Monday, 18 April 2011

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

Monsters of Men is the third and final novel in the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness, and has been shortlisted for the Arthur Clark award, which is what led to me picking up the novel. Monsters of Men deals with war, the settlement of a planet, how to establish peace, to what extent control is required with other men. I don't want to say much about the plot, for fear of spoiling this or the other two novels in the series for anyone reading the review. These are definitely three novels that you want to come to with no expectations and no knowledge of plot details, because the twists and turns will be all the more explosive for it.

Monsters of Men shows brilliantly the different facets of war - invasion, terrorism, trying to eradicate a way of life, segregation and fear of the unknown. It explores the manner in which words can be used to indicate "sides" in a war, such as this exchange:

" far as any objective observer can see, the President is a mass murderer and Mistress Coyle is a terrorist."
"I'm a general," the Mayor says.
"And I'm fighting for freedom," says Mistress Coyle.

Above all - and as with the other two books in the trilogy - Monsters of Men is about choices. The choices we make that define us; the choices thrust upon us; the choices influenced by others. From the moment in the first novel (The Knife of Never Letting Go) where Todd has to decide whether to use a knife, to the very end of Monsters of Men, Todd and Viola show incredibly effectively how their choices affect the very outcome of a war.

This novel is both softer and more tender than the previous two, and also more visceral and nightmarish as the settlers descend into outright war. There are moments of heartbreak, where I found tears in my eyes, and moments where I wanted to put the book down and never pick it up again because I was so frustrated by some of those aforementioned choices, or so frightened by what was about to happen to the characters I've grown to love. Ness makes you feel EVERYTHING, assisted tremendously by the first person perspective which, in this novel, switches between Todd, Viola and a member of the Spackle race.

The ending is incredibly ambiguous and might leave some readers feeling a little let down or confused, but I loved it. I thought it was the perfect way to end this trilogy, after everything that has gone before. The hope and the pain fit beautifully with the events we've already seen.

I honestly don't believe that anything else I read this year will live up to the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness. This is something incredibly special, and I'm honestly surprised that more people haven't been shouting at me to read it. Well, consider this me shouting to everyone else: READ THE CHAOS WALKING TRILOGY BY PATRICK NESS! It is suitable for all ages, and for both sexes (which I find incredibly unusual). It is brilliantly written, with vibrant voices and very immediate characters. It is a true rollercoaster ride. Just perfect.

Clarke Award thoughts: Well.... It says something that, when the shortlist was announced, I wanted to read all six novels put forward. After reading this one, I have little interest in the others in comparison. It was so powerful, so thought provoking, and yet also so much fun to read. It is the perfect distillation of a reading experience - something that makes you wonder and contemplate at the same time as being a breeze and a joy to pick up. The fact it is YA, and the fact it is the third in a trilogy, might make the judges hesitate to hand the prize to Patrick Ness. Even without reading the other five novels, I want Ness to get this. I want the judges to celebrate YA and the way it is pushing boundaries, more so right now than any other area of literature. Monsters of Men is an absolutely deserving winner of the Arthur C Clarke Award *crosses fingers and wishes*


  1. Hmm.

    A book "so powerful, so thought provoking, and yet also so much fun to read. It is the perfect distillation of a reading experience - something that makes you wonder and contemplate at the same time as being a breeze and a joy to pick up."

    That's exactly what I think of Zoo City. Seems a bit hard on the other books (and authors) not to even give them a go.

    I totally believe you that Monsters of Men is an amazing book, no doubt. But the others may be equally good - or maybe even more so. You could be missing out on another incredible reading experience.

  2. I thought these books were outstanding as well - I've just reviewed them on my blog and came across your review when Googling for a cover image.

    I'm a school librarian and I read them because we are lucky enough to have Patrick visiting our school next week and I am so glad I read them!

    Monsters of Men is shortlisted for the Carnedie Medal and it is my pick for the win.