Two people in green robes holding scythes facing away from a third outline of a person in a blue robe

About the Book

Title: The Toll (Arc of a Scythe #3)
Published: 2020
Series: Arc of a Scythe
Swoonworthy Scale: 3

Cover Story: And Then There Were Three
BFF Charm: Mixed Bag
Talky Talk: Deceptively Complex
Bonus Factors: Non-binary Inclusion, Cheek
Anti-Bonus Factors: Death
Relationship Status: TEABS

Red alert! The Toll is the third and final book in the Arc of a Scythe series. If you haven’t read the other books in the series (Scythe and Thunderhead), man your battle stations turn away now, as there might be spoilers in this review. If you’re caught up, however, feel free to continue below.

Cover Story: And Then There Were Three

I continue to dig the deceptive simplicity of the covers of this series. There’s a lot going on that you don’t really see at first glance. I also applaud how they’ve become more complicated alongside the plots of the books.

The Deal:

In the three years since Endura sank below the ocean, the world has—to put it mildly—gone to shit. (Although it still looks as post-mortally pretty as ever …) Scythe Goddard has taken more and more power under the guise of doing so for the “good of humanity,” and various other Scythedoms have joined under his leadership; The Thunderhead has deemed everyone but Greyson Tolliver “unsavory,” and therefore will only speak to/through him; The Tonists are becoming more and more vocal about their religion and how the world should be; and Citra and Rowan have, for all intents and purposes, disappeared.

BFF Charm: Mixed Bag

Brown paper bag filled with various BFF charms

Over the course of the Arc of a Scythe trilogy, we’ve gotten to hear from a variety of people, and The Toll allows us access to the innermost thoughts of more individuals than ever. Some I love, some I hate, some I find fascinating in an “I enjoy watching serial killer documentaries” kind of way.

Swoonworthy Scale: 3

There’s basically one scene of swoon in this entire 600+ page book, and I’ve resigned myself to the fact that swoon is not what these books are about. But I’m giving the scale a slight bump due to the introduction of a new situation that definitely has promise, although—sadly—I don’t think we’ll ever get to read about it.

Talky Talk: Deceptively Complex

Shusterman’s writing is superb in the kind of way that sneaks up on you. You know it’s good, but every now and then you’re knocked back on your heels with just how good it is. There’s so much going on in The Toll, and so many ideas that—when you list them all out—seem like too many to have in one cohesive narrative. But Shusterman pulls it all together with an ease that’s enviable.

The Toll is the final book in the Arc of a Scythe trilogy, and it takes the story in a way that’s unexpected, but when you look back at the events of the series as a whole, totally makes sense. Shusterman’s been seeding the clouds of the story for the entirety of the three books, and it’s because of his talent that it wasn’t obvious where things were headed until they were revealed. And this is a good thing, as it gives readers a chance to learn the world of the books without a lot of pressure to figure out where the plot is taking them. The best kind of books take you along for the ride and ask you not to stress about how you get there, and The Toll does exactly that.

Bonus Factor: Non-binary Inclusion

Pride flag being waved in a parade

The world in which The Toll is set is a much different place than the one we know. The Thunderhead, in its infinite wisdom, has created various pockets of humanity that are essentially experiments, from the lawlessness of the Lone Star Region (where Scythes only glean with Bowie knives) to a place in Antarctica where everyone could read everyone else’s minds.

But the most interesting of these Charter Regions is Madagascar, where people are raised genderless and forbidden to choose a gender or label their fluidity until they reach adulthood. But they also don’t always choose their spectrum on what we might consider standard guidelines: a new character in The Toll is female when the sun and stars are shining, and male under the cover of clouds. (They’re more than just their gender identity, thankfully, but this specific thing about them is a really interesting idea of inclusivity.)

Bonus Factor: Cheek

a woman's laughing mouth

The Arc of a Scythe books are very political, as dystopian books often are, but every now and then Shusterman gets really pointed:

“You wanted fear,” Ayn said. “Now you’ve got it.”
“We’re exploring the possibility of building a wall to stem the exodus.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Goddard said. “Only idiots build walls.”

Anti-Bonus Factor: Death

A human skull sits on a shiny table in a dark room

I won’t tell you how, because spoilers, but so many people die in The Toll. So. Many. People. (But not in a really gory way, just in case that had you concerned. It’s more like the many offscreen deaths that happen in superhero or disaster movies.)

Relationship Status: TEABS

It has been a WILD ride, Book. I’m so glad we had this time together, and I know I’m going to be thinking about our adventures for many years to come. We didn’t always have the smoothest of rides, but we’ve made it through. And the future’s looking cloudy. But, you know, in a good way.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, but got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. The Toll is available now.

Mandy (she/her) is a manager at a tech company who lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, son, and dogs. She loves superheroes and pretty much any show or movie with “Star” in the name.