One of my favorite book bloggers and reading friends, Marg of The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader, invited me to write a joint review as we both were getting ready to read the last book in Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy–Monsters of Men. We had a LOT to say about these books, so we’ve split the review up into two parts. The first half, which is up on her blog now, talks more about the series in general and focuses on the first two books. In this second half of our discussion, we get into more detail about Monsters of Men, and beware because there are some SPOILERS ahead!
B: The third novel, Monsters of Men, sees what is essentially guerrilla warfare turn into a full-blown war, as a third faction joins in against the human settlers Meanwhile, the new settlers are only months away from arriving on New World, with no idea that they are about to land on a planet in complete turmoil.
As much as I loved the first two books, it took me a while to get into Monsters of Men. I thought the first half, in particular, was so centered on the war that I got a bit burnt out by the intensity of it. I could only read a few pages at a time before I had to put it down. I was frustrated with the fact that Todd and Viola were kept apart for much of the time while Todd was is almost constant company with the Mayor. He seemed to be easily swayed by attempts that the mayor made to seem ‘good’. Whether that was because of the Mayor’s control over him or the fact that Todd is just such a decent human being, willing to see the best in anyone, I don’t know. But I wanted to shake him and say, “Don’t you remember what this man is capable of? How can you trust him?”
M: I do think it was interesting that in the first book, the author spent a lot of time building up the relationship between Todd and Viola but then they spent the majority of the next two books apart, trying to get back to each other.
I had a library deadline so I couldn’t put the book down and come back to it later, but I definitely can see why you felt the way that you did about the first half of the book.
I too was surprised by how easily and how quickly the Mayor talked his way back around into a position of authority. I do think that it was a combination of the Mayor’s control and the fundamental decency of Todd. But, boy, that Mayor was manipulative. Did you believe the Mayor when he suggested that Todd was changing him and the reasons for that?
B: I never trusted the Mayor, and at several points I wanted to throw the book across the room at Todd’s vulnerability to his flattery. Then I had to remind myself that he’s still young, looking for strong male role models in his life, and probably easily influenced. But the Mayor did seem to know exactly how to get to Todd–probably because he could read his Noise so deeply.
M: One of the interesting things about this third book is that we got to hear the voices of the Spackle for the first time that I remember anyway. I must admit the first time that happened I was really unsure of what as going on, and it took a while to get used to the collective voice and their style of talking. I was really glad to see it in their though and also glad to see that the Spackle might help provide the settlers with some answers of how to live on the world without the Noise driving everyone to distraction.
B: I found the eventual explanation of the Noise, as being something that is potentially horrible if you try to control it and use it as a weapon or potentially wonderful if you let it in and use it to connect to others, one of the most interesting aspects of the series. It’s something that I’m still thinking about days after finishing the book. I saw a quote from Patrick Ness that said that, for him, the main theme of the book is identity, and the question of how you remain true to yourself as an individual in a world where everyone and everything is trying to influence you.
M: That is definitely a strong message to send out in a YA novel, and Todd would be an excellent example of that to a young reader. I have to ask you though, as a parent, what age do you think would you think this series should be read? My boy isn’t really a reader (which breaks my heart but what can I do) so I can’t see him reading these books. The books themselves are pretty gritty and the death count is high. Would you let your oldest read this yet?
B: Definitely not my eight-year-old. There is some grim stuff in these books, and I can’t imagine letting her read them before she’s thirteen. I keep thinking as we talk about them that they would be great to use in a middle or high school English class. I think you really need to read them all, though–just reading one of the books wouldn’t be enough to see the overall themes and the depth of the message that Ness is sending through them.
M: Heading into ****SPOILER**** territory now.
How did you feel about the re-introduction of Ben as a character?
B: I was pretty surprised to see him show up again. Because he’s been a mostly absent figure throughout the trilogy, at first I didn’t feel strongly one way or another about him still being alive. But as the book went on, it started to make more and more sense why Ness would have kept Ben around. Ben is the closest thing that Todd has to a father. His return gives us a glimpse into why Todd has become the person that he is and how important a role model Ben is for Todd. He’s the antithesis of the Mayor–a father who doesn’t seek to have control over him, but shows him love and is proud of the person that he has become. His influence is ultimately stronger than the Mayor’s, which makes all the difference in the outcome of the book.
The ending was just gut-wrenching; I haven’t cried that much in as long as I can remember. I loved how Ness left it open-ended, with Todd speaking to Viola, trying to open up his Noise to her, to connect with her even as he lies in-between life and death.
M: I loved the ending. Yes, it is open-ended but we know that the treatment that he was receiving worked because we had seen it work before in the book, but that he was fighting so hard to get back to Viola too. The ending also fit the rest of the trilogy too. There was no easy gaze-into-the-sunset-and-fade-to-black ending. Todd and Viola knew what they wanted (each other) and they had to fight, and fight hard, to get it.
M: One of the small things that I wanted to mention as part of this discussion was the use of the phrase “my one in particular” to describe the loved one of the Spackle. I loved this phrase, the all inclusiveness of it, the sense of belonging to each other that it promoted. In fact, the way that Ness used language throughout the whole series was very clever, and I can’t wait to read more from him. I am particularly excited to finally read A Monster Calls which I wasn’t letting myself read until I had finished this trilogy.
B: Me, too. This was an amazing trilogy that I appreciate even more having had a chance to discuss it with you. Thanks, Marg! Let’s do it again some time.
M: We definitely shall do it again!