The Toll, Neal Shusterman – Book Review

Hello Humans! To give you a little behind the scenes information, I’m actually writing this review as part of the HUGE number of reviews on which I am catching up during the Christmas period. It’s become something of an annual tradition so please enjoy how my sanity degrades as I go on writing!

One of the last ‘owned TBR’ books I read in 2019 was Neal Shusterman’s The Toll, the final book in the Arc of A Scythe series (Scythe, Thunderhead, The Toll)This series hooked me with the concept, I wasn’t totally sold on Scythe but Thunderhead knocked my socks off. I was dying to read the conclusion to the series and pretty much devoured this book as soon as was humanly possible.

The Toll

Goodreads Summary:

It’s been three years since Rowan and Citra disappeared; since Scythe Goddard came into power; since the Thunderhead closed itself off to everyone but Grayson Tolliver.

In this pulse-pounding finale to Neal Shusterman’s internationally bestselling trilogy, constitutions are tested and old friends are brought back from the dead.

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I find it amazing to think back to Scythe and look at how far this series has come. Book one felt like a silly romance that would have fitted better into the YA dystopian fiction of the late 2000s, the will-they-won’t-they of Rowan and Citra’s relationship was frustrating at best. To go from that to a book that tackles gargantuan themes of what it means to be mortal, what it means to be human, what it means to be alive – I genuinely would never have predicted this kind of an ending when I read Scythe.

With the possible exception of keeping Rowan alive and involved and also the ending (which I won’t spoil but it did annoy me) this book pretty much did everything I needed it to do. The real crowning achievement of this series is the way that Shusterman envisions a world that is simultaneously so different from ‘reality’ while still feeling like an entirely believable eventuality. This is futuristic world-building done supremely well. While I did find that some of the new world elements felt a little ‘thrown in’ to have only been mentioned in book three, it was still fascinating to find out more about this world. I honestly feel as though I could read a whole set of short stories set in this world kind of in a World War Z style, giving you even more of a sense of what life in that kind of earth would be like. It’s the concept of this world that got me hooked on this series, and I think it is that which carries it through all the way to the end.

The plot of The Toll is continually shifting. From one moment to the next I was never quite sure where the story would go next. It has felt like a long time since a book really surprised me so I was delighted by that turn of events. What’s more, the ‘reveals’ don’t feel like typical ‘oh your boyfriend wasn’t dead’ YA reveals, it’s more a gradual build, you learn more and more about what might be happening, you form your own conclusions gradually and then the penny drops just as you need that piece of information – it makes for very satisfying reading. Add to that the dose of dramatic irony that comes inherently with a multiple POV book and you have something I know I’m going to enjoy.

This book also includes a gender-fluid character. I’m always interested in how books that explore future living will tackle LGBTQIA+ issues, more often than not they totally ignore them, but not so for The Toll. I thought it was interesting that Shusterman envisions a world where gender fluidity is the norm in some parts of the world but not elsewhere. I actually quite liked that idea, it adds to that sense of realism – of course, queer individuals are still on the fringe, but Jeri is accepted by the other characters in the book and is steadfast in their identity. Jeri was probably my favourite charac†er in this entire series, which is amazing given that they only feature in book three!

(I use they pronouns, in fact, Jeri’s pronouns shift with how clear the sky is at any time – but since I can’t see the sky where you are hopefully a neutral pronoun will serve).

The many things I liked about this book certainly make up for the fact that one aspect of the ending is more than a little frustrating. Overall, I was very happy with the conclusion to this trilogy. It’s a series I will most certainly be revisiting in the future and Neal Shusterman continues to be an author to watch.

My rating: 4/5 stars

I bought this book myself, all opinions are my own.

The Toll is Available Now!

Find on Goodreads | Amazon (Affiliate)

What say you? Have you read any of the Arc of A Scythe series? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!


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