The Scorpion Rules by Erin BowThe Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

The Scorpion Rules

byErin Bow

Hardcover | September 22, 2015

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The children of world leaders are held hostage in an attempt to keep the peace in this “slyly humorous, starkly thought-provoking” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) novel.

Greta is a Duchess and a Crown Princess. She is also a Child of Peace, a hostage held by the de facto ruler of the world, the great Artificial Intelligence, Talis. This is how the game is played: if you want to rule, you must give one of your children as a hostage. Start a war and your hostage 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. His rebellion opens Greta’s 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 deliver punishment. Which surely means that Greta and Elian will be killed...unless Greta can think of a way to break all the rules.
Title:The Scorpion RulesFormat:HardcoverDimensions:384 pages, 8.25 × 5.5 × 1.2 inPublished:September 22, 2015Publisher:Margaret K. McElderry BooksLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1481442716

ISBN - 13:9781481442718

Customer Reviews of The Scorpion Rules

Reviews

Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good idea, but didn't quite work The idea for the story of a futuristic war-torn earth sounded quite interesting, but the actual story was kind of disappointing. The story moved pretty slowly and could get boring. Not as exciting as i hoped.
Date published: 2017-09-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good idea but fell short While I did enjoy the idea for this story, I believe it could have been improved if it was written differently. I would have liked to see the same scenario but in an alternate world that is not dystopian themed. The machinery and technology slightly ruined the story for me. Overall - I think it would have done better as a fantasy rather than a dystopian novel.
Date published: 2016-06-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too little hope - spoiler warning I did not 'get' this book. From the first, it was obvious that there was no hope for the children, so why bother with the story. I was confused by the audio between who were computer characters and who were human. I really wanted to love this story, as Erin Bow is a wonderful story teller, but the audio version left me flat and confused. Those who oversee this world, strive to keep the various jurisdictions at peace by demanding that each leader surrender a child to act as a "hostage of peace". These children, housed at the Precepture School, are well cared for, educated and are released when they turn eighteen. However, should their nation enter into war before that time, then his or her life is forfeit. I kept hoping that Ms. Bow would introduce a twist on the fate of the hostages, that she would find a way to keep them alive. During their years at the Precepture, they were taught about statehood and politics and they formed life long bonds with the children who were the future leaders of opposing states. These children should have been kept alive as they were the best equipped to keep the peace. Kill the war enabling parents and install the peace hostages as the new leaders. Don't keep killing the children leaving the inept parents alive to surrender yet another child as hostage. I listened to the audiobook as read by Madeleine Maby. 10 hours 13 minutes - unabridged. I found her voice characterization confusing. The voices she used for the computers were smooth and lilting, yet for some of the child hostages, she used broken, halting voices which reminded me of the way William Shatner speaks in some of his roles. Each time one of the girls spoke like this, I thought she was one of the computers. Very confusing. This helped to spoil my enjoyment of the book. I honestly feel that I would have enjoyed this story more had I read a paper copy. What I did enjoy was the normal aspects of the children's lives. They worked the Precepture farm for agricultural produce and cared for the herd of goats. If you have ever watched goats, their antics are primers for laughter. The goats in this story were no exception and they served to diffuse some of the tense situations the hostages found them selves in. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to overcome the despair I felt for the children's plight.
Date published: 2016-04-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting Read but Drags A Bit This one started off really strong. The first 35% of the book had me hooked: I wanted to see what would happen to Greta and the rest of the Children of Peace with war on the brink. But it sort of went downhill from there. Once we learned that Greta would become an AI, it was pretty obvious that everything in this book was leading to that moment and nothing else that happened really mattered. I understand that we need to know Greta's character so that the next book will make sense (I'm assuming there is a next book) but this one felt so much like the lead up to something that never actually happened. I think it could have been cut down and pushed together with whatever will happen in the next book rather than being it's own book. I think there was too much time spent on things that could have been explained and done in a shorter period of time. I thought the AI was unique and interesting in this one as opposed to some other books that feature AI that I have recently read. I really liked that the AI was half human and created from humans because it made for a much more interesting read. However, I can see the "humanity" side of the AI being played to and I don't know how much I really want that. I think it is interesting to see humans being ruthless when they have the opportunity to be. It wasn't as though this one was a bad book, it just wasn't a great book. It felt too much like a first book in a series rather than a story with it's own plot arc because it was obviously setting up so much more in the future rather than giving us stuff in the present. I thought the Children of Peace would have had a much bigger role in this rather than just being there to show that Greta was the leader and ruler of them -- and that she was capable of being the new AI. But it is still an interesting read and I did like that Greta fell in love with a girl, although I thought maybe she was asexual at the beginning, but being maybe bisexual was chill too.
Date published: 2016-02-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Slow moving but interesting world Greta is a princess but she’s also what’s known as a hostage of peace. In order to rule in the world Greta lives in, a rule must turn over their first born child to be raised in a Precepture school and if that ruler decides to go to war, their child’s life is forfeit. Greta has known that all she has to do is survive until her eighteenth birthday and she would be free. But a new hostage, Elián arrives and Greta’s fate is tied with his as their countries are on the brink of a war. Elián challenges the rules and the machines that Greta has obeyed her whole life and slowly starts to open her mind to a new way of thinking about their situation. The concept of this book drew me in right away. It sounded like a brutal world and I was interested to see how the idea would be played out in the plot. I was hopeful for a lot of world-building, action, some romance, and friendship. In the end, I think it just wasn’t the right book for me but I think there will be people who enjoy it. I did like Greta, the main character. She was strong and the little leader of her group of friendships. She didn’t question the rules and was pretty much just waiting until she reached her eighteenth birthday and would be free. She knew her mother loved her but also knew her mother might not have a choice in going to war eventually. She cared about her friends, even knowing they could possibly be taken away at any time, and she reached out to Elián even though his country could be the reason for her death. She was an interesting character. The other characters, Greta’s friends, lacked the development to really make me care about them. I cared because Greta cared but not because I felt a huge attachment to any of them. Elián was probably the most developed after Greta but I still felt like I knew nothing about him except that growing up outside of the Precepture for most of his life gave him a different attitude than the kids who’d grown up in the school. The world-building happened slowly. More information was revealed as the book went on but it didn’t feel like enough to get a clear picture of how the world ended up like it did. I didn’t need a whole history lesson but a little more information would have been helpful in understanding this world. I think my main problem with the book was that it felt like it was trying to be two genres at once without fully succeeding in either. It was a cross between dystopian and sci-fi and it could have worked with more development. The plot was slow moving until near the end. The last quarter of the book had so much action it was hard to keep up but the first three quarters were mostly Greta and her friends and their lives at the school, how Elián disrupted it, lots of foreshadowing, which made it predictable. *I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Date published: 2015-12-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This book stole my heart Where do I even start with this book? I first heard about it around the time everyone was attending BEA. I can't remember where I first saw the cover but as soon as I did, I was in love. I immediately ran to Goodreads to check out the synopsis and knew I had to read it. The premise of the story was something I knew I'd love. Erin blew me out of the water with the delivery though. If you follow me on Twitter, you likely saw/see me obsessing over Talis, the AI in charge of the world in The Scorpion Rules. He's everything. I have affectionately taken to calling him Sassy Talis. This character was so incredibly well-written. His dialogue was dripping with sarcasm and was incredibly witty. He had me right from the prologue with this: Borders strained, checkpoints broke, and of course people started shooting, because that's what passes for problem-solving among humans. See, guys, this is why you can't have nice things. So sassy, right?! I actually laughed out loud at that part. I'm not ashamed to say that I would pay good money for a book of just the Utterances of Talis. He's brilliant and cruel but somehow also makes you love him. It's rare that I manage to like the bad guy but Bow left me no choice with this one. I will also never understand how or why it happened but the goats were some of my favourite characters as well. They never say a word but they're wildly interesting. If there's mischief, you can almost bet on the fact that the goats are involved. I seriously love them. My last character love-fest is about Elián. He's a trouble maker, stubborn as a goat (ALL THE GOATS), incredibly quick-witted, and a little sassy in his own right. I admire his strength and rebellious attitude. I also love that he's able to (at least to an extent) reign it in for the good of the others. Often the trouble maker "just can't help it" or doesn't seem to really care what his actions do as long as they further his cause. In his case, however, we see some remorse and that he realizes he's hurting his friends who care about him. The events of this story create such a great atmosphere. It was tense, complex, and exhilarating. I definitely felt my heart racing and had anxious moments while I was reading. Between the things I wanted to happen, things I didn't want to happen, and having zero idea what the heck was coming up, The Scorpion Rules kept me on my toes. Even the 'slow' parts were incredibly exciting. How...just how?! It's an eye-opening look at what we could come to as a society if faced with extreme shortages of resources. The way Talis has set up his society, the few must sacrifice to keep things working for the many. In this case, the 'necessary' happens to be sacrificing human life which is, naturally, a more distasteful thing for most to accept but that's what makes Bow's book so amazing. She wasn't afraid to get messy and explore the not-so-pleasant side of human nature.
Date published: 2015-10-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Great world building Greta lives in Canada and is the princess of the PAL reign. All the countries in the world have their children who are holed up on a farm where they wait to die by the hand of the Keepers. Eventually Greta's whole world is turned upside down when an American boy Elain comes in and is tortured. The aftermath created when an AI called Talis created by the U.N. takes over the world. Bombing cities and even entire countries if needed. Suddenly she realizes there are more sinister things at work than just her regular day to day life. The greatest part about this book is the world building. It was seriously one of the most interesting takes on how our future could be. I loved how it wasn't all dumped on to the reader like most dystopian novels. It's done in mere trickles. Considering how slow paced the novel was, finding bits and pieces of how and why the world came to be was surprisingly effective. There are also quirky weird parts like the Children of Peace who end up busy mating goats.. It made me laugh though. As for the characters, I couldn't get a good read on most of them. They didn't reveal too much of their back story and I had trouble remembering them all even the secondary characters. I did like how there was an LGBT relationship. That's rare to find in dystopian novels. I only wished there were more development for each of them. And the plot was super simple but with the type of world building it had, it made sense not to make it over complicated. Overall, if you like a different take on a dystopian novel, pick this one up just for the world building. You won't be disappointed.
Date published: 2015-10-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Solid start towards something great Let's start of by saying that "The Scorpion Rules" grabbed my attention from the very first page (there is a "but" coming). It was smartly plotted and paced, set in an intriguing world inhabited by memorable characters, and had a forceful narrative voice. There is also Tallis, the sassy AI who can outwit, outplay, and outlast every rebellion to the throne. I almost imagine Erin Bow injecting her personality into that character as "the voice of conscience" (translation: bossy overlord). Beyond Tallis, Bow does offer up some multi-faceted conundrums to the way her dystopian world runs. It becomes a read that, instead of a run-of-the-mill YA dystopian novel, has more food for thought (or preferably, knowledge, since artificial beings need no food for power). It really seemed like the story was going places. And here comes the "but". Somehow, that crumbled in the second act as the story stalled both in plot physicality and in the excitement buildup. The Children of Peace were meant to live a childhood in captivity, I know, but the boarding school/prison, known as the Precepture, became more than just their prisons – it also severely handicapped Erin Bow's ability in elevating the story to another level, which I know she's highly capable of. The plot ultimately circled within the confines of that isolated school a little longer than it should have, and with that, broke the lead-up to an explosive climax it should have deserved. That said, it did end on a good note - good in the sense that there was much anticipation in its openness to the future routes the story could go. There is a lot of promise in this new series which Bow should be proud of and fans should be enthusiastic for. Besides, it's only a matter of time before this makes it to the big screen.
Date published: 2015-10-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An amazing diverse sci-fi novel! Oh man. This book. I’m not even sure how to write a coherent review. I don’t read a lot of sci-fi but I’m so happy I read this one. The Scorpion Rules was just a phenomenal books that I will definitely push onto any and all readers. 400 years ago, Earth was dying and water was going scarce. Countless wars were being held and the UN turned to their Artificial Intelligence, Talis, for answers. And Talis surprised them all, by blowing up cities until humans listened to him. Now, Talis is still leading and has all the world’s leaders prized possessions hostage, their children. When a country declares war, their children are taking to the grey room. And they never come out. Greta is the Crown Princess of the Pan Polar Confederacy and is only 16 months from being free. That all goes haywire when Elian, grandson of an opposing leader, arrives. Soon, the two countries are at war and Greta has to figure out what she’s willing to put at stake to protect those she cares about. Greta was an amazing protagonist. She felt so real and dynamic. I loved how she not only wanted to understand more about her world and how she learned more about herself. The world-building was also equally amazing. Despite its sci-fi aspects, it felt so real and natural. It was definitely planned out and it really shows. The plot was equally thrilling and I really enjoyed it. It was definitely fast-paced and I enjoyed it so much. The romance was freakin’ amazing. Based on the synopsis, it seems that Elian and Greta would be together. But that isn’t the case. While Greta learns to care about Elian, she also learns about the difference between platonic and romantic love. But who is the other person that Greta learns to care for? None other than her roommate Xie, one of her best friends and an overall amazing person. I just loved the romance so much. Not only is it about Greta discovering her romantic feelings, it’s about her learning about the different types of love. I enjoyed it so much. Overall, The Scorpion Rules was an amazing diverse sci-fi novel that I highly recommend to everyone. Just go read it, seriously, you won’t regret it.
Date published: 2015-10-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Clever, powerful, compelling The Scorpion Rules is powerful and intriguing, a world of power plays, of fear and death, of hidden things. Of hidden meaning. Of hidden words and feelings. Of power and control, of who has it, who wants it, and who ends up with it. Greta's voice is compelling. Soft, intelligent, cautious. Knowing. She's lived her life as a hostage, a Child of Peace. She's always known that one day, if her home country goes to war, she would die. And she's not alone in this way of thinking, this upbringing. Until Elián arrives. Until he doesn't act like everyone else. Until he doesn't grasp the severity of his new situation. Until Greta understands what's coming, what needs to be done. It's never dawned on her that there could be another way, until it does. Until there is. Until Greta becomes the Greta she was meant to be. The premise, the world-building, is genius. What a world where war could happen at any point. What a world where there would be such a real consequence for going to war. What would a leader rather risk: the lives of their people or the life of their child? Talis is intriguing. Amoral, controlling, and witty. He's an evil artificial intelligence with layers, with a complicated past. Like with most characters, there's something about them that makes them stand out. Good or evil. Talis has reasons for his rules. They're based on human history, the fact that humans consistently screw up. Maybe now, with Talis in charge, with Talis taking their children, those in charge won't screw up so much. Power. This book is about power. Who holds it, who wants it, who will push to take it, and who will use it. Talis has power. Of course he does. He's levelled cities. Destroyed countries. Killed thousands, perhaps millions. He's in charge. But. But. Talis isn't the only one with power. More than anything, I wanted to understand this book. In some ways I think I do. This book says a lot about power, about rulers and rules, about decisions, about morality and mortality. The world-building is creative and inventive, the characters are flawed and rich with humanity. It's so rare that a book about international relations and politics and so many other complicated things like love and goats can be so human. Do not be fooled by the description, events will not unfold in ways you expect them to. Read this if you're looking for something smart and human, something unexpected.
Date published: 2015-09-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not to overstate a thing, but this might be one of my favourite books in the history of EVER. This book, I tell you. I mean, I have read a lot of books (as you do), and this one is one of my favourites. Possibly my absolute favourite. It is that good. The world building is astonishing. Erin Bow has created not only an entirely believable future, but also an entirely believable set of characters to fill it. You can *smell* the goats when you read it. And the politics! My heart, the politics. I can't even tell you about the most amazing part, though, because that wouldn't be fair to you. You will just have to wait until September 22 and then we can all yell about our feelings on Twitter.
Date published: 2015-09-12

Read from the Book

The Scorpion Rules 1 PLUME We were studying the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand when we saw the plume of dust. Gregori spotted it first—in truth he spent a lot of time watching for it—and stood up so fast that his chair tipped over. It crashed to the flagstones of the orderly little classroom, loud as rifle fire. Long and careful training kept the rest of us from moving. Grego alone stood as if his muscles had all seized, with seven pairs of human eyes and a dozen kinds of sensors locked on him. He was looking out the window. So, naturally, I looked out the window. It took me a moment to spot the mark on the horizon: a bit of dust, as might be kicked up by a small surface vehicle, or a rider on horseback. It looked as if someone had tried to erase a pencil mark from the sky. Terror came to me the way it does in dreams—all encompassing, all at once. The air froze in my lungs. I felt my teeth click together. But then, as I began to twist toward the window, I stopped. No, I would not make a spectacle of myself. I was Greta Gustafsen Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan Polar Confederacy. I was a seventh-generation hostage, and the future ruler of a superpower. Even if I was about to die—and the dust meant I probably was—even if I was about to die, I would not freeze and tremble. I would not gawp. So. I put my hands one on top of the other and pushed them flat. I breathed in through my nose and blew out through my mouth as if blowing out a candle, which is a good way to cope with any kind of distress or pain. In short, I pulled myself back into being royalty. All around me I could sense everyone else doing the same. Only Grego was left standing, as if caught in a spotlight. That was clearly out of bounds—he’d be punished in a moment—but in my heart I did not blame him. Someone was coming here. And no one came here, except to kill one of us. At the front of the room, our teacher whirred and clicked. “Is something troubling you, Gregori?” “I— No.” Grego broke himself from the window. His hair was the color of a cirrus cloud, and the sun caught the wiry sweep of it. The implanted cybernetic irises made his eyes look alien. “World War One,” he said, his accent sharpening the Ws almost to Vs. He looked down at his upturned chair as if he didn’t know what it was for. Da-Xia glided to her feet. She bowed to Grego, and then righted his chair. Grego sat down and pushed at his face with both hands. “Are you all right?” asked Da-Xia, pushing—as she ever did—the edge of what we were allowed. “Of course. Žinoma, yes, of course.” Grego’s eyes flicked past her to look at the dust. “It is only the usual impending doom.” Grego is the son of one of the grand dukes of the Baltic Alliance, and his country, like mine, was on the brink of war. But mine was closer to that brink than his. On her way back to her seat, Da-Xia laid her hand on top of my arm. It rested lightly, momentarily, like a hummingbird on a branch. The rider wasn’t coming for Xie—her nation was nowhere close to a war—so her touch was pure gift. And then it was gone. Da-Xia sank back into her seat. “The assassination of the archduke is a great poignancy, is it not? That the death of one minor royal figure could lead to so much loss of life? Imagine, a world war.” “Imagine,” I echoed. My lips felt numb and stiff. I did not look at the dust. No one did. Beside me I could hear Sidney’s breath shudder. I could almost feel it, as if our bodies were pressed together. “It’s only a world war if you don’t count Africa,” said Thandi, who is heir to one of the great thrones of Africa, and touchy about it. “Or central Asia. Or the southern Americas.” The seven of us had been together for so long that in times of great stress we could have whole conversations that were assembled from everyone’s most typical reactions. This was one of them. Sidney (his voice cracking a little) said that it could be penguins versus polar bears and Thandi would still call it Eurocentric. Thandi answered sharply, while Han, who is bad with irony, noted that penguins and polar bears did not live on the same continent, and therefore had no recorded wars. In this prefabricated way, we discussed history like good students—and kept our seats like good hostages. Grego stayed silent, his white hand knotted in his whiter hair. Little Han watched Grego as if puzzled. Da-Xia tucked her feet up under herself in a posture of formal serenity. Atta, who has not spoken aloud in two years, was alone in looking overtly out the window. His eyes were like the eyes of a dead dog. Talk in the classroom was drying up. Trickling away. There was a tiny noise at the desk beside mine: Sidney, tapping his fingertips on his notebook. He lifted them a millimeter, dropped them, lifted and dropped. There were pinpricks of sweat on his cheekbones and lips. I pulled my eyes from him, and saw that the dust was much closer. At the base of the plume was the bump-bumping dot of a rider on horseback. I could see the rider’s wings. It was certain, then. The rider was a Swan Rider. The Swan Riders are humans in the employ of the United Nations. They are sent out to present official declarations of war—to present the declarations, and to kill the official hostages. We are the hostages. And we knew which of our nations was likely to be at war. The Swan Rider was coming to kill Sidney, and to kill me. Sidney Carlow, son of the governor of the Mississippi Delta Confederacy. He had no title, but still he had an ancient profile, a face you could have imagined on the sphinx, though his ears stuck out. His hands were big. And our two nations . . . Sidney’s nation and mine were on the brink of war. It was complicated, but it was simple. His people were thirsty, and mine had water. They were desperate, and we were firm. And now, that dust. I was almost, almost sure— “Children?” whirred Delta. “Must I remind you of our topic?” “It’s war,” said Sidney. I locked my eyes onto the map at the front of the room. I could feel my classmates try not to look at Sidney and me. I could feel them try not to pity. None of us has ever wanted pity. The silence grew tighter and tighter. It was possible to imagine the sound of hoofbeats. Sidney spoke again, and it was like something breaking. “World War One is exactly the kind of stupid-ass war that would never happen today.” His voice, which normally is like peaches in syrup, was high and tight. “I mean, what if Czar, um—” “Nicholas,” I supplied. “Nicholas the Second, Nicholas Romanov.” “What if his kids had been held hostage somewhere? Is he really gonna go off and defend Italy—” “France,” I said. “Is he really going to go off and fight for a meaningless alliance if someone is going to shoot his kids in the head?” We did not actually know what the Swan Riders did to us. When wars were declared, the hostage children of the warring parties went with the Rider to the grey room. They did not come back. A bullet to the brain was a reasonable and popular guess. Shoot his kids . . . The idea hung there, shuddering in the air, like the after-ring of a great bell. “I—” said Sidney. “I. Sorry. That’s what my dad would call a fucking unfortunate image.” Brother Delta made a chiding tock. “I really don’t think, Mr. Carlow, that there is any cause for such profanity.” The old machine paused. “Though I realize this is a stressful situation.” A laugh tore out of Sidney—and from outside the window came a flash. The Rider was upon us. The sun struck off the mirrored parts of her wings. Sidney grabbed my hand. I felt a surge of hot and cold, as if Sidney were electric, as if he had wired himself straight into my nerves. It surely could not be that he had never touched me before. We had been sitting side by side for years. I knew the hollow at the nape of his neck; I knew the habitual curl of his hands. But it felt like a first touch. I could feel my heartbeat pounding in the tips of my fingers. The Rider came out of the apple orchard and into the vegetable gardens. She swung down from her horse and led it toward us, picking her way, careful of the lettuce. I counted breaths to calm myself. My fingers wove through Sidney’s, and his through mine, and we held on tight. At the goat pen the Swan Rider looped the reins around the horse’s neck and pumped some water into the trough. The horse dipped its head and slopped at it. The Rider gave the horse a little pat, and for a moment paused, her head bowed. The sunlight rippled from the aluminum and the glossy feathers of her wings, as if she were shaking. Then she straightened, turned, and walked toward the main doors of the hall, out of our view. Our room hung in silence. Filled with a certain unfortunate image. I took a deep breath and lifted my chin. I could do this. The Swan Rider would call my name, and I would go with her. I would walk out well. Maybe—I found a scrap of doubt, not quite a wish—it wouldn’t be Sidney and me. There were other conflicts in the world. There was always Grego. The ethnic disputes in the Baltic were always close to boiling over, and Grego had spent a lifetime afraid. There was Grego, and there were littler children in the other classrooms, children from all over the world. It would be a terrible thing to hope for that, but— We heard footsteps. Sidney was crushing my knuckles. My hand throbbed, but I did not pull away. The door slid open. For a moment I could cling to my doubts, because it was only our Abbot, shuffling into the doorway. “Children,” he said, in his gentle, dusty voice. “I’m afraid there is bad news. It’s an intra-American conflict. The Mississippi Delta Confederacy has declared war on Tennessee and Kentucky.” “What?” said Sidney. His hand ripped out of mine. My heart leapt. I felt dizzy, blind, sick with joy. I was not going to die; only Sidney was. I was not going to die. Only Sidney. He was on his feet. “What? Are you sure?” “If I were not sure, Mr. Carlow, I would not bring you such news,” said the Abbot. He eased himself aside. Behind him stood the Swan Rider. “But my father,” said Sidney. It would have been his father who’d made the decision to declare war—and made it knowing that it would send a Swan Rider here. “But,” said Sidney. “But he’s my dad—” The Rider took a step forward, and one of her wings bumped against the doorframe. They tipped sideways. She grabbed at the harness strap. Dust puffed out from wings and coat. “Children of Peace,” she said, and her voice cracked. Anger flashed through me. How dare she be clumsy, how dare she be tongue-tied? How dare she be anything less than perfect? She was supposed to be an angel, the immaculate hand of Talis, but she was just a girl, a white girl with a chickadee cap of black hair and sorrow-soft blue eyes. She swallowed before trying again. “Children of Peace, a war has been declared. By order of the United Nations, by the will of Talis, the lives of the children of the warring parties are declared forfeit.” And then: “Sidney James Carlow, come with me.” Sidney stood unmoving. Would he have to be dragged? We all lived in horror of it, that we would start screaming, that we would have to be dragged. The Swan Rider lifted her eyebrows, startling eyebrows like heavy black slashes. Sidney was frozen. It was almost too late. The Swan Rider began to move—and then, hardly knowing what I did, I stepped forward. I touched Sidney’s wrist, where the skin was soft and folded. He jerked and his head snapped round. I could see the whites all around his eyes. “I’ll go with you,” I said. Not to die, because it was not my turn. Not to save him, because I couldn’t. Just to—to— “No,” croaked Sidney. “No, I can do it. I can do it.” He took one step forward. His hand slipped free of mine and struck his leg with a sound like a slab of meat hitting a counter. But he managed another step, and then another. The Swan Rider took his elbow, as if they were in a formal procession. They went out the door. It closed behind them. And then—nothing. Nothing and nothing and nothing. The silence was not an absence of sound, but an active thing. I could feel it turning and burrowing inside my ears. The seven of us—or rather, the six of us—stood close together and stared at the door. There was something wrong with the way we did it, but I did not know if we should stand closer together or farther apart. We were trained to walk out, but we got no training for this. At the front of the room, Brother Delta clicked. “Our topic was World War One, I believe,” he began. “Never mind, Delta.” The Abbot tipped his facescreen downward and tinted it a soft grey. “There will be bells in a moment.” The Abbot has been doing this longer than any of us, and he is kind. We stood and stood. Three minutes. Five. Ten. Cramps came into my insteps. Sidney—was he already dead? Probably. Whatever happened in the grey room happened fast. (I’m not a cruel man, Talis is recorded as saying. Only rarely is the next bit quoted: I mean, technically I’m not a man at all.) High overhead, a bell tolled three times. “It’s your rota for gardening, I think, my children,” said the Abbot. “Come, I can walk you as far as the transept.” “No need,” said Da-Xia. She’d told me once about the Blue Tara, fiercest and most beloved goddess of her mountain country, known for destroying her enemies and spreading joy. I had never quite shaken the image. There were ten generations of royalty in Xie’s voice—but more than that, there were icy mountains, and a million people who thought she was a god. The Abbot merely nodded. “As you like, Da-Xia.” The others went out, huddling close together. I wanted to go with them—I felt the same desire for closeness, for a herd—but found myself staggering as I tried to walk. My knees were both stiff and shot with tremors, as if I had been carrying something heavy, and had only now set it down. Sidney. And so very nearly, me. Xie’s hand slipped into mine. “Greta,” she said. Just that. Xie and I have been roommates since I was five. How many times have I heard her say my name? In that moment she lifted it up for me and held it like a mirror. I saw myself, and I remembered myself. A hostage, yes. But a princess, a duchess. The daughter of a queen. “Come on, Greta,” said Xie. “We’ll go together.” So I made myself move. Da-Xia and I went slowly: two princesses, arm in arm. We walked out together, from the darkness into the summer sun.

Editorial Reviews

“THE SCORPION RULESis a bloody, breath-taking, beautiful book… As a fellow craftsperson I'm leftin awe, and as a reader I'm left feeling transformed.”