‘Gleanings: Stories from the Arc of a Scythe’ by Neal Shusterman – Book Review

An anthology collection for the die-hard Scythe fans

In 2016, Neal Shusterman elevated the YA dystopian genre with the release of Scythe. Thought-provoking and entertaining, Scythe and its sequels serve up adventure, romance, and challenging ethical dilemmas in a world post-mortality. Gleanings: Stories from the Arc of a Scythe succeeds in similar measures, although the stories will likely only be truly captivating for adamant fans of the Scythe series.

Gleanings is set in the same world as the previous installments, although it doesn’t exactly pick up where The Toll (Arc of a Scythe #3) left off. The YA dystopian collection is non-linear, with some narratives providing origin stories, others diving into new characters, and others enlightening us about events following The Toll.

Thou shalt kill. It’s the commandment to ensure scythes keep the human population under control in a world where death has been conquered. It’s called gleaning, and this act of scythes is a major focus in each of the books–but it’s the heart of this anthology collection. Gleanings is concerned, like its predecessors, with the ethics of killing for a supposed “greater good.” But it also highlights even more the performance of gleaning in this society, the identity shift that comes from becoming a scythe, and the unwieldy-yet-powerful nature of memory in a society where life goes on… and on… and on.

Gleanings begins with a poem by Joelle Shusterman (Neal Shusterman’s daughter) titled “The First Swing.” It paints a compelling picture of the scythedom–describing it as a kind of puppetry and servanthood–and nicely leads into stories that challenge what scythes stand for.

Following the poem are stories, all written by Neal Shusterman, but some co-written with others. Co-writers include Michael H. Payne (“Never Work with Animals”); David Yoon (“The Mortal Canvas”); Jarold Shusterman and Sofia Lapuente (“The Persistence of Memory”); and Michelle Knowlden (“Perchance to Glean”).

Some stories don’t contribute too much to Shusterman’s beautifully-conceived dystopian world. “Never Work with Animals” and its almost-too-silly premise at least offer some fun ridicule of corrupt scythes. And “Cirri” demonstrates Shusterman’s struggle to ground his stories in their sci-fi elements. While the Thunderhead (the artificial intelligence from which Cirri branches off) is a necessary and interesting facet of the dystopian series, I always find it more compelling when Shusterman focuses on the human emotions and struggles within a world that’s saturated by AI.

Still, others in the collection did well to further flesh out Shusterman’s setting, characters, and themes. You’ll find further world-building for the setting in “Perchance to Glean,” while “A Martian Minute” delivers an exciting origin story. But mostly, I enjoyed how Gleanings gave its subject (scythes and their objective) a lightly derisive and mocking treatment.

“The First Swing” sets the stage, but other stories follow up with dissonant pictures of the scythedom. “The Persistence of Memory” and “A Dark Curtain Rises” especially and poignantly underscore the failures of the scythedom, as well as the understanding: No one wins when humanity is pit against itself. Fittingly for a series called “Arc of a Scythe,” Shusterman wraps up this arc in a satisfying way–from a reverent treatment of scythes and gleanings in Scythe to a more nuanced portrayal in Gleanings.

It’s a requirement, I think, to have read and enjoyed the Arc of a Scythe series before picking up this collection, for it necessitates context for Shusterman’s setting and characters. This one’s for the die-hard Scythe fans: Dig into Gleanings and enjoy further entries in Neal Shusterman’s unique world.


Our thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for the advanced reader’s copy. Gleanings: Stories from the Arc of a Scythe will be published on November 8th 2022. You can pre-order the novel here!

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  • Verdict - 7.5/10

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