Monday, October 11, 2010

Book Review: Monsters of Men

Monsters of Men
Chaos Walking: Book Three
by Patrick Ness

The three books of the Chaos Walking series are among those rare books that have it all: deep and thoughtful examination of some of the big themes of life, rich characters whose struggles resonate on every page, and a tight plot that keeps the pages turning from beginning to end. They even have that most elusive of qualities, voice, that brings each narrator to life. It's a series that should have strong appeal to teens of both genders.

For those who haven't read this series, I can't recommend it enough. Just don't start it when you have other things to do, because you won't want to put the books down once you start. If you haven't read the first two books, you may want to skip this review for now and read my reviews of The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer. My review of the first book was qualified by my concern about the ending, but having read the other two books, I remove that qualification. (Although I will warn you that the series end is not completely unambiguous). If you like deep, dark, compelling, science fiction, then I think you won't be sorry.

As the title would suggest, war is a big theme in this book. (It comes from a quote from Todd's foster father Ben: "War makes monsters of men.") The Spackle, natives of the planet, are attacking, and the human colonies are in jeopardy. Yet the humans are divided as well, between those loyal to President Prentiss and those who stand with Mistress Coyle. The two leaders seem more interested in who will end up in power than solving the problems caused by the war. Todd and Viola try to bring the factions together, yet the division and separation puts its own stresses on their relationship. Further complicating the situation are new arrivals from Viola's ship, who aren't sure where they should stand, and who don't even agree between themselves on the best response.

War is depicted in all its brutality: violent, ugly, and escalated by the mistakes, misunderstandings, and selfish actions of people (and Spackle) on all sides. No one is innocent, and humans and Spackle die in great numbers, many of those deaths unnecessary.

Redemption is another big theme, probably the biggest theme in this story. As Todd says in the first book, The Knife of Never Letting Go:

"I think maybe everybody falls," I say. "I think maybe we all do. And I don't think that's the asking."
"I think the asking is whether we get back up again."

In Monsters of Men, everybody does fall (with the possible exception of Wilf). Everybody does horrible things: even Todd, even Viola, even the Spackle. The question is, whether they get back up again. The biggest question, though, is whether Mayor/President Prentiss can be redeemed. Todd thinks maybe he can, and stakes everything on it. Viola doesn't. The question is one that will tear at the heart of the relationship between Todd and Viola, and keep the reader guessing until the very end.

Monsters of Men adds a third point of view character to those of Todd and Viola: the Spackle known to Todd as 1017. Through the eyes of 1017, we come to understand the Spackle, or the Land, as they call themselves. They are portrayed as neither evil nor as somehow better than the humans. They are just different, with a completely different way of seeing and thinking. They are more in tune with the world, and yet they, too commit atrocities.

There are no easy answers in this book. It's a deep and moving look at war and at the things people will do in the name of what they believe is right. Monsters of Men will challenge readers to think, while keeping them on the edge of their seat with its plot twists. Monsters of Men is a worthy conclusion to a powerful series.

Monsters of Men is a 2010 Cybils nominee.

FTC required disclosure: Review copy provided by the publisher to enable me to write this review. The links above are Amazon Associate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.


Ms. Yingling said...

Sigh. The Knife of Letting Go was on our Battle of the Books list, and the students and I disliked it so much that I only bought a paperback version so I wouldn't have to read it all. Yet everyone else loves it. I guess that's why there are lots of different books.

Unknown said...

You're right that it's a good thing there's lots of books. There have been plenty of times that I've read a book that everyone else seemed to like and gone, "Huh?"

I did love The Knife of Never Letting Go, except for the ending, and my teen son loved it so much he read it three times. How old are your students? I do think that this is a series that will appeal more to high school age teens than middle schoolers.