Series: Prisoners of Peace #1
Author: Erin Bow
Trigger Warnings: Death, death of children, blood, torture (physical and psychological)
The world is at peace, said the Utterances. And really, if the odd princess has a hard day, is that too much to ask?
Greta is a duchess and crown princess—and a hostage to peace. This is how the game is played: if you want to rule, you must give one of your children as a hostage. Go to war and your hostage dies.
Greta will be free if she can survive until her eighteenth birthday. Until then she lives in the Precepture school with the daughters and sons of the world’s leaders. Like them, she is taught to obey the machines that control their lives. Like them, she is prepared to die with dignity, if she must. But everything changes when a new hostage arrives. Elián is a boy who refuses to play by the rules, a boy who defies everything Greta has ever been taught. And he opens Greta’s eyes to the brutality of the system they live under—and to her own power.
As Greta and Elián watch their nations tip closer to war, Greta becomes a target in a new kind of game. A game that will end up killing them both—unless she can find a way to break all the rules.
Oh, my god, the emotions. This book was on my most anticipated reads of 2019, and it completely deserved that space. I devoured it in a total of 3 hours and it’ll likely end up on my favorite reads of 2019.
So let’s talk about why I loved it so much: Greta. Greta is our main character and our narrator, and she is me. I don’t mean that in an “oh, she’s #relatable” way – in fact, a lot of the Goodreads reviews found her bland and boring – but she is exactly like me if I was in that situation. She’s a good girl, following the rules. It doesn’t even occur to her to try and change her fate; she puts her energy towards being prepared to die with dignity. She’s unobservant, especially when it comes to people. Erin Bow said Greta’s character was inspired by Spock, and as someone whose siblings jokingly called them “Spock” as a child, I saw myself in everything Greta was.
In the standard dystopian trope, it’s the rule-breaking rebel who saves the world. (Although whether or not there’s any world-saving in The Scorpion Rules is debatable.) But Elián, the rule-breaking rebel of this story, doesn’t do much saving. His fighting spirit is what wakes Greta up to the idea that they shouldn’t just lay down and wait for their own deaths, and then he recedes into a supporting role. He’s not even the love interest. He’s a good character, as far as characters go, but especially in the second half he doesn’t really do much.
If you’re going into this book thinking, “Oh, it’s a dystopian, there will be a rebellion and Greta and Elián will save all these kids and upend the political system,” then you’re going to be sorely disappointed. The plot is a slow burn, but to me it didn’t feel slow because I loved Greta so much. Nothing happens in the first half of the book. The characters are going about their lives, taking classes, gardening, and caring for goats. Greta’s emotional arc takes center stage, even when something actually does happen, and if you’re not prepared for character- and emotion-focused and action-less (or if you don’t like Greta), you’re not going to like it at all.
Speaking of emotions, let’s talk about emotions. Specifically, how vivid and visceral the emotions are in this book. I cried a couple of times. I felt the emotional horror of the torture. Perhaps it’s because I was so invested in Greta, but the feelings leaped off the page and straight into my heart. It’s one of those books that leaves you emotionally wiped out, but in a good way, at the end, and I loved every second of it.
Yes, this book does have its problems. There’s no real reason for the other children at the Precepture school to look up to Greta as a leader. (Although the fact that she’s the daughter of a queen is emphasized, so maybe that’s supposed to be the reason, even though literally every other child there is a ruler’s kid.) And the romance, though very, very secondary, comes out of nowhere with no reason or buildup. But the romance part takes up maybe 10 pages TOTAL through the whole book, so I’m willing to overlook that.
I really, really want to talk about the ending, because I have Thoughts about it, but there’s spoilers there. So I’ll probably talk about it when I read The Swan Riders – because there is a sequel and you better believe I’m reading it. I loved this book (though I can see why some wouldn’t), and I can’t wait to continue the story.
The Prisoners of Peace series:
- The Scorpion Rules
- The Swan Riders