Series enders are tricky things. There’s so much hype, pressure, and expectations. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Scythe and Thunderhead, mainly for the themes, but for The Toll I had no idea where Shusterman would go. And while I did enjoy this sequel, there were some parts that sort of lost me. Keep reading this book review to find out where I was lost and found.
I DO NOT SPEAK WITH THE VOICE OF THE THUNDER, BUT THE THUNDER DOES SPEAK THROUGH ME.
Everything has changed in the world of the scythes. Citra and Rowan haves diasppeared. The floating city of Endura is gone. It looks like nothing else stands between Scythe Goddard and absolute power. Now that the Thunderhead is silent, the question remains: Is there anyone left who can stop him?
The answer lies in the Tone, the Toll and the Thunder.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
The Toll was a mixed bag for me. Overall, I enjoyed this sequel and series ender, but I think the things that drew me to the series as a whole, were not what kept me reading this one. In the previous books, I enjoyed the discussions about morality, (abuse of) power, and how much change individuals can do. But in The Toll, I found myself feeling like this was more action focused. That many of the pieces of the story felt almost like reading a movie transcript, with less focus on internal character minds. That’s just a personal preference in the end, but it certainly changed my focus for this sequel.
Themes and Length
The world we are introduced to, in The Toll, is a very different world than in any other book. It’s in chaos and with a ruler that is drunk on power, there’s the fears of power abuse and corruption. And all of that is very warranted. Because there is corruption rampant, censorship and murder, and the abuse of power. It manifests our fears of the way that people can twist the world and what happened to fit their narratives and submerge the truth. But much of this multiple POV story, actually takes place away from this setting.
And therein lies some of my reservations. I love the themes, but since the range of action and characters feels so much more expansive, I felt that some story lines were getting lost or buried. In the past, these have intrigued me and kept me reading until the next chapter. Whereas in The Toll, I just wanted to skip to my favorites. Some moments I felt myself meandering through POVs and I’m not sure if it’s an issue of the length of the book, or the massive amounts of the world Shusterman chewed off. There are also still pieces of the plot I’m not sure of their significance having finished.
Before reading The Toll, I had heard questionable things about the gender fluid character. I cannot speak to the representation since I do not identify as gender fluid, but I can say that they were basically the only queer character. And certainly the only one that was confirmed. In SFF worlds, whenever there’s really only one example, it can always be difficult because the gaps (for example in their queer backstories), can seem more glaring alone. It also felt very sudden, considering that we meet this new character and they are the only queer character we’re really introduced to in the world. Also even though the character talked about the gender fluidity, there was very little usage of their actual pronouns.
There were so many elements I enjoyed – the censorship of history, the lengths people will go to in order to fight against change, and the necessity of questions – but they felt small in comparison to the action focus. The ending also felt like a whirlwind, which makes sense in relation to the action, it just took me by surprise compared to the early parts of the novel. In general, I think this was a satisfying conclusion, even if the ending left me screaming. But it just struck a different chord in me, from what I had come to expect from the series.