Sunday, May 30, 2010

"Monsters of Men" by Patrick Ness

Summary: This third book in the Chaos Walking trilogy picks up directly where The Ask and the Answer ends.  Todd is forced to release Mayor Prentiss after discovering an army of Spackle marching on attack to the city.  Viola, meanwhile, attempts to stop the Answer from its simultaneous attack.  Soon all forces are at odds: Prentiss' army, the women-led Answer, the Spackle army, and the new settlers.  Some are calling for war, some for peace, and some for uneasy alliances.  Todd and Viola try to rely on their devotion to one another, but there is no clear right option, and thousands of lives are at stake.

Musings: Truthfully, I think I may be too emotionally fragile to speak articulately about the book right now, but I'll try.  Because if there's anything Ness can do, it's connect the reader so tightly to his characters' emotions that you're not just following a story, you're following individual characters' inner lives, which are so full of anger, sadness, and joy.  And so, like with the two earlier books in the trilogy, I finish Monsters of Men exhausted.  Even now I think my heart is still pounding and my eyes swollen.  I felt so deeply what Todd and Viola were feeling that their pain was my pain (perhaps echoing the Noise the men must live with?).  When the emotion got too unbearable, I would jump off the couch and beg my husband to read the last few pages and tell me it would all be okay (he refused).  But, as the mark of a good writer, Ness created a story and world in which no ending is assumed or inevitable.

Okay, deep breath, try again.

This emotional response is shaped by two factors: the breakneck speed of the story and the book's style.  Monsters of Men starts approximately half a second after The Ask and the Answer, immediately plunging the reader into full-scale war.  There's no opportunity to get casually reacquainted with the characters and the story--you must commit right away.  And Ness' use of alternatively short choppy sentences and long run-on sentences made the characters' feelings all the more urgent and pressing.

Like the first two books in the series, Monsters of Men also raises pertinent ethical questions without presenting a clear moral path.  Although I love the Hunger Games series, it is obvious that the Capitol is evil and the resistance is good.  There is no such clarity within this series.  Specifically, Monsters of Men addresses the relationship between Todd and Viola and the effect of their feelings for one another: if a person would do anything for another individual, is that good or dangerous?

The characters are truly multi-dimensional; no one is good or bad, or with simple motivations.  I especially loved the closer look at the Spackle and their lives.

I have no doubt that Monsters of Men is already a must-read for anyone who's read the first two books in the series.  Because of its unique style and ethical dilemmas, I would highly recommend it and the series to anyone who likes dystopian fiction.

- See my reviews of book one in the series, The Knife of Never Letting Go, and book two in the series, The Ask and the Answer. 

***This book qualifies for the TwentyTen Reading Challenge (Shiny & New Category)

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