Our review was developed from our discussion of The Scorpion Rules. Below the review we've provided a list of questions that you can use to discuss The Scorpion Rules in your book club, long-distance or otherwise.
The Scorpion Rules is the first book by Erin Bow that Paige has read, and she liked it quite a lot. I, on the other hand, had a more mixed reaction. I think my hesitations come mostly from the great expectations I held for a new book by Erin Bow. Plain Kate is universally praised, and Sorrow's Knot, you guys. It is magnificent. If you are looking for a ghostly story to read this Halloween and haven't yet read it, well, you know what I'd recommend. Anyway, so I was eager to see what Erin Bow would do with a dystopia/ post-apocalyptic setting.
Paige and I both quite enjoyed the overall premise of The Scorpion Rules. It takes place in the distant future after humanity has nearly decimated itself thanks to global warming and warfare over scare resources. The savior of mankind, said with a grain of salt, is an amoral Artificial Intelligence named Talis. To maintain peace Talis requires the heir to each nation be raised in his Preceptures where they will be educated and used as hostages. Any country at war, whether the initiator or not, forfeits the life of their children. Greta Gustafsen Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan-Polar Confederation is a Child of Peace and our narrator. With her country on the brink of war, she's knows survival is unlikely.
Paige and I were both fascinated by Talis, and the AIs in general, in The Scorpion Rules. Talis is enigmatic, scary, and weirdly fascinating. In many ways he is a complete contradiction. He's a robot but he has a bit of humanity. He's a machine but also nearly a god. He's all powerful but not invincible. He has his own set of morals. I loved all the Utterances sprinkled throughout. These are Talis's sayings and they have the air of holy writ, but they are also so snarky and full of pop culture references.
Equally fascinating is the fact that not all AI are cut from the same cloth. The Abbot and his relationship with the children is also fraught with contradictions.
Family is a central theme in the book, and Paige and I spent a lot of time talking about the different types of "families" in this post-apocalyptic world. Blood binds, of course, but also we see adopted families between both the children and the AI. What one would do for family or what one cannot do for family is central.
I was at a diversity panel last week and one of the panelists said something along the lines of, "if your apocalypse kills off all the people of color then you have a problem." Based on some of the other things she said I don't know if she'd give this book her full stamp of approval, but, on the plus side this is a diverse group with children from all over the world. I really liked seeing how the different cultures came together in the Precepture.
So how did Erin Bow do with a post-apocalyptic setting? She created a really fascinating world.
Discussion Questions for The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow:
- Discuss Greta's role as a narrator and growth as a character. How does she change throughout the novel? How does her voice change as she becomes more assertive?
- Discuss the love triangle in The Scorpion Rules. What were the roles of both Elian and Xie when it came to Greta's "awakening?" Who were you pulling for and why?
- How do the various Children in Greta's group cope with their roles as hostages?
- Why do you think the novel is set on a goat farm in Saskatchewan? Discuss the juxtaposition of the simplicity of the Children of Peace's daily existence despite the fact that they are or one day will become global players.
- How is the theme of family woven through the action in The Scorpion Rules? What are the different types of "families" in the novel? How do the characters confront the threats to their family members?
- Talis rules the world with an iron fist and his will has put the children into this position. But Wilma Armenteros is the person who attacked the Precepture bringing the conflict to its head. So who is the villain in this novel? Or is there one?
- Talis can be absolutely terrifying. What makes him so scary? How do the different characters regard or relate to Talis? Do you see contradictions in his nature?
- Talis often claims the Children of Peace as his children. Xie, however, asserts that they are tools. Who is right?
- Discuss the role of the AIs in this post-apocalyptic world. Is there some humanity deep down in these beings? And what will happen to Greta now that she's cast her lot with them?
Review copy from Edelweiss.