoyed the book at all. Talis made the book.

There is one other thing to mention, the romance/bisexual love triangle. Scorpion Rules has the ultimate insta-love. Greta sees Elian from a distance and she instantly bonds with him. He is the one, he is her obsession. That is until all of a sudden her roommate – Xie – starts hitting on her. Then she decides that Xie is her one true love and instantly puts Elian in the 'friends only' zone.

This is probably a result of the poor character development, but I just felt nothing for this angle of the book. In fact, it came off as trying too hard to fit in some sort of love triangle, but this time with a diverse bisexual twist. It just didn't seem to work. Add the fact that it felt like it happened instantly – one moment Greta is all up in arms and in love with Elian, the next she's insta-bonded to Xie -  and it just didn't seem to work.

Erin Bow is an amazing author. I've read other books by her and they were good, but Scorpion Rules just didn't do it. The sluggish pacing, poor character development, and overuse of goats, turned what could have been a good book into a rather boring, so-so novel.

The book does pick up towards the end and there is a glimmer of hope that maybe the series can turn around. Unfortunately, I am not sure enough readers will stick it out to get to the point where the book starts to get good and of course then it quickly ends because there is another book on the horizon.



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