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Cover image for Thunderhead

1st ed.
Physical Description:
504 pages ; 22 cm.
Reading Level:
870 L Lexile
Rowan has gone rogue, and has taken it upon himself to put the Scythedom through a trial by fire. Literally. In the year since Winter Conclave, he has gone off-grid, and has been striking out against corrupt scythes?not only in MidMerica, but across the entire continent. He is a dark folk hero now? Scythe Lucifer, a vigilante taking down corrupt scythes in flames. Citra, now a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, sees the corruption and wants to help change it from the inside out, but is thwarted at every turn, and threatened by the new order scythes. Realizing she cannot do this alone?or even with the help of Scythe Curie and Faraday, she does the unthinkable, and risks being deadish so she can communicate with the Thunderhead the only being on earth wise enough to solve the dire problems of a perfect world. But will it help solve those problems, or simply watch as perfection goes into decline?


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Rowan and Citra take opposite stances on the morality of the Scythedom, putting them at odds, in the chilling sequel to the Printz Honor Book Scythe from New York Times bestseller Neal Shusterman, author of the Unwind dystology.

The Thunderhead cannot interfere in the affairs of the Scythedom. All it can do is observe--it does not like what it sees.

A year has passed since Rowan had gone off grid. Since then, he has become an urban legend, a vigilante snuffing out corrupt scythes in a trial by fire. His story is told in whispers across the continent.

As Scythe Anastasia, Citra gleans with compassion and openly challenges the ideals of the "new order." But when her life is threatened and her methods questioned, it becomes clear that not everyone is open to the change.

Will the Thunderhead intervene?

Or will it simply watch as this perfect world begins to unravel?

Author Notes

Neal Shusterman was born in Brooklyn, New York on November 12, 1962. He received degrees in psychology and drama from the University of California, Irvine. Within a year of graduating, he had his first book deal and a screenwriting job. He has written numerous books including The Dark Side of Nowhere, Red Rider's Hood, The Shadow Club, The Shadow Club Rising, The Eyes of Kid Midas, Shattered Sky, Unwind, and Antsy Does Time. He won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature in 2015 for Challenger Deep. He also writes several series including the Skinjacker Trilogy, the Star Shards Chronicles, and the Unwind Dystology. As a screen and television writer, he has written for the Goosebumps and Animorphs television series, and wrote the Disney Channel Original Movie Pixel Perfect.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Shusterman cranks up the stakes in this blistering sequel to 2016's Scythe, set on a "post-mortal" future Earth in which easily revived humans are only "deadish" when killed, not permanently dead, except for the few "gleaned" by scythes, who kill to keep population growth under control. The narrative focuses primarily on Citra, who is gaining influence as Scythe Anastasia, and Rowan, who has adopted the mantle of Scythe Lucifer as he furtively gleans amoral scythes. New presences include Greyson Tolliver, an unassuming young man who becomes aware of threats on Scythe Anastasia's life, and the voice of the Thunderhead, the artificial intelligence that manages virtually all aspects of life on Earth. As the political machinations between scythe factions collide, the Thunderhead's dispatches reflect powerfully on its relationship with humanity ("All I can do is watch unblinkingly as my beloved humankind slowly weaves the rope it will use to hang itself"). Interweaving heady questions of morality, responsibility, loyalty, and power, Shusterman builds to a devastatingly intense conclusion that sends the characters and larger world into terrifying new territory. It's difficult to fathom what awaits in the next book. Ages 12-up. Agent: Andrea Brown, Andrea Brown Literary. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

In this sequel to Scythe, Citra (revived as Scythe Anastasia) and her mentor, Scythe Curie, are the target of assassination attempts. Rowan has gone rogue, fleeing underground and taking the moniker Scythe Lucifer to glean unethical and unworthy scythes. Through excellent storytelling, Shusterman deepens the world-building and raises ethical questions about this society's foundations. He expertly weaves narrative strands together, culminating with the requisite cliffhanger. (c) Copyright 2018. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Shusterman follows up his Printz Honor Book Scythe (2016) with that most difficult of feats: a sequel that surpasses its predecessor. Where the first book focused on the titular scythes tasked with gleaning lives to control populations in a future where death has been vanquished, the second installment delves into the inner workings of the Thunderhead, the sentient cloud that smoothly operates all of society. The plot is straightforward: Rowan, a rogue ex-scythe apprentice, stalks the streets of MidMerica taking the lives of the scythes who have lost sight of their mission and kill for pleasure or personal gain. Citra, once his counterpart, is now the ordained Scythe Anastasia, and as she works to better the system from the inside, her own life may be in danger. But it is the Thunderhead part government and part god, almost all-knowing, and increasingly aware of its own limitations that commands the most attention, and it is pulling strings across the globe. Through the Thunderhead, Shusterman widens the already impressive scope of his near-future utopia while also keeping a deft finger on the pulse of our own turbulent times. Exceptionally clear-eyed and brutal in its execution, this raises even bigger moral questions than its predecessor and, like its predecessor, offers no easy answers. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: There's no doubting Shusterman's talents he's nabbed both a National Book Award and a Printz Honor Book and this sequel to an enthusiastically received series starter is eagerly awaited.--Reagan, Maggie Copyright 2017 Booklist

School Library Journal Review

Gr 9 Up-A year has passed since the events of Scythe and Scythe Anastasia, once known as Citra Terranova, lives with her mentor, Scythe Marie Curie, and performs her gleanings in relative peace despite causing a rift in the Scythedom by giving her subjects a month to choose how they want to be gleaned, aka killed. Anastasia argues that it is more humane this way which earns her the favor of the "old world" scythes, those who feel they perform their job with dignity and humility rather than with joy and pride, like the "new world" scythes. Still, she cannot escape the tidbits of news surrounding her fellow apprentice Rowan Damisch, who now goes by the name Scythe Lucifer. He is hunting down corrupt scythes as a vigilante who deals death to those whom he feels besmirch the title. Ruling over this world is the Thunderhead, an omniscient artificial intelligence. However, it has no jurisdiction over the Scythedom and therefore has done nothing to stop Rowan. When an old enemy resurfaces, throwing the Scythedom into chaos, and Rowan unable to stem the flow of corruption on his own, the world begins to wonder if the Thunderhead will break its own laws and intervene. Shusterman wields his magic once again in this continuation. The exploration of how the Thunderhead operates and thinks, told through "diary entries," gives the story an extra dimension: how would an all-knowing, all-powerful AI think, and how would it process a flawed humanity? The climax and twist ending will leave fans of the series begging for the next installment. VERDICT A rare sequel that is even better than the first book.-Tyler Hixson, Brooklyn Public Library © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

Death proves impermanent in this sequel to Scythe (2016).In a world run by the (almost) all-powerful and (almost) omniscient artificial intelligence Thunderhead, only the Honorable Scythes deal permanent death to near-immortal humans. Yet a growing contingent of scythes, feared and flattered by society and operating outside the Thunderhead's control, are proving rather dishonorable. No longer apprentices, 18-year-olds Citra Terranova and Rowan Damisch realize "the scythedom ishigh school with murder" as they watch their fellow scythes jockey for power and prestige. Citra now gleans as Scythe Anastasia, questioning the status quo but also opposing the homicidally enthusiastic "new-order" scythes and their dangerous demagogue. Self-appointed as Scythe Lucifer, Rowan hunts other scythes whom he deems corrupt. Meanwhile, the existentially troubled Thunderhead questions its role as both creation and caretaker of humanity, sworn not to take life but fearing that its utopia will otherwise collapse into dystopia. Nationality and race are minimally mentionedethnic biases and genocide are considered very gaucheyet a population that defies death, aging, sickness, poverty, and war risks becoming bleakly homogenous, alleviated only by "unsavories" and scythes. This sequel digs deeper into Shusterman's complex world and complicated characters, offering political maneuvering, fatal conspiracies, and impending catastrophe via a slowly unfurling plot and startling bursts of action.Fear the reaper(s)but relish this intelligent and entertaining blend of dark humor and high death tolls. (Science fiction. 14-adult) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.



Thunderhead 1 Lullaby Peach velvet with embroidered baby-blue trim. Honorable Scythe Brahms loved his robe. True, the velvet became uncomfortably hot in the summer months, but it was something he had grown accustomed to in his sixty-three years as a scythe. He had recently turned the corner again, resetting his physical age back to a spry twenty-five--and now, in his third youth, he found his appetite for gleaning was stronger than ever. His routine was always the same, though methods varied. He would choose his subject, restrain him or her, then play a lullaby--Brahms's lullaby to be exact--the most famous piece of music composed by his Patron Historic. ?After all, if a scythe must choose a figure from history to name oneself after, shouldn't that figure be integrated somehow into the scythe's life? He would play the lullaby on whatever instrument was convenient, and if there was none available, he would simply hum it. And then he would end the subject's life. Politically, he leaned toward the teachings of the late Scythe Goddard, for he enjoyed gleaning immensely and saw no reason why that should be a problem for anyone. "In a perfect world, shouldn't we all enjoy what we do?" Goddard wrote. It was a sentiment gaining traction in more and more regional scythedoms. On this evening, Scythe Brahms had just accomplished a particularly entertaining gleaning in downtown Omaha, and was still whistling his signature tune as he sauntered down the street, wondering where he might find himself a late evening meal. But he stopped in midstanza, having a distinct feeling that he was being watched. There were, of course, cameras on every light post in the city. The Thunderhead was ever vigilant--but for a scythe, its slumberless, unblinking eyes were of no concern. It was powerless to even comment on the comings and goings of scythes, much less act upon anything it saw. The Thunderhead was the ultimate voyeur of death. This feeling, however, was more than the observational nature of the Thunderhead. Scythes were trained in perceptive skills. They were not prescient, but five highly developed senses could often have the semblance of a sixth. A scent, a sound, an errant shadow too minor to register consciously might be enough to make a well-trained scythe's neck hairs bristle. Scythe Brahms turned, sniffed, listened. He took in his surroundings. He was alone on a side street. Elsewhere, he could hear the sounds of street cafés and the ever-vibrant nightlife of the city, but the street he was on was lined with shops that were shuttered this time of night. Cleaners and clothiers. A hardware store and a day-care center. The lonely street belonged to him and the unseen interloper. "Come out," he said. "I know you're there." He thought it might be a child, or perhaps an unsavory hoping to bargain for immunity--as if an unsavory might have anything with which to bargain. Maybe it was a Tonist. Tone cults despised scythes, and although Brahms had never heard of ?Tonists actually attacking a scythe, they had been known to torment. "I won't harm you," Brahms said. "I've just completed a gleaning--I have no desire to increase my tally today." Although, admittedly, he might change his mind if the interloper was either too offensive, or obsequious. Still, no one stepped forward. "Fine," he said. "Be gone then, I have neither time nor patience for a game of hide-and-seek." Perhaps it was his imagination after all. Maybe his rejuvenated senses were now so acute that they were responding to stimuli that were much farther away than he assumed. That's when a figure launched from behind a parked car as if it had been spring-loaded. Brahms was knocked off balance--he would have been taken down entirely if he still had the slow reflexes of an older man and not his twenty-five-year-old self. He pushed the figure into a wall, and considered pulling out his blades to glean this reprobate, but Scythe Brahms had never been a brave man. So he ran. He moved in and out of pools of light created by the street lamps; all the while cameras atop each pole swiveled to watch him. When he turned to look, the figure was a good twenty yards behind him. Now Brahms could see he was dressed in a black robe. Was it a scythe's robe? No, it couldn't be. No scythe dressed in black--it was not allowed. But there were rumors. . . . That thought made him pick up the pace. He could feel adrenaline tingling in his fingers, and adding urgent velocity to his heart. A scythe in black. No, there had to be another explanation. He would report this to the Irregularity Committee, that's what he would do. ?Yes, they might laugh at him and say he was scared off by a masquerading unsavory, but these things needed to be reported, even if they were embarrassing. It was his civic duty. A block farther and his assailant had given up the chase. He was nowhere to be seen. Scythe Brahms slowed his pace. He was nearing a more active part of the city now. The beat of dance music and the garble of conversation careened down the street toward him, giving him a sense of security. He let his guard down. Which was a mistake. The dark figure broadsided him from a narrow alley and delivered a knuckle punch to his windpipe. As Brahms gasped for air, his attacker kicked his legs out from under him in a Bokator kick--that brutal martial art in which scythes were trained. Brahms landed on a crate of rotting cabbage left by the side of a market. It burst, spewing forth a thick methane reek. His breath could only come in short gasps, and he could feel warmth spreading throughout his body as his pain nanites released opiates. No! Not yet! I must not be numbed. I need my full faculties to fight this miscreant. But pain nanites were simple missionaries of relief, hearing only the scream of angry nerve endings. ?They ignored his wishes and deadened his pain. Brahms tried to rise, but slipped as the putrid vegetation crushed beneath him, becoming a slick, unpleasant stew. The figure in black was on top of him now, pinning him to the ground. Brahms tried to reach into his robe for his weapons, but could not. So instead he reached up, and pulled back his attacker's black hood, revealing him to be a young man--barely a man--a boy. His eyes were intense, and intent on--to use a mortal-age word--murder. "Scythe Johannes Brahms, you are accused of abusing your position and multiple crimes against humanity." "How dare you!" Brahms gasped. "Who are you to accuse me?" He struggled, trying to rally his strength, but it was no use. The painkillers that were in his system were dulling his responses. His muscles were weak and useless to him now. "I think you know who I am," the young man said. "Let me hear you say it." "I will not!" Brahms said, determined not to give him the satisfaction. But the boy in black jammed a knee so powerfully into Brahms's chest that he thought his heart would stop. More pain nanites. More opiates. Brahms's head was swimming. He had no choice but to comply. "Lucifer," he gasped. "Scythe Lucifer." Brahms felt his spirit crumble--as if saying it aloud gave resonance to the rumor. Satisfied, the self-proclaimed young scythe eased the pressure. "You are no scythe," Brahms dared to say. "You are nothing but a failed apprentice, and you will not get away with this." The young man had no response to that. Instead, he said, "Tonight, you gleaned a young woman by blade." "That is my business, not yours!" "You gleaned her as a favor for a friend who wanted out of a relationship with her." "This is outrageous! You have no proof of that!" "I've been watching you, Johannes," Rowan said. "As well as your friend--who seemed awfully relieved when that poor woman was gleaned." Suddenly, there was a knife at Brahms's neck. His own knife. This beast of a boy was threatening him with his own knife. "Do you admit it?" he asked Brahms. All that he said was true, but Brahms would rather be rendered deadish than admit it to the likes of a failed apprentice. Even one with a knife at his throat. "Go on, slit my throat," Brahms dared. "It will add one more inexcusable crime to your record. And when I am revived, I will stand as witness against you--and make no mistake, you will be brought to justice!" "By whom? By the Thunderhead? I've taken down corrupt scythes from one coast to the other over the past year, and the Thunderhead hasn't sent so much as a single peace officer to stop me. Why do you think that is?" Brahms was speechless. He had assumed if he stalled long enough, and kept this so-called Scythe Lucifer occupied, the Thunderhead would dispatch a full squad to apprehend him. That's what the Thunderhead did when common citizens threatened violence. Brahms was surprised it had even gone this far. Such bad behavior among the general population was supposed to be a thing of the past. Why was this being allowed? "If I take your life now," the false scythe said, "you would not be brought back to life. I burn those I remove from service, leaving nothing but unrevivable ash." "I don't believe you! You wouldn't dare!" But Brahms did believe him. Since last January, nearly a dozen scythes across three Merican regions had been consumed by flames under questionable circumstances. Their deaths were all ruled accidental, but clearly they were not. And because they were burned, their deaths were permanent. Now Brahms knew that the whispered tales of Scythe Lucifer--the outrageous acts of Rowan Damisch, the fallen apprentice--were all true. Brahms closed his eyes and took in a final breath, trying not to gag on the rancid stench of putrid cabbage. And then Rowan said, "You won't be dying today, Scythe Brahms. Not even temporarily." He removed the blade from Brahms's neck. "I'm giving you one chance. If you act with the nobility befitting a scythe, and glean with honor, you won't see me again. But if you continue to serve your own corrupt appetites, then you will be left as ash." And then he was gone, almost as if he had vanished--and in his place was a horrified young couple looking down upon Brahms. "Is that a scythe?" "Quick, help me get him up!" They lifted Brahms from the rot. His peach velvet robe was stained green and brown, as if covered in mucus. It was humiliating. He considered gleaning the couple--for no one should see a scythe so indisposed and live--but instead held out his hand and allowed them to kiss his ring, thereby granting both of them a year of immunity from gleaning. He told them it was a reward for their kindness, but really it was just to make them go away and abandon any questions they might have had. After they left, he brushed himself off and resolved to say nothing to the Irregularity Committee about this, because it would leave him open to far too much ridicule and derision. He had suffered enough indignation already. Scythe Lucifer indeed! Few things were more miserable in this world than a failed scythe's apprentice, and never had there been one as ignoble as Rowan Damisch. Yet he knew that the boy's threat was not an idle one. Perhaps, thought Scythe Brahms, a lower profile was in order. A return to the lackluster gleanings he had been trained to perform in his youth. A refocusing on the basics that would make "Honorable Scythe" more than just a title, but a defining trait. Stained, bruised, and bitter, Scythe Brahms returned to his home to reconsider his place in the perfect world in which he lived. Excerpted from Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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