Thunderhead and The Toll: More Proof that Neal Shusterman is Genius

Posted December 6, 2019 by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction in Reviews / 22 Comments

If you’ve been around my blog for a while, you know that the Unwind Series is my absolute favorite series of all time. Neal Shusterman always manages to write books that are both exciting and philosophical—a difficult feat. Well, this latest series is no exception.

I’ve already reviewed Scythe, so click the link to read what I had to say about the book (spoiler alert—I thought it was incredible with a small reservation about the way that the Scythes go about the business of killing).

But, strangely I hadn’t read Thunderhead yet, despite my deep love for Scythe, so I’m going to start with a quick review of that one…

Thunderhead and The Toll: More Proof that Neal Shusterman is GeniusThunderhead by Neal Shusterman
Series: Arc of a Scythe #2
Also in this series: Scythe
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Audible Studios on January 9, 2018
Genres: Young Adult, Dystopian, Science Fiction
Pages: 504
Narrator: Greg Tremblay
Length: 13 hours and 2 minutes
Source: Won It!, Purchased
Cover Artist: Kevin Tong
My content rating: YA (Violence; Characters have sex but it's off-page and not described)
My rating:
5 Stars

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?


Thunderhead was even better than Scythe (in my opinion) because it was less about the ways that the Scythes gleaned (though there were still some really interesting gleaning discussions—especially when it came to the way that Anastasia chose to do it) and more about the intrigues of the Scythe society. Citra (AKA Anastasia) is adapting to life as a Scythe, and she’s still stirring things up within Scythe society. The rifts between the Old and New Orders are getting wider, and many Old Order Scythes hope that Anastasia will knock some sense into some of the younger generation. Meanwhile, Rowan has hit the top of the Scythe’s most wanted list as he goes around gleaning power-hungry New Order Scythes.

I don’t know how much I can say about what happens without giving too much away, but needless to say, things get VERY exciting in this book. Rowan and Citra both end up in a whole ton of trouble and some truly shocking events unfold. The pacing is superb—I know it’s a big book, but trust me, you’ll want to keep reading.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is that we get the POV of the Thunderhead at the beginning of each chapter. He becomes much more of an actual character in this book and we start to understand his thoughts and feelings (or, well, an AI’s version of them). I love the Thunderhead’s philosophical musings: Why did he create some of the rules that he did for himself (and the humans)? What is the nature of his existence? Is there a Creator (he even wonders if he himself could be the Creator, gone back in time to create humanity). I just love books that make me think—and this book fits the bill perfectly.

Oh, and that ending. Let’s not even talk about that ending. I am so glad that I was able to jump directly into The Toll because there is NO way I could wait!!


The Narration: I should note that I ended up doing a reread of Scythe via audiobook. I loved Greg Tremblay’s narration so much that I decided to just buy the other books on Audible too so I could keep listening (even though I already owned both books). I do not regret my decision.

Thunderhead and The Toll: More Proof that Neal Shusterman is GeniusThe Toll by Neal Shusterman
Series: Arc of a Scythe #3
Also in this series: Scythe
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Audible Studios on November 5, 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Dystopian, Science Fiction
Pages: 640
Narrator: Greg Tremblay
Length: 15 hours and 22 minutes
Source: The Publisher, Purchased
Cover Artist: Kevin Tong
My content rating: YA (Violence)
My rating:
5 Stars

In the highly anticipated finale to the New York Times best-selling trilogy, dictators, prophets, and tensions rise. In a world that's conquered death, will humanity finally be torn asunder by the immortal beings it created?

Citra and Rowan have disappeared. Endura is gone. It seems like nothing stands between Scythe Goddard and absolute dominion over the world scythedom. With the silence of the Thunderhead and the reverberations of the Great Resonance still shaking the earth to its core, the question remains: Is there anyone left who can stop him?

The answer lies in the Tone, the Toll, and the Thunder.


And now I get to the main event… The Toll. Guys, I don’t even know how to talk about this book. I just want to sing Shusterman’s praises and perhaps worship his writing in some sort of benevolent pagan ritual.* Because he is a genius. Pure. Utter. Genius. And how can a human being write this way?

Once again, Shusterman makes us think. Hard. Like your brain cells might catch fire. But you won’t notice it’s happening because you’ll be enjoying the story too much to be distracted by the tiny inconvenience of a flaming brain. This book is chock full of philosophical meanderings and political, religious and social commentary—but he doesn’t make you feel like you’re being manipulated. In fact, one of the things I love about all of Shusterman’s dystopian books is that he presents so many philosophical questions without giving hard and fast answers. He almost always acknowledges the fact that answers can sometimes be complicated.

Okay, but on to what actually happened in the book. It was … a lot. The story took a ton of twists and turns I never saw coming and kept me guessing when it came to how it would all end up. I had no idea if everyone would survive, and I didn’t know if society would end up thriving or if it would end in ruins. (I did know that humans would survive in some capacity because there are snippets from a future religious group—but that’s all I knew for sure). And the ending of the book is bittersweet and yet satisfying: the kind of ending that makes you want to dwell on it—to imagine the possibilities. (Don’t worry, though, you do get definite closure.)

Basically, what I’m saying is, read this book. And all of Shusterman’s other books. That is all.


*Yikes! Sorry, God. I swear it isn’t true!

***Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher for review purposes (but then ended up buying the audiobook so I could continue listening to the series since I was enjoying the narration so much). No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***

That’s it for now! Have you read this series? What did you think?


22 responses to “Thunderhead and The Toll: More Proof that Neal Shusterman is Genius

  1. Neal Shusterman is one of my favorite authors too! I’m glad you liked The Toll. I have that book on my Christmas list, so I’m crossing my fingers that Santa brings it. It’s too expensive for me right now. Great reviews! I love this series.

  2. I’M SO GLAD YOU LOVED THEM TOOOOOOOO! I foolishly read Thunderhead last spring and had to wait forever for that awful cliffhanger to be resolved, but I did re-read it right before The Toll, so that was satisfying. Shusterman really is a national treasure.

    Terrific reviews too. “Benevolent pagan ritual” and “tiny inconvenience of a flaming brain” made me chuckle.

  3. I’m SO GLAD you finally read Thunderhead and then The Toll. It seriously BUGGED ME that you waited so long to read Thunderhead. 😉 Lol. I also did these in audio and they were fabulous. I listened to The Toll recently, and I was so pleased with the ending. Neal is an amazing author. I can’t wait to read more from him in the future.

    S. J. Pajonas recently posted: Sunday Update – December 8, 2019
  4. I have to admit that I have read the first book in the series and I was a bit disappointed with the writing style and unrealistic romance 🙁 But I really liked the concept and the world! But it sounds like the second and third book are especially wonderful so I am going to keep on reading and give the rest of the series a try as well! Glad you could love them ^.^

    Olivia Roach recently posted: November Wrap Up! [2019]
  5. It sounds like the audiobooks make Shusterman’s story come to even better life than reading alone!! I’m so glad you loved the rest of the series even more than Scythe! Shusterman is a sci-fi author that I’m always excited to jump into his worlds.

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