Review: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

Most YA post-apocalyptic settings are about the world going to shit or the world going to shit and giving birth to an oppressive dystopian society. The protagonist joins a rebellion and topples the oppressive regime, things are better, the end.

The Scorpion Rules is not one of those books.


The Scorpion Rules is set in our world controlled by an AI, Talis, who keeps the world from being ravaged by war by taking the children of world leaders hostage. If their countries go to war, their children die. This is Greta’s fate, as a duchess and crown princess of the Pan-Polar Confederacy, she lives in a compound with other hostages until she turns eighteen. Until, one day, a boy, Elian, arrives at the compound, and he’s not interested in following any of the rules. As Greta and Elian watch their nations tip closer to war, Greta finds herself faced with a choice: die, or find a way to break all the rules.

I think the best way to describe The Scorpion Rules is that it’s not so much a story about rebelling against an oppressive regime as it is a meditation on a way of life that’s come to an end. Talis is in control, and the hostages need to make the best of a shitty situation. Greta accepts this as how the world is supposed to work. While other heroines might be frustrated by their treatment and dream of revolution, she’s aware that her survival depends on the willingness of others to go to war.

Inevitably, someone shows up and isn’t interested in following the rules, this person is Elian (there’s an accent on the A) and before you ask, yes, he’s a love interest, and, yes, there is a love triangle between Greta, him, and Da-Xia, a girl seen as a living goddess by her people but again, unlike a typical novel of this type, there’s no staging a rebellion in the compound and overthrowing their oppressors and living happily ever after. It’s closer to something like a slice of life anime set in a dystopian society than the Hunger Games trilogy. Do you like goats? There’s a lot about goats, and philosophy, that doesn’t mean the novel is devoid of tense moments, far from it, but you shouldn’t go into it expecting an explosion a page.

If I had a criticism or two, I think the writing can be a bit pretentious at times, name-dropping Roman philosophers like they’re rock stars. I also struggled with the way Greta cared for an AI despite said AI torturing her with her own nightmares and basically being in charge of (and therefore responsible for) their treatment in the compound, even when she acknowledges that this is the case.

The main cast is also pretty diverse, besides our main protagonist (who is bisexual) there’s a bisexual Tibetan girl, an black girl (who speaks Xhosa), a disabled albino boy, a Jewish boy, and a couple who don’t get a lot of characterization. My one issue with the case is I wish Thandi, the black girl, wasn’t so much of an Angry Black Woman.

The only major triggers I can think of are that there are a couple torture scenes and some violence.

The Scorpion Rules is a strange book. It’s definitely not for everyone but it’s something different in a sea of nearly identical novels with the same plot and some name changes. If you don’t mind a slow, slow burn, like goats, and want something different in this genre, I recommend this one and I can’t wait for The Swan Riders.