Release date: September 22, 2015
In the future, the UN has brought back an ancient way to keep the peace. The children of world leaders are held hostage—if a war begins, they pay with their lives.
Greta is the Crown Princess of the Pan Polar Confederacy, a superpower formed of modern-day Canada. She is also a Child of Peace, a hostage held by the de facto ruler of the world, the great Artificial Intelligence, Talis. The hostages are Talis’s strategy to keep the peace: if her country enters a war, Greta dies.
The system has worked for centuries. Parents don’t want to see their children murdered. Greta will be free if she can make it to her eighteenth birthday. Until then she is prepared to die with dignity, if necessary. But everything changes when Elian arrives at the Precepture. He’s a hostage from a new American alliance, and he defies the machines that control every part of their lives—and is severely punished for it. Greta is furious that Elian has disrupted their quiet, structured world. But slowly, his rebellion opens her eyes to the brutality of the rules they live under, and to the subtle resistance of her companions. And Greta discovers her own quiet power. Then Elian’s country declares war on Greta’s and invades the prefecture, taking the hostages hostage. Now the great Talis is furious, and coming himself to mete out punishment. Which surely means that Greta and Elian will be killed…unless Greta can think of a way to save them.
The Scorpion Rules is set in a dystopian future where an AI called Talis is kinda the god of the world – controlling conflicts and generally trying to ensure humanity doesn’t destroy itself. The story is set around a Precepture somewhere in Canada, and specifically around the oldest cohort which includes Greta, and six other kids. They are nearly of age, almost close to their freedom, but then comes Elian who is against this system and calls it slavery. He gets into a lot of trouble, of course, and so do they, as he is part of their cohort.
What was shaping first to be a human versus AI story, actually is much more complex. There are intersecting story arcs – Elian’s introduction, the war crisis, the AI inteference and finally Greta’s decision. There is no particular antagonist, as the AI are not actually malicious, but doing the best they can. And the humans, well, are acting out of desperation. The story is more of Greta waking up, for her to realize there is much more than stoically dying for your country. She and the other kids in the cohort are taught obedience, labor and keeping the peace – qualities essential since most of them are going to be future leaders. But even if they are from enemy nations, their first loyalty is to each other; which was beautiful. They are more at home in the Precepture than their nations; while this may be mildly like Stockholm, there is also the truth that they were literally sold for peace. Their lives are also forfeit to the whims of the AI or their country – essentially they can’t think of love, but can seek whatever comfort they want.
As for the AIs, Talis is a very interesting character. Think of the AI’s from Mark Alpert’s The Six to be controlling the world. Talis and the Abbot are both human-turned-AI, so they remember their humanity and probably have emotions but are also bound to protect the greater good first. It is very interesting how Talis’ mannerisms are still like a human – he is funny , but also can be severe when the situation demands. He is not like any other AI – power is not what he seeks, but lasting peace. But if that peace comes at the cost of a city of two, he won’t hesitate.
Overall, the writing was pretty good – serious but with occasional humor. It is a depressing tale, but the writing keeps it lively. The characters were rendered realistically, their emotions, maturity and desires shining through. I liked how Elias and Talis were sassy, how Greta was the perfect-princess but then became her own person. Her sacrifice was so meaningful in the way that she chose for whom she was doing it, as opposed to being resigned to her fate. Xie was a heartbreaking character when you think about where is coming from and the burden on her. As for the world-building – I found it flawless. I am very interested in what the theme of the sequel will be, as regards to Greta’s decision, and where that potential will lead the series.
Received a free galley from Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing via Netgalley; this does not influence my opinions or review.