Title: The Toll
Author: Neal Shusterman
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Science Fiction
My Rating: 4 stars
“Was this what life was like in the mortal age?
Feeling the finality of one’s own flesh at every turn?
What a terrible way to exist.”
I came out of Thunderhead feeling a bit burnt out on this world and the story, but also hopeful for a satisfying conclusion and some fresh surprises to be found in The Toll. Thunderhead felt like it could have been shortened substantially and still had the same effect, and when I saw that The Toll was over 600 pages itself (more than 100 pages longer than Thunderhead), I was skeptical that the length would be much more than what was needed. The idea of taking on The Toll felt a bit daunting, but I decided to dive right in and see how it went.
“If there was one thing Rowan had learned, it was that no one could be trusted to stay true. Ideals eroded, virtue tarnished, and even the high road had dimly lit detours.”
Unfortunately, the story lacked urgency, the timeline jumped around constantly, and there were way too many small and unnecessary details included. While the world was still enjoyable and I loved some of the newer characters, it took me way too long to finish this story, and I contemplated giving up a couple times. While there were a few new things that I enjoyed (esp. the Land of Nod plotline), there were also too many things going on at once and a lot of details that were included but could have easily been left out. I was dying to learn how everything finally ended, but struggled to get through all of the pages I had to read to finally reach that point.
I think the lack of connection with the characters throughout this series and the flat personalities they all possessed came down to the fact that most of the characters were Scythes, and therefore portrayed themselves in a certain manner. The “good” Scythes carried themselves with poise and restraint, and the “bad” Scythes were unlikeable due to their actions, which made all the characters feel set apart and hard to connect with. Everyone actions were explained to us in a factual way instead of showing us how they felt and what emotions motivated them, and that caused the omission of a depth that I felt the story needed.
“In the moment, people might not understand, but in the end they would. The Thunderhead had to believe that. Not just because it felt this in its virtual heart, but also because it had calculated the odds of it being so.”
Alright, now that I’m done complaining about the length and that I couldn’t connect to the characters, let’s get to what I liked about this novel. I appreciated that the narrative could change on a dime, and that a sudden interruption could totally redirect the course of where you thought the story was taking us. There were a ton of moving parts and storylines going on at once, and while that was a lot to keep track of, it helped to break up the overall narrative and keep things interesting. It was hard to picture how everything would end up coming together, but you had faith throughout the story that the Thunderhead knew what it was doing, and that the many moving pieces would eventually merge and intertwine with each other. Neal Shusterman has an undeniable talent when it comes to writing, and his prose throughout the story never lost its flow; there were plenty of clever lines thrown in.
Overall, this was an enjoyable series, but I felt that it was drawn out too much and could have been condensed for a greater effect. The big revelations at the end felt anticlimactic and weren’t as grand as I was expecting, but I was happy with how things finally ended up. I’m glad that I took the time to read the series, and loved the general concepts and the world that the author gave us. The whole futuristic world of Scythes and no more mortality was done really well, I just wish the story was presented to us in less pages and a more straightforward way.