Title: Monsters of Men
Author: Patrick Ness
Genre: Dystopian, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Walker (UK) / Candlewick (US)
Publication Date: May 2010 (UK) / September 2010 (US)
Hardcover: 608 pages
In the riveting conclusion to the acclaimed dystopian series, a boy and girl caught in the chaos of war face devastating choices that will decide the fate of a world.
As a world-ending war surges around them, Todd and Viola face monstrous decisions. The indigenous Spackle, thinking and acting as one, have mobilized to avenge their murdered people. Ruthless human leaders prepare to defend their factions at all costs, even as a convoy of new settlers approaches. And as the ceaseless Noise lays all thoughts bare, the projected will of the few threatens to overwhelm the desperate desire of the many. The consequences of each action, each word, are unspeakably vast: To follow a tyrant or a terrorist? To save the life of the one you love most, or thousands of strangers? To believe in redemption, or assume it is lost? Becoming adults amid the turmoil, Todd and Viola question all they have known, racing through horror and outrage toward a shocking finale.
Stand alone or series: The third (and final?) book in the Chaos Walking trilogy
How did I get this book: Review copy from the UK publisher
Why did I read this book: If you didn’t know, I’m a huge fan of this series. Seriously. I loved The Knife of Never Letting Go, was blown away by The Ask and the Answer, and so it’s only natural that I had incredibly high expectations for Monsters of Men – especially considering it’s the final book in the series. Of course, I did whatever I could to get my greedy paws on a review copy.
**WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS UNAVOIDABLE SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST TWO BOOKS IN THE SERIES. IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE FIRST TWO NOVELS AND DO NOT WISH TO BE SPOILED, AWAY WITH YOU! Consider yourself warned.**
Oh, Chaos Walking. How much do I love thee? This series is basically an insane roller coaster of action and emotion – torn apart by forces much larger than themselves, Todd and Viola are separated at the end of The Ask and the Answer, as New Prentisstown is under impending attack from the native Spackle. Unable to take on the invading army by himself, Todd reluctantly has to enlist the Mayor’s help to stave off the Spackle attack long enough to make peace. Though Todd hates to rely at all on Mayor Prentiss, at least he’s gratified by the fact that he has beaten the Mayor before, and knows he can do it again with his Noise. Meanwhile, Viola rushes back to the camp of the Answer, where her she must confront Mistress Coyle for her brutal tactics – and to intercept the colonizer landing party of her former teachers and friends before Mistress Coyle can manipulate them into causing an all-out annihilation of the Spackle and men of New Prentisstown.
As the tensions mount, Todd and Viola struggle towards their goal of peace, even when a whole planet seems set against them.
Well, damn. Monsters of Men is nothing if not action-filled, and makes for a frenetic, dramatic conclusion to one of the finest Young Adult dystopian/science fiction series’ out there. If you’ve read the prior books (and presumably you have, since you’re reading this review), you already know that Patrick Ness’s world of Haven is awesomely unique, from its troubled origins in the Spackle/Colonist war, to the unprecedented effect of the planet itself on its new human and animal residents – laying bare every thought in a torrent of uninterrupted and indiscriminating NOISE (well, everyone except females, that is). A parable for our modern onslaught of information? Perhaps. But more impressive than that is how Mr. Ness has taken an awesome premise, and has built upon it over the course of the series – and Monsters of Men is no exception. In the first novel, the revelation that there are in fact other colonies on Haven – and women in those colonies – shocks and awes; in The Ask and the Answer, we learn the extent of the Mayor’s machinations, and are introduced to a contingent dedicated against him at any cost. And in this final book, we gain insight to the Spackle, and all the tensions of the prior books come to their inevitable head. Mr. Ness certainly has a gift for scope and creating a story that you want to come back to – heck, the series is over (maybe not?? Hmm, Patrick Ness, are you listening?), and I STILL want to come back to Haven.
So far as technicals go, the plotting for Monsters of Men is suicidally fast-paced, giving a whole new meaning to “white knuckle.” This is both a blessing and a curse – a blessing because the book is so damn absorbing, and there’s no putting it down once you’ve started it; a curse because in all the action and drama, there’s less finesse and subtlety in terms of themes, especially where certain characters are concerned (more on that in a bit).
In terms of the cast, the characters are, per usual, fantastic – Todd and Viola are heroes to make your heart bleed with all their raw emotion and integrity. In this final novel, Todd goes through a very Luke Skywalker-Darth Vader thing with the Mayor, staving off the Dark Side – I AM THE CIRCLE AND THE CIRCLE IS ME – with mixed results. Viola too goes through her own tests in this book, learning the limits of what she won’t do to ensure Todd’s safety, versus the future of the colony and the Spackle. These are both characters that have grown so much over the course of the series, and to see them finally come to terms with how they feel for each other, what they will do for each other in this final book…well, it’s breathtaking stuff.
What I loved the most about this book in addition to these two protagonists, however, was the voice of 1017 – known amongst the remaining Spackle as “The Return” – the sole survivor of “The Burden” (those Spackle sacrificed and left behind in the truce with the invading colonizers, whom the Spackle refer to as “The Clearing”). The voice of the Spackle, as told through the Return (1017), the Sky, and the Land, is a fascinating, wholly original thing. Confusing, initially, but I love that Mr. Ness understands that his readers are clever enough to figure it out. The Return in particular is a conflicted character that oscillates between blind hatred for Todd (whom he and the Spackle refer to as “The Knife”) because of Todd’s ongoing participation in the Spackle slaughter, and struggling to understand the peace-seeking ways of the rest of his people. The Return is an outsider in the same ways that Todd and Viola are, and even more so besides. Different than The Land – those wild Spackle – The Return struggles with his very human-emotions and his ability to conceal his Noise, anathema to a people that are connected to each other, to the very planet by virtue of their speechless communication.
And, of course, what would this series be without its villains? The Mayor is, perhaps, the most terrifying and formidable of all the forces Todd and Viola have encountered, and his crushing presence in Monsters of Men continues the cycle. So too is Viola’s “mentor” the prickly Mistress Coyle. And yet…neither of these characters are simply EVIL – they have their own reasons for the ways that they act, and given this insight to their pasts, it’s impossible to label them as “bad” people. Like everything in life, these are complicated characters, and I loved seeing this complex treatment of characters – especially in a Young Adult novel.
With all the strengths of Monsters of Men, however, there were a few flaws worth mentioning. Most disappointing was the heavy-handed treatment of certain themes in this book. Whereas in the prior novels, there was a certain thematic subtlety, in Monsters of Men, everything is laid out, point-blank – Mistress Coyle is a terrorist! Mayor Prentiss is a Dictator! In other words, the political/ideological thematics have all the subtlety of an incoming missile.
This criticism aside, I absolutely loved Monsters of Men. While The Ask and the Answer is still my favorite book in the series, this final novel is a beautiful, fitting send off to a truly superior series. And…I’m really sad to see it go, but at the same time, I think it ended perfectly. Absolutely recommended to readers of all ages and preferences.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From the Prologue:
“War,” says Mayor Prentiss, his eyes glinting. “At last.”
“Shut up,” I say. “There ain’t no at last about it. The only one who wants this is you.”
“Nevertheless,” he says, turning to me with a smile. “Here it comes.”
And of course I’m already wondering if untying him so he could fight this battle was the worst mistake of my life–
No, it’s gonna keep her safe. It’s what I had to do to keep her safe.
And I will make him keep her safe if I have to kill him to do it.
And so with the sun setting, me and the Mayor stand on the rubble of the cathedral and look out across the town square, as the army of Spackle make their way down the zigzag hill in front of us, blowing their battlehorn with a sound that could tear you right in two–
As Mistress Coyle’s army of the Answer marches into town behind us, bombing everything in its path Boom! Boom! BOOM!–
As the first soldiers of the Mayor’s own army start arriving in quick formayshun from the south, Mr Hammar at their front, crossing the square towards us to get new orders–
As the people of New Prentisstown run for their lives in any and every direkshun–
As the scout ship from the incoming settlers lands on a hill somewhere near Mistress Coyle, the worst possible place for ’em–
As Davy Prentiss lies dead in the rubble below us, shot by his own father, shot by the man I just set free–
And as Viola–
Races out on horseback into the middle of it all, her ankles broken, not even able to stand up on her own–
Yes, I think.
Here it comes.
The end of everything.
The end of it all.
“Oh, yes, Todd,” says the Mayor, rubbing his hands together. “Oh, yes, indeed.”
And he says the word again, says it like it’s his every last wish come true.
And it’s KILLING ME not to post my favorite part of the book, because it is spoiler-ridden…so I’m succumbing and posting it below. Spoiler tagged, of course – to read, highlight the seemingly empty space below:
“It’s almost over,” Todd says. “We’ll have peace, he’ll have his victory, and he won’t need me, even tho he thinks he does. The convoy’ll come, he’ll be the hero but he’ll be outnumbered, and we’ll get the hell outta here, okay?”
“It’s almost over,” he says again. “And I can hang on till it is.”
And then he looks at me in a different way.
His Noise keeps getting quieter, but I can see it there still–
See how he feels the skin of my hand against his, see how he wants to take it and press it to his mouth, how he wants to breathe in the smell of me and how beautiful I look to him, how strong after all that illness, and how he wants to just lightly touch my neck, just there, and how he want sto take me in his arms and –
“Oh, God,” he says, looking away suddenly. “Viola, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean–”
But I just put my hand up to the back of his neck–
And he says, “Viola–?”
And I pull myself towards him–
And I kiss him.
And it feels like, finally.
Verdict: A beautiful, emotionally wrenching finale to one of the best series’ in the dystopian canon. I loved Monsters of Men as passionately as I loved The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer. If you haven’t read Patrick Ness yet, you need to get on this bandwagon. Absolutely recommended.
Rating: 8 – Excellent, and one of my favorite reads of 2010 so far.
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