The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

 Erin Bow
Series: Prisoners of Peace (#1)
Read: October 4th-7th
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Release Date: September 22nd, 2015
Genre: dystopian, sci-fi
Rating: ★

In short: fantastic. Mindblowing. Exactly the opposite of every YA dystopian you’ve ever read, and in such a good way.

Goodreads: 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.

I am so surprised that so many people disliked this book! But I think it’s very possibly expectations vs. reality. The blurb, the title, the cover, and our general perceptions of YA dystopian lead us to think of the same things: action, fast-paced plots, guns and rebellions, whatnot. The Scorpion Rules is not like that, and if you expect it to be you’ll definitely be disappointed. It’s fairly hit-or-miss in that respect. It’s slow-paced, it’s far more character- than plot-based, and its rebellions are far quieter, though by no means less powerful. The writing is positively exquisite (Erin Bow is a poet too) and the humour is so clever. I just really loved this book, all right?


There is a sense in which war is nothing but ritual: the magical change of blood into gold or oil or water.

When the world erupts into war, an AI charged with keeping the peace makes some drastic decisions (read: takes over the world). The AI, Talis, arranges for children of every ruler to be kept in enclosed Preceptures, where they are educated and kept safe. The catch? The children are actually hostages, and if any of their parents break the peace, they’re the ones shot. Years later, Greta is the princess of a land that was once Canada, and has long prepared herself for her death. But Greta’s cohort—her group of classmates—has a new addition, Elián, who’s something of a loose cannon. They need to keep him in line before he gets them all punished…but it turns out they have much bigger worries than a troublesome peer.

I can’t get over how brilliant the plot was. The premise is so original (and that series title? Prisoners of Peace—as opposed to prisoners of war? So clever) and the plot progresses wonderfully. But it does so quite slowly, be warned. The pacing is something to get used to, but after a couple of chapters you start to settle into the rhythm. And the humour! Oh, the humour. More on that later.


If one had to sum up the Precepture in two words, they might be “hands on.” (One might also consider “academic rigor,” or perhaps “ritual murder.”)

Look, the Precepture’s not a terrible place. I mean, the children are safe. They’re educated, they make friends, they learn how to work, they’re kept away from the limelight, they’re…sometimes tortured? I loved digging beneath the Precepture’s mildly suspicious exterior to find that sinister interior. What. A lovely setting. And Erin Bow’s descriptions of the Saskatoon prairie? Beautiful.


I fold the crown princess away like linens into lavender, and I am Greta again.

Greta was amazing. She was such a far cry from the hotheaded dystopian heroine I’m so sick of. She’s clever, a history nerd, hilarious, and so logical. She’s not idiotically rebellious, unnecessarily stubborn, and has a brand of humour that’s not snark! Imagine! It’s almost like the author actually wrote a character with a personality…

I loved her clinical point of view, and how her wry humour and poetic thoughts break through them. She felt so much like an actual person that I genuinely stopped thinking of this book as fictional. I loved her growth from an uncertain, afraid young woman to a ruler. At the same time, I will admit that if you don’t like Greta, this book might not work for you. It was because I loved her so much that I was rooting for her the whole way through and dying to find out how everything was resolved.


Just like Greta, the other characters were so unique and felt so fresh. First, there’s so much representation in Greta’s cohort! All of two of them are North American. One is visually impaired. Two are from vastly different parts of Asia. And LGBT representation! You go, Erin Bow. We have the reckless, stubborn Elián, who rather plays the part of the typical hotheaded YA heroine. Da-Xia, Greta’s best friend and pillar of support, Thandi, Gregori, Atta, and Han—they were all such amazing characters. Even the robot Father Abbot felt like an actual human being.

I think if Erin Bow laughed evilly and rubbed her hands together while writing any part of this book, it was the romance. This book already does so much to subvert your expectations, and then the romance does it again and again. I’m not even going to tell you about the romance so you don’t suspect anything. I’ll just say it’s beautifully written and so heartbreaking.

I was literally sobbing my way through this ending. What a fantastic conclusion to a lovely book. Read it, all right?

Read this book! It’s absolutely wonderful, and I guarantee it won’t be like any dystopian you’ve ever read before. It’s so introspective, and beautiful, and powerful…But just remember what you’re signing up for, or you’ll be let down.


2 thoughts on “The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

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