Ever since I devoured Neal Shusterman’s Scythe and Thunderhead back in February 2018, I had been waiting to eat up the final book in the Arc of a Scythe trilogy, The Toll. Since the book came out in early November, aka finals prep and paper writing season in this English and Communications major’s world, I thought I would wait until Thanksgiving break to read it. That being said, I only waited one week after its release to pick it up and definitely avoided a research paper or four while reading this 625 page beast.
Although I will be an absolute paper writing machine during the last week of classes, I have no regret reading The Toll over 6 days- I honestly would’ve finished it sooner if it hadn’t been for school- because it was such a satisfying series finale!
My review format is going to be different for The Toll. For the sake of spoilers, I will not be providing a summary of the book, and I will be splitting my thoughts into non-spoilers and spoilers sections. The first book, Scythe, follows teenagers Citra and Rowan who live in a world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery, no natural death. Scythes are the only individuals who can end life and must do so to control the size of the population. When Citra and Rowan are chosen as apprentices to the same scythe, neither wants the role, but they soon find themselves entangled in the politics and inner workings of the scythedom.
My Rating: 5/5
My Non-Spoiler Thoughts:
I had such a great reading experience with The Toll. Even at its 625 pages, I ate it up so quickly. I really enjoyed being transported back into the world, finding that I had to read at least fifty pages per sitting. There are so many different narratives and perspectives in The Toll. While I admit that I preferred some over others, I still enjoyed them all and couldn’t get over the connections to one another. All 3 books in the series are definitely the type that call for having a notebook on hand to note plot happenings or details and see how they play out later. I’m 50-50 for my predictions coming out correctly for the series.
The main reason why I had been screaming for The Toll for almost two years was Thunderhead’s cliffhanger ending. Much of the theorizing and predicting about The Toll has to do with when the story would actually start, and when and even if we would be reunited with our original two main characters. There are even more characters and narratives involved in The Toll, which I ended up really enjoyed because it expanded the world even more. I wasn’t expecting too much more of that with the finale, but there’s so much exploration with the Tonists and the founding scythes. I really liked the exploration of the former, especially since this followed Faraday and Munira. Along with being reunited with the first two book’s casts, we are also introduced to a variety of new characters within each plot thread. That being said, there was a lot less Citra/Anastasia and Rowan than I expected.
I admit that I have a love-hate relationship with how much the Thunderhead has to do with the main plot of the novel. Call me dark, but I really liked exploring the scythedom element more so than the Thunderhead and technology. Like my Thunderhead feels, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Thunderhead’s iterations or exceprts before some chapters. I definitely preferred excepts from the scythe journals and statements and interpretations about the Toll and the Tonists. I really wish the Thunderhead actually hadn’t been so involved in the main plot at all. I know some readers will argue that of course the Thunderhead helps the main characters against the scythedom out a lot.
Fortunately, there is so much to explore about the scythedom in this installment, as morals and different objectives really split the scythedoms in two. Somewhat like Thunderhead, Greyson and the Tonists play a much larger role in the book than I expected, but they supplemented The Toll’s social commentary in such unexpected and brilliant ways.
My Spoiler Thoughts:
As stated above, there are a ton of narratives and plots running through The Toll’s main plot. I’m honestly probably forgetting one along the way, and there are even subplots worked within, but The Toll starts with : Greyson as the Toll and the rise and resistance of the Tonits; Faraday and Munira’s mission to find the fail safe; Jeri and Posselo uncovering the Endura’s wreckage; and Goddard’s takeover of the scythedom. The Tonists and Greyson’s storyline was probably my least favorite plot line in both Thunderhead and The Toll. While they still weren’t my favorite plot line, I loved Neal Shusterman’s continuation of Thunderhead’s religious imagery and all the social and historial allusions he brought to the Tonists vs. scythe conflict.
My favorite plots are definitely between Faraday and Munira’s mission and Posselo and Jeri with the later addition of Citra/Anastasia. I loved learning about the history of the scythedom through Faraday and Munira (Posselo does this to an extent as well), and while I’m not the biggest fan of the Thunderhead, I also liked exploring the expansion and populization of the island. Jeri definitely became a new favorite character of mine, and I liked their role in the uncovering of Endura and helping Citra/Anastasia. I was so excited to be reunited with Citra and Rowan, and I liked how Citra worked with Posselo and Jeri, with Rowan returning to the scythedom.
There are definitely plenty of climatic moments and reveals throughout The Toll that always kept me on the edge of my seat. The most jaw-dropping reveal for me was Posselo’s reveal to Citra that she had been locked away for three years. I loved how Neal Shusterman still developed so much of the world and plot, for better or worse, in the book before this reveal. I also did not know what to expect when Rowan’s murder is set up as a spectacle for the Merica scythedom and public to witness.
As much as I’ve said and still believe that the Arc of a Scythe series is the dystopian fix that I didn’t realize I need since The Hunger Games and even Marie Lu’s Legend series (although I still personally have Rebel to look forward to!), I previously hadn’t found too many similarities between the series and THG. However, Rowan’s trauma and struggles in The Toll definitely reminded me of Peeta’s own struggles in THG. Scythe and Thunderhead really reflect on how the worlds of the scythedom and the Thunderhead have affected humanity. While The Toll does the same (and likely to even a greater extent), there is much more reflection on how these worlds have affected the main characters themselves.
Although it ultimately worked for the story, and I appreciate how it connected to the scythedom and Goddard, the Moon and space plot was definitely another unexpected element. It really reminded me of Beth Revis’ Across the Universe series (an early YA read of mine, but another favorite sci-fi trilogy), and while it did work to an extent,I wanted to see more direct conflict or contact between Goddard and the scythes vs. Citra, Rowan and co. on the islands.
I’m still a little conflicted about Rowan and Citra basically escaping Earth to help start a new society on another planet. On the one hand, going back to that self-reflection point, Citra and Rowan have been through a lot. Under the impression that Goddard and the scythedom would stay in power, they don’t see an ‘easy’ or uplifting future for themselves on Earth (especially Rowan). On the other hand, I really think Citra would have been a good leader and would have done a lot to rebuild society now that the rings are destroyed and disease has followed.
While I ultimately was not a big head of how much Cirrus and Thunderhead played into the ending, I really liked the way we left off each character. I’m fine with the somewhat unopen-ness and I don’t think it even necessities a sequel (although let’s be honest, I’m all here for a novella). I love the final chapter with Rowan and Citra, and I like how that sets up their future. I’m also content with the way we left Jeri, Greyson, Faraday, and Munira. Rand and Tyger’s little twist at the end definitely leaves some room for thought- I’d argue out of almost all the characters, Rand is definitely a character who you don’t know whether to root for or against. My heart definitely broke for Astrid.
Overall, I loved The Toll for its different plot threads and Neal Shusterman’s writing style. The Toll was definitely a satisfying series conclusion and solidifies the Arc of a Scythe series as one of my favorite dystopian and science fiction series. It definitely earns a 5 stars in my ratings book because I had such a great reading experience and it really ties the many threads of the characters and series together. However, I think I was a tad disappointed about how much the Thunderhead, the Tonists, and I guess you could argue, technology, comes into play,. I really was not expecting that last element when I first picked up the series. In my opinion, The Toll definitely makes the series fall more into the sci-fi category than dystopian.
Have you read Scythe or Thunderhead? Have you read The Toll? Share you thoughts and feels in the comments!