I haven't read a science fiction novel as fascinating as The Scorpion Rules in a very long time. This book has it all--a strong premise, a wonderful cast of characters, a compelling and unique antagonist, a really great romance, high stakes, and goats. Yes, goats are instrumental in taking down the bad guys in this book. You want to read it now, don't you?
Greta and cohort of children of peace have grown up in the Precepture, a remote settlement where they work, take lessons, and watch world politics very closely. Surprisingly, Greta (a duchess and heir to a country formerly known as Canada) is happy there, even if she does live in fear that her country will go to war and her life will be forfeit. She's prepared to die with dignity. Then Elian shows up--defiant, strong-willed, and ready to challenge everything that Greta believes about her role as a child of peace.
First off, Erin Bow has done an incredible job with the world building. The strange world ruled by the snarky, scary, sharp-witted AI named Talis is downright eerie, and Bow brings the tense dynamic of world politics alive with excellent, tangible details. The characters are diverse and well-drawn, and also a bit emotionally scarred, something that Greta doesn't fully comprehend at the beginning of the novel because she's so firmly ensconced in her own sense of (tragic) purpose. Greta's awareness of her world and her place in it develops at a good pace, and her emotional arc is intensely believable.
From the summary of the book, you'd think that a romance between Greta and Elian might be inevitable, but I love that their relationship doesn't turn into anything more than eventual alliance and friendship. Instead, Elian's rebellion opens Greta's eyes to her cohorts' true feelings about being trapped in the Precepture, and she finds the possibility of romance with her roommate Da-Xia, which is such a refreshing deviation from the expected. The relationship between Greta and Da-Zia is realistically complicated, intense, and intimate. The emotions between them and the other members of their run deep and I believed in them.
The stakes in this story are incredibly high. "Make it personal" is Talis's method for keeping the world in line, and everything bad that happens to the characters feels intensely personal indeed, which forces the characters and readers to contemplate whether the ends justify the means in more than a few different scenarios. Violence, mental and physical torture, and emotional warfare make this book so hard to put down, and you can't help but admire Greta's strength throughout the story as she navigates the dramatic changes in the world she's always known and faces some pretty surprising twists. This book is smart, darkly humorous, and fast-paced, with a very hot romance and an OMG ending. I'm desperate for a sequel.
ARC provided by publisher.