The Scorpion rules, by Erin Bow

The Scorpion rules Book Cover The Scorpion rules
Prisoners of peace #1
Erin Bow
YA, Science fiction
Margaret K. McElderry Books
Sep 22 2015

In the future, the UN has brought back an ancient way to keep the peace. The children of world leaders are held hostage—if a war begins, they pay with their lives.

Greta is the Crown Princess of the Pan Polar Confederacy, a superpower formed of modern-day Canada. She is also a Child of Peace, a hostage held by the de facto ruler of the world, the great Artificial Intelligence, Talis. The hostages are Talis’s strategy to keep the peace: if her country enters a war, Greta 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. Greta is furious that Elian has disrupted their quiet, structured world. But slowly, his rebellion opens her 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 mete out punishment. Which surely means that Greta and Elian will be killed...unless Greta can think of a way to save them.

The above blurb describes one side of The Scorpion rules.  It fails to describe at least half of the novel I read.   Who's surprised by a YA dystopia anymore? Turns out, I am!

See, there are a lot of belligerent goats.  I like belligerent goats.  Tending them are the children of the world's nation leaders. They are held hostage by the AI who decided this would be part of a system to discourage warfare - now, you have to have a child in order to be allowed ruling power, and that child will be held hostage, so he or she can be the first to die if the parent goes to war.  These are children who know death can come knocking any day.

Humans are, evidently, slow to learn, and warfare still comes out looking necessary in order to gain scarce resources like land and drinking water.  Some of these goat-tenders will die.

You might be wondering, "what about the nearly-genre-required love triangle?!"

...I'll tell you, the ingredients are there, but the cook didn't put them together quite the way one might expect.  I'm an old grump, and I thought this was delightful, so there you go.  Oh, you can slap a "queer"-tag on it too, if that's relevant to you.

Oh, AIs.  Neural uploads, even.  These are some of my favourite things, which probably contributes to my high opinion of this book.

While reading, I was unaware this was a series starter, which warrants two comments:   1) The story wraps up and doesn't leave lots of threads hanging for what will be the next volume, and that is a great service to readers (who may be old grumps fed up with things called "Series starter" when in fact they're more like "One book, part one").    2) I honestly thought this would have to be a stand-alone, given the ending - I thought oh, it'd be amazing to get the story that comes after this,  and then I went to goodreads and found out that I am going to get to read the story that comes after this.  Awesome!


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