If you’ve been with me for a while, you are probably familiar with a lovely dystopian novel, Mayfly, that I started screaming about in 2018. I reviewed it for Rockstar Book Tours, Teenreads, and it ended up making my SheReads top YA 2018 reads, it was that amazing!
So you bet your stabby little bottoms I screamed when Jeff Sweat asked if I’d be interested in beta-reading the sequel, Scorpion. And oh. What dark, dystopian delights were unleashed!!!
Before I go on… please remember this is a sequel, so while I won’t be explicitly spoiling anything for Scorpion, there may be unintentional spoilers for Mayfly. That’s just how it works.
Alright. Please raise your tray tables to their locked and upright positions, strap in and buckle up, because here we go!!!
“The memories rise up to space like dust on a ray of sunshine.”
We’re back in this freaky, freaky future, where rogue nanobots have created this mysterious Haze, and no one lives past seventeen. Except this time we begin with a little hope.
In true sequel fashion, Sweat has expanded the perspectives not just from a characters point of view, but to include far more of this world than just Ell Aye. Jemma and the Mayflies have found the Old Guys, the last adults from the Long Gone. And oh boy, do I have some things to say to these dudes. Also questions. Lots and lots of questions. But since Jemma got there first, I guess I’ll wait until she’s done with them.
The story line with the Old Guys is one of my favorite things about the book. And not just because we get answers about the Haze and the Long Gone. Before the Old Guys, the ideas of parents was very abstract to these kids. They were parents in a biological sense, but since they didn’t live long past their offspring’s toddling years, they never really experienced parenthood in the long term.
Now here is where we get into those subtle plot points that make me scream into the void about how fucking awesome this series is. Subtle plot points that relate to complex real life issues is my thing. I love them, nay, I live for them! And by the Haze, these delicious little nuances are written in abundance throughout Scorpion.
“Jemma watches Isaac and realizes how much she misunderstood the Parents. They’re not always wise or kind. They don’t guarantee happiness. But they never leave you willingly. You never willingly let them go.”
These kids developed their sense of life before the Long Gone from bits and pieces. Things remembered and passed on, but warped and distorted through time and misunderstanding. Through the remnants of a life they barely understood. There is an emotional distance in these kids, and it’s a necessary one. Imagine living your entire short life knowing the end was coming. Knowing life you created was just a function of biology and not the long, complex relationships we develop over and throughout a lifetime.
Reading Jemma discover these implications for herself is fucking heartbreaking. How deep these connections can be. How much she’s missed out on and could potentially miss in the future. And like good writing does, this journey with Jemma brought to life my own struggles. Both with my parents, as a parent. How much as an adult sometimes you just want your parents, even when they drive you insane. Sometimes when they’re toxic. It’s a complex, deeply intertwined and emotional part of who we are.
“We may outgrow our need for them, but we never outgrow wanting them to matter.”
I mean, THAT SENTENCE!!! It’s perfect for the story and perfect for life. And this is what makes me adore this series.
But this isn’t just Jemma’s journey alone. We also get a lot of Little Man, and oh, what a complex little shit he is.
He’s smart and devious, obsessed with unlocking the secrets of the Haze. And he is such a complex character to unravel.
It would be disingenuous to present a world as harsh as this one without showing how brutality and cruelty will shape those living in it. Little Man is the embodiment of exactly that. He’s the villain of the story, and it’s a role he chose deliberately as a survival strategy.
“Little Man survives because he can see more, think more clearly, bide his time. His claws may be small, but he carries a sting at his back, just out of sight.”
Now, you know how much I love a good villain story. And a villain with a heaping side of tragic? I’m trash for it. Absolute trash for it and I’m not even sorry about it. And Little Man is everything I love in this type of character and more.
I love how Jemma and Little Man are after the same thing, but for very different reasons. Jemma wants to stop the pain and suffering of the End so she can hold onto the people she loves. Little Man wants it because of the power it will give him. And, death terrifies him. Which, yeah, I totally get. If someone was waving the possibility of immortality out there, I would definitely be scheming to get in on that, right quick! But, I digress.
Fear motivates them both, but while Jemma leans into the fear, almost recklessly confronting it, Little Man tries to control it. He wrestles with his fear, trying to overpower it and dominate it. Both of these reactions are so real, so teenager, so human, it makes it easy to forget we’re reading a dystopian fiction novel.
They are both struggling with a journey of understanding. Who they are, what they want. Their fears, their hopes, their dreams. They’re two sides to the same coin and it makes the struggle between them not just more real, but more tragic too. How different would Little Man be if he wasn’t subjected the abject cruelty of the world he lives in? And the same question can be asked of Jemma.
And as we discover more children living in their own constructed societies, we get a glimpse of how myths, legends, and power are not just created, but how they persist.
One more note on things I loved in this series. Language.
“For those who go through the Making, the End is glorious. When the Making is complete, they burn a fire for EmEmAye, the god of war.”
I screamed about the brilliance of building the world of Mayfly through the lens of children when I first read it. And one of the ways this world was brought to life was how children would attempt to understand a world as chaotic and overwhelming as our current present. Things like sports stadiums, old magazines, disintegrating billboards. They all form their own stories, turning into icons and words, misinterpreted and misused, but also grounded in a sort of truth.
If ever there was a reminder of how words matter, of how the things we put emphasis and effort towards have unintended consequences, it’s highlighted phenomenally in how Sweat uses language and objects in this series.
Everything, every single thing is a deliberate choice of how we interpret culture, relationships, technology, peace, war, life, and death. Of how stories mold and shape us for better or worse. Mayfly and Scorpion are both set in the future, but they are stunningly present and impressively historic. If we are doomed to constantly repeat history, this duology highlights all the ways this can be true. But it also shows us there can be hope. A way to build a future without repeating the mistakes of the past. And it isn’t by forgetting. But it also isn’t by glorifying.
“We built it on the wrong stories. We need to find new stories.”
I read an article Sweat wrote recently regarding apocalyptic fiction. In it, he said, “I believe we read it to understand how we nurture hope, how we overcome the end of the world. How we make ourselves worth saving.” And there’s a profound truth to that.
I don’t read dystopian to wrap myself in the nightmare of terrible worlds. I read it because it is about how bad things can get, yes, but it’s also about the hope of rising above and against and becoming better.
This was a long review, I know. But there is a lot woven through these books and I could dissect and discuss it for hours! Essentially, this is a series grounded in very realistic technology––everything in this book is based in scientific potential based on science we know today.
But it’s also a story about how children are the future. How they can dismantle and rebuild a broken system when they’re given the right tools. It’s a series about culture, myth, history, language; and how those things can either be used for the greater good or to maintain a corrupt power system.
Anyway. I give this series all the goddamn stars and encourage anyone and everyone to pick this series up. It’s full of depth and emotion, fast-paced, hair-raising scenes, and every character has heart, even if they try to hide it beneath the veneer of brutality. It’s timely and compelling, and cannot recommend it enough!
P.S. There’s a giveaway for not just one, but two signed copies of both Mayfly and Scorpion on my Instagram. Get you a signed copy!