Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Review: Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness
Published: Walker & Co./Candlewick Press (2010)
Series: Book 3 of Chaos Walking
Award Nominations: Arthur C. Clarke Award

Warning: This is the final book in the series, so the first and second books are spoiled in this review (and even in the blurb describing the plot).  If you have not read The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer, continue at your own risk.

The Book:

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.” ~from barnesandnoble.com

This is the final book in my plan to read of the Arthur C. Clarke nominees.  I’m just in time, as the awards are going to be announced tomorrow! 

My Thoughts:

The title of this book come from the often-quoted saying in the trilogy, “War makes monsters of men.”  As one would guess, this final book in the trilogy is about war.  There’s war between the avenging Spackle (or the Land as they call themselves) and humans, but there’s also conflict between the different factions of humanity.  Mistress Coyle is still the head of “The Answer”, a female insurgent group opposed to the systematic murder of women, and Mayor Prentiss is still the head of the ruthless male army.  A small third human faction comes from the scout ship that appeared at the end of the previous book, a harbinger of the 5,000 new settlers to come.  Though there are only two people on board, their technology makes them a major player in the conflict.  Amid all this turmoil, Todd and Viola try to stay true to each other.

The narration between Todd and Viola switches off much more frequently in Monsters of Men, and they sometimes only get a few paragraphs at a time.  While this did keep up the suspense in the novel, I occasionally lost track of whose point of view it was at the moment.  They’re even more infatuated with each other than ever before, and they spend a large portion of their narration worrying about each other, to the exclusion of all else.

My favorite part of Monsters of Men was the addition of a third narrator, Spackle #1017.  Spackle #1017 has endured through slavery, having his voice stolen, forced labor, starvation, physical abuse, permanent branding, and the slaughter of his entire community.  He only escaped by literally crawling out of their pile of corpses.  What’s more, when he finally finds his way back to the main body of ‘the Land’, a kind of collective consciousness, he finds his experiences seem to have permanently separated him from others of his kind.  Understandably, he burns with grief and rage, and a desire to make humanity pay for its crimes.  His continuing struggle to accept and move past the horrific things that have been done to him and his loved ones was the most emotionally effective part of the novel for me.

With the inclusion of the Spackle point of view, Ness indicates his intention of fully addressing the moral complexity of the situation he has created in Monsters of Men.  While I did not always agree with the conclusions drawn in the story, I appreciated the fact that most of the problems were actively discussed.  For example, how do you go about achieving peace when both sides have good reasons to distrust (and hate) each other?  How do you strike a balance between the value of privacy and collectivism?  Is the use of force, or the threat of force, a legitimate tool to use in the pursuit of peace?  In what situations should criminals not be punished?  Is selfish love or grief a danger in wartime?  At what point is it necessary to think of the greater good over your loved ones, and are people (and Spackle) capable of actually doing it? 

On the subject of issues of morality, though, I want to address a problem I had with Todd.  Even in this book, they refer to him as the boy who can’t kill, despite the fact that he has killed, both directly and indirectly.  The general attitude seems to be that, since he feels really bad about it, he is still innocent.  I found that Spackle #1017 summed up my feelings about Todd rather well (aside from the pack animal comment):

He is worse than the others, I show. He is worse than all of them.
Because he knew he was doing wrong.  He felt the pain of his actions-
But he did not amend them, shows the Sky.
The rest are worth as much as their pack animals, I show, but worst is the one who knows better and does nothing.” [p.52]

This only became a major irritant to me because the idea of Todd’s essential goodness, his innocence, how much he hurt himself with his regret, was repeated over and over.  I’m of the school of thought that it is your decisions and your actions that shape who you are.  Not your unrealized intentions. 

My Rating: 3.5/5

Monsters of Men was, in the end, my favorite of the Chaos Walking series.  I have no doubt that the inclusion of 1017/The Return as a viewpoint narrator was a major contributor to my enjoyment.  I found the new viewpoint really refreshing, and I loved reading about how the Land/Spackle perceived and interacted with the world. The other narrators, Todd and Viola, have grown up a lot throughout this series, but I find that I am not very fond of the people they have become.  Ness raises many moral questions, some of which he attempts to answer, and some of which are left to the reader to ponder.  I disagreed with a lot of the conclusions drawn, most particularly in the case of Todd Hewitt’s innate innocence.  All the same, I admire Ness for bringing up a lot of thought-provoking ideas on some tough subjects.

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