The International Writers Magazine: Youn Adult Fiction
Monsters of Men
by Patrick Ness
Walker Books Paperback 2010
Sam North review
"We hit the Spackle head on!" the Mayor shouts at the men, aiming his Noise right into the middle of everyone's heads.
I have been hesitant to put pen to paper ever since I put down Monster of Men by Patrick Ness. This is Todd and Viola’s story begun in Knife of Never letting Go and continued in Ask and the Answer. I have been reluctant because I am stunned by the writing, the incredible relentlessness of the battle between man and the Spackle, driven on by the malevolent President Prentiss and the rest of the inhabitants of this remote colony.
There are no words to describe this third novel in the Chaos Walking series other than brilliant, shocking, astonishing and relentless. Here are 603 pages of a monumental battle that thrusts the fast learning Spackle, the natives of the planet against the newcomers they know as the Clearing. (So called because like all settlers they do not leave the land alone and clear it for farming and enslave the locals to work for them under extreme duress ). The Spackle hate The Clearing, just as the Red Indian must have hated the Colonialists and are equally baffled by them and their needs for land, yet seem to have no understanding of the connectedness of the land to the people who inhabit it. There are so many parallels with the colonisation of America, yet it is so cleverly disguised as a science-fiction book for young adults. It is no such thing. Monsters of Men should be required reading at military school – studied with care at West Point. We are at war now in Afghanistan and so much of what is going on there is utterly pointless and eventually will lead to nothing and the same is true of almost any war. In the end enemies need to find a way to make peace. Monsters of Men is a novel about finding peace, but at every moment when it could break out it is confounded by betrayals and deceits and yet more slaughter goes on.
Todd wants just one thing, Viola. Viola wants just one thing, Todd. President Prentiss wants Todd to be just like him. Women hating, scheming, manipulative, controlling, evil personified and Todd, who has the best of intentions, the purest of hearts, hopes to civilise this evil man. Todd is a boy who cannot kill. Viola doubts that is possible to tame the President Prentiss and worries he is poisoning Todd’s mind. He has already taught him to shut out the thoughts of other men and learn to control others. Meanwhile Viola is dying. The enslavement wristband that bites into her flesh and all the other women is slowly poisoning her.
Meanwhile Bradley, the new arrival on the spaceship, ahead of the settlers coming behind him, finds himself caught up in this vicious war for dominance on the planet. He is tarnished with the label Humanitarian because he wont takes sides, but Viola, scared that Todd is about to be killed launches a missile attack on the Spackle that brings the new arrivals smack bang into the middle of this vicious battle.
And in this volume, at last, we also hear the voice of the Spackle through The Return and the Sky. Younger readers will battle to understand but it is worth persisting. The enemy have a voice and they plan the death of Todd and the rest of the ‘Clearing’. But they also know that many will die in the process. Revenge can be horrible.
Plot aside; the deep attraction of Monsters of Men is the idea that every living creature has a voice. Todd is as deeply bonded with his horse as with Viola and she with her own horse. When a creature has a voice empathy can only follow.
This is perhaps the most exhausting novel I have ever read. Page after page of attack and counter attack and planning yet more attacks as each side tries to overcome the other. No child should ever have to face the terrible choices that Todd and Viola have to go through. The smell of blood and despair are on every page, but this is novel of soaring moments of achievement and sinking depths of despair as each side wins and loses skirmishes. Todd becomes a man. Viola a women. But the cost to both sides is a terrible one and all the settlers will be scarred for life by the battle started by the evil President Prentiss. Only Todd can end it and yet he is a boy who cannot kill. Viola must save him, must be the conscience of the whole planet, but will she live long enough to see it through?
All the other characters are there battling the Spackle and each other, Mistress Coyle and the Answer, Wilf the calm voice, and the new wisdom of The Sky, the Spackle leader who has a secret weapon in human form. However if there is anything to learn from this story is that man should probably not spread out to the other planets and contaminate the universe with squabbling.
I said earlier this is a relentless, fast paced battle and I meant it. The emotional rollercoaster that engulfs the characters can overwhelm the reader too and Monsters of Men echoes in your heart and mind long after you have put it down. Sheer brilliance from Patrick Ness.
© Sam North May 2010
author of Mean Tide
The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
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