Like you, I was SO EXCITED when I heard there was going to be a short story collection set in the world of Neal Shusterman’s Arc of a Scythe. Scythe, Thunderhead, and The Toll are some of my favorite books of all time, and I can’t wait to spend more time in this imperfect utopia.
But what do we need to remember before picking up Gleanings?? Here’s a quick and thorough recap of the entire series so you’ll be ready to be gleaned!
If you haven’t read these books, please know that everything below is a giant spoiler. Now go read them, they’re great!!
The Ultimate Arc of a Scythe Recap You Need Before Reading Gleanings
A Recap of Scythe
“Thou Shalt Kill” is the #1 Scythe commandment because humanity has conquered death and scythes are the only ones who can end life. The Thunderhead, a powerful AI, runs everything else and “the separation of Scythe and Thunderhead” keeps those powers “balanced.”
Citra and Rowan are apprenticed to Scythe Faraday and things are going well until Faraday self-gleans (or did he?? scythes can only die by self-gleaning, or if their bodies are physically destroyed).
The dream team is broken up and Citra is apprenticed to Scythe Curie (we stan the Grandame of Death – Curie is infamous for gleaning the last figureheads of mortal rule) and Rowan is apprenticed to Scythe Goddard (who is the actual WORST). Goddard “trains” aka tortures Rowan with the help of his evil crew. The scythes declare that only one of Faraday’s apprentices can be a scythe and plans to pit them against each other. Whoever wins must glean the other. Rude.
Citra & Rowan are reunited at the Harvest Conclave but when they’re forced to fight, they both try to lose because they like each other too much. I stan. Citra is winning at losing so Rowan snaps Citra’s neck and they’re both disqualified and neither wins and both get to live a bit longer!
Rowan learns that High Blade Xenocrates has a daughter and Goddard is blackmailing him over it. Xenocrates accuses Citra of murdering Faraday (she’s like, what even is murder??) and rather than be imprisoned, she makes an epic splat. This creates a brilliant loophole, and the Thunderhead is able to communicate with Citra while she’s deadish! The Thunderhead gives Citra a clue that allows her to discover that Scythe Faraday isn’t dead—he’s in hiding.
Goddard arranges a massacre at Tonist Monetary. Rowan uses that opportunity to decapitate Scythe Goddard and burn everything to the ground. YES!!!
As a final scythe test, Citra and Rowan have to kill their families (including Citra’s brother Ben), who are then revived. They again face off at the next Conclave and Citra is declared the winner and takes on the name Scythe Anastasia. Instead of gleaning Rowan, she punches him in the face, granting him a year of immunity. He escapes and goes on the run with Scythe Faraday. WHAT AN ENDING!!
If you want more, here’s a recap of book 1 with *feelings.*
A Recap of Thunderhead
The Thunderhead is the perfect ruler, but can’t interfere with the scythes, who are FAR from perfect.
Citra (as Scythe Anastasia) challenges the rising “new order” of scythes with Scythe Curie, but there are many evil plots afoot to take them both out. Luckily, here comes Greyson, beloved of the Thunderhead, who double agents to save our fave scythes from multiple Evil Plans. He’s marked unsavory for his heroism and goes undercover as Slayd. As an unsavory, he can’t communicate with his father figure, the Thunderhead, which is traumatizing for us all. And after another devastating rescue mission, he has to go hide out with the Tonists.
Rowan (as Scythe Lucifer yasssss) has gone off the grid and runs around threatening misbehaving scythes, including Scythe Brahms. But that backfires because…Scythe Rand (one of Goddard’s lackeys) is not dead, and she’s conscripted Rowan’s bff Tyger into her web of evilness. Rowan is captured by them and is rightly horrified when they put Goddard’s head (rescued from the fire ew) on Tyger’s body.
Things come to a head (HA!) when the Old Guard & New Order square off at the Winter Conclave. It’s Curie vs Goddard to take Xeoncrates’ High Blade seat. Citra calls for an inquest and stalls the vote, but this does not slow down Goddard’s continual torture of Rowan.
Meanwhile, Faraday is off the grid looking for the Land of Nod with the help of Murina, and they discover a hidden group of atolls (word play!). The Thunderhead is VERY interested, and going through a bit of a midlife crisis if I’m being honest.
Ok, now for the WILDEST ENDING EVER. Everyone shows up for the inquest in Endura, the seat of scythe power. Rowan escapes Goddard’s clutches thanks to Rand, and the Grandslayers decree Curie the High Blade. YAY! Enter Goddard’s evil plan. Endura starts to sink, and the Grandslayers are set upon by sharks (can’t be revived from that!). Curie scarifies herself to lock Rowan & Citra in a vault, and the two embrace as they wait for death. The Thunderhead screams in anguish and the Tonists know the Great Resonance has come. Everyone in the world is marked as unsavory, except for Greyson.
Want more? Here’s an even more detailed recap of book 2.
Recap of The Toll
Goddard has taken over all of North Merica (except Texas). Boo.
Faraday and Murina have found the mystery atoll, which contains a room locked by the founding scythes. Lorina, once a nimbus agent, is chosen by the Thunderhead to be its eyes in the one place it can’t see: the Kwajelein Atoll. Ships with supplies start showing up. The Thunderhead is building something.
Greyson is the Toll, as the Tonists have rebranded him as a mystical figure, and he’s the only one who the Thunderhead speaks to directly. Goddard sends Scythe Morrison to kill Grayson, but instead, Greyson uses this chance to fake his death and travels the world wrangling rogue Tonists into behaving.
Jerico and crew are working to salvage Endura under the direction of Scythe Possuelo. After 3 years, they pull Citra & Rowan out from the vault and revive them (separately to torture them and us). After both are brought up on the dismal state of the world, Rowan is captured by scythes while Anastasia (our babe Citra) escapes with Jerico (Jeri).
Anastasia joins forces with some SubSahara scythes, trying to decode a message from the Thunderhead. It’s something about a failed lunar mission and a Scythe Alighieri. Anastasia begins publicly broadcasting, asking people to do some digging into the Thunderhead’s backbrain for info.
Goddard sets up an elaborate execution for Rowan (no!) and gleans the entire stadium-sized crowd (NO!) when Rowam escapes with the help of some Texan scythes.
The Tonists are real mad at the scythes after that gleaning and stage many attacks, including one on the SubSaharan scythedom, where Anastasia and Jeri narrowly escape death. Greyson has to make a special trip out there to get the tonists in line. Citra and Greyson are reunited as Anastasia and the Toll in a hilarious and heartwarming way.
Jeri, Anastasia, and Greyson go find Scythe Alighieri who publicly admits that Goddard was behind the failure of the NewHope, which was humanity’s hope for an off-world colony. In retaliation, Goddard orders mass gleanings of Tonists. The Thunderhead tells Greyson that he has plans for those killed.
Turns out, the Thunderhead has been building spaceships. Anastasia and Greyson head to the Atoll with thousands of dead Tonists for cargo. But that’s not all the Thunderhead has built – the Thunderhead also created a new Thunderhead: Cirrus. Cirrus explains the Thunderhead’s plan: the Tonists will be implanted with the minds of the greatest humans and sent to space with live crews of volunteers. They will be the new hope for humanity.
Cirrus IS allowed to speak to scythes and has rescued Rowan from the Texas scythes and brought him to the Atoll too. Anastasia and Rowan and reunited (finally!!) and plan to go to space together.
But dang Goddard has to swope in and rain fire down as the spaceships are leaving earth. Most make it but Anastasia is injured as they escape. Rowan makes a deal with Cirrus that he’ll lead the ship as long as Anastasia is revived when they reach their destination in 117 years. IDK but might be the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard.
While Goddard is raining fire, Scythe Rand finally gets her revenge and stabs Goddard, later reviving him back as Tyger. Weird, Rand, but I’ll take it.
When Citra was on the island, Faraday was finally able to open the founding scythes’ failsafe. He and Murina push the big red button and all scythe rings are destroyed. Instead of scythes, plagues are released which will keep the population in control on earth now.
Greyson & Jeri stay on earth together. But Greyson feels betrayed by the Thunderhead, who wanted to experience humanity and briefly took control of Jeri’s body. Greyson resolves not to speak to the Thunderhead (what a turnabout). Some scythes, including Faraday, now bring a peaceful passing to people taken by the plagues.
And that is where The Toll ends!
Ready for more in the Arc of a Scythe world? Pick up Gleanings on 11/8!