Recommended for ages 13+
It’s a new world and it comes with a new age of warfare. When environmental cataclysm led to widespread war, an AI gained sentience and decided to end things his way: start bombing until everyone quieted down. Years later, under the Talis – the ruling AI – war is decidedly more personal: the children of the ruling parties are all held hostage, in a location called the Precepture, until the age of 18. If nations decide to go to war, the children of those nation’s leaders, known as the Children of Peace, are killed.
Greta is a Princess of the Pan Polar Confederacy, the superpower formed from the ashes of what we currently know as Canada. She and her co-hostages witness the arrival of a new hostage, Elian, who rebels with everything he has and endures painful punishments because of it. Elian’s parents are farmers, not diplomats, but his grandmother is a different story. Through Elian’s eyes, Greta begins seeing things very differently. Elian’s and Greta’s countries stand on the brink of war and the very real consequences stare them in the face, but things really swing into action when Elian’s grandmother takes things a step further and invades the Precepture, igniting Talis’ fury. A lot of people stand to die unless Greta can think of a solution that will save everyone.
This is an interesting concept – avoid war by making it more personal. Sadly, the AI seems to forget that world leaders want what they want, and sometimes, you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs. Children die in this story, don’t think for a moment that this is a benevolent dictatorship to keep the peace. Talis is an AI that’s got way too much emotion, and while parents feel really bad about being responsible for killing off their kids via third person, it happens.
Greta is an interesting character, taking in everything she sees. She’s not a victim and she’s not a martyr, but she’s not entirely a hero, either. She’s flawed, Elian’s is obnoxiously valiant, and the co-hostages are all doing what they can to survive. While Elian is tortured because he tries to rebel and refuses to accept his circumstances, comparing himself to Spartacus, Greta endures the brunt of the brutality to come with resignation.
The story is a near-unputdownable read, with solid character development and world-building, layered with plot twists and some truly cringe-worthy characters you’ll love to hate. You’ll rage inwardly at the world these children exist in, and I know I’ll never look at HAL from 2001 in the same way again (that’s the voice I ascribed to Talis). There’s a brilliantly diverse cast, and the real jewel in the novel is the relationship that develops between Greta and fellow hostage, Xie. The awakening and confirmation of their feelings for one another is portrayed beautifully and with tremendous respect, and it was a bright spot among the dark places in the story.
The Scorpion Rules should be a popular Fall read, and would be a great enhancement to a social studies class on world relations. I’m going to see if I can foist it upon my own 16 year-old, as well as the teens at my library. Off to create discussion questions!