The Toll by Neal Shusterman – Book Review

Title: The Toll (Arc of a Scythe #3)
Author: Neal Shusterman
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publication Date: 2nd May 2019

The Toll, the final part in the Arc of a Scythe trilogy, is currently running as my ‘Most Disappointing Read of the Year’ purely because I was SO EXCITED for it and SO LET DOWN by the direction it took. The thing is though, it’s brilliant. It’s very well written, refuses to conform to the ‘Chosen One’ trope, expertly creates a dystopian atmosphere and weaves in a strong stance on modern-American politics.

That said, it just wasn’t for me. But please, for the sake of me avoiding feeling like The Grinch who stole Christmas, take note of my opinions and critiques. I’m not saying this was a terrible book. I’m saying it wasn’t what I wanted for the end of this series. There will quite likely be A LOT of readers who adore this book.

The Toll began where Thunderhead left off – with a rise in support for Scythe Goddard’s followers and cracks in the foundation of the respected, ethically-bound Scythedom that had reigned for so long. In its stead rose the new wave of Sycthes – blood-hungry, arrogant and bejewelled in respect to their ostentatious nature. The rise of the ‘modern scythes’ seemed apt to me with the glimpses of human fallibility that had been slowly portrayed to us throughout the previous book, Thunderhead. Scythe had painted the picture of a perfectly organised and constructed world that was immune to the failures of its past – such as unemployment, debt and death. The gradual progression toward a failed society, despite the extreme advancements in modern medicine, seemed like a fitting arc for the end of this trilogy. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all I enjoyed from this book.

My original enjoyment in this series came from the expert creation of the Scythe dystopian world but also the two main characters: Citra and Rowan. I adored them. They were real, they had flaws. While I connected to Rowan easily throughout this book Citra, or rather Anastasia to be more specific, was very hard to connect to. It felt as if her initial naivete had not only disappeared but she had also become cold and hard. Yes, she was essentially a killer and that would have an effect on anybody’s personality but she felt too emotionally removed as a character to be able to connect with as a reader.

Additionally, the lack of interaction between most of the characters in this book really got me down. I understand, and usually quite enjoy, the concept of splitting characters up in anticipation of their reunion, however it felt like almost the entire book had passed before we saw any interaction. The only exception to this was the interaction between Jerico (my new fav) and Anastasia but her attitude stole some of the lustre from this.

The prominence of The Toll in the story’s arc also let me down. Yes, I know it’s the title of the book and I should have been expecting it. However, I don’t think that should have been at the expense of reading about the other characters. The original cast of characters felt very neglected in this and as they had been there from the start it seemed an odd choice to me. I eventually grew fond of The Toll however not enough to make up for the lost story-time with the other characters I had come to expect.

In concern to the structure of the book, the disconnect between all of the characters bled in to my reading experience and made the middle portion of the book feel very long winded and at times unnecessary. The political themes, that I generally enjoy in books, now became cumbersome to the story. It felt like a ramble and quite honestly it took a lot of motivation to finish this book. If the first two books hadn’t been so enjoyable for me I’m sure I’d have DNFd this one. The ending was a nice surprise but did not make up for the marathon that was the middle.

A sad 2.5 stars from me.

24 thoughts on “The Toll by Neal Shusterman – Book Review

  1. Oof, that’s really disappointing. I still haven’t moved past book 1 and honestly, I’m probably just going to drop the series. No review for book 3 has convinced me to continue.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah it was a real let down. Rowan was my fav character in book one and he seemed to get the briefest page amount possible in this one. It just wasn’t what I had wanted or expected for the series ending. I think leaving it at Scythe is not a bad way to go with this one. It’s a brilliant book and the rest don’t seem to compare, to be honest.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It sucks when a book series goes downhill. I haven’t had it happen very often but I’m glad that my decision won’t make me feel bad about it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh no! I still have to start book two but for some reason. I took a break after book one (I loved it) but maybe I just didn’t want to be disappointed if the next books don’t live up to book one? Anyway, great review regardless…we shall see if I continue with the series or not.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh I’m actually so glad that you really enjoyed it! The book was really well written and thought out but unfortunately my poor heart was too sad at having such little interaction with the first book’s characters, especially Rowan as he was my fav. If I hadn’t had that disappointment from their absence I think I’d have enjoyed it a lot more, so I can see why it would have been a satisfying ending to the series for you. Thanks for the comment Laurie 🙂 – Jen

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Yeah… This one… I totally agree with everything that you said. I still rated it “well” on Goodreads out of some misguided bias for the series 🤣 but I think I’ll be changing my rating soon. I think the thought of rating it so low was too sad for me at the time haha I was really expecting more from this finale too. The fact that our MCs from the first two books had so little page time/interaction in this book was SO disappointing. I felt really salty that Rowan was basically missing for 95% of the book. And then that ending? UGH. No. 😩 Great review, Jen!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Dini! I’m glad it wasn’t just me. I completely agree about Rowan – he was my fav character in the first book and to see his page time come down so low was so disappointing. I haven’t read other series by Shusterman but I’m keen to give Dry a try (love it when I accidentally rhyme) sometime soon 🙂


  4. Oooof I HATE when a final book in the series just doesn’t live up to the earlier books. And it happens all too often I find. I think this is why I like standalones the best, or if I have to read a series then a duology. Sorry this one didn’t go the way you wanted Jen. Really disappointing to be let down. I’ve kicked all of Shusterman’s books off my TBR because I’ve read I think two by him now, unwind and dry. And while I enjoyed unwind I found dry terribly tedious and lacking in any sort of intensity during the book’s climax. Honestly that ending was an utter cop out. Plus I thought he reuses a lot of the same plot devices in his books and it meant I could predict every alleged *twist*

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah this one was definitely a let down for me! I haven’t read Unwind or Dry but have them on my TBR. It’s a shame when other books become predictable from the same author/s. The same happened with the last two books of the Illuminae trilogy. Sometimes a standalone with a cliffhanger, or even bittersweet, ending is best in my opinion. They tend to be the books I’ll remember after a long period of time. Thanks for letting me know about Unwind and Dry. I’ll stay clear of them for a while now!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh I really have to sit down and write a rant filled post about the illuminae files some day soon. I HATED HOW BOOKS TWO AND THREE WERE BASICALLY KNOCK OFFS OF BOOK ONE! I will never be over that 😅😅😅😂😂😂😊

        Liked by 1 person

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