Tony’s Review: Monsters of Men, Patrick Ness




Todd and Viola – and a growing cast of others – have to fight for peace with the native ‘Spackle’, as well as keeping their own warring camps apart.

Phew. I’m exhausted. This is the third of the “Chaos Walking” trilogy, and I’m as war-weary as Todd and Viola. The pace is frantic, the writing dense and the characters actions thick and fast.

New this time is a “Spackle” character – they call themselves The Land, with obvious references to Native Americans (Or for a more modern audience, Avatar), complete with complex culture, nobility and a deep connection to the planet. They even ride their mounts standing.
Patrick Ness isn’t afraid to use the page to show you what’s going on. Explosion?


– with a size 40 font. Different character voices? Use a different font for each for extra emphasis.

After three books, some of his writing style was starting to grate though –

Like –

He will write something –

And then –

And do this –

And then do that –

…all the way down a page or two. His stream-of-consciousness style I can get behind most of the time though, tumbling together his sentences and images into a single paragraph. I certainly can’t complain, since I use it in my own writing style.

And as usual, his characters are full and three-dimensional and his world building is flawless, even the bit players like Ivan (who goes where the power is, something Ness uses to good effect).

The characters inaction frustrated me. Todd is over there, Viola is over here, and they spend a fair part of the book apart, worrying about each other, fighting to keep the warring factions apart. I wanted to shout at them: PICK YOURSELVES UP AND MOVE TO ANOTHER PART OF THE PLANET.

I was as frustrated as they were at the endless point-scoring of the Mayor and Mistress Coyle. What does it matter who wins the peace? All that matters is the end result. Not one person had the wisdom to tell them that.

Ness creates such a realistic world that I wanted to shout at the people who lived there to grow up. Now I know how it feels to be a politician, trying to bring peace to a war-torn country. No one can see past the hate and stupidity to see what bloody idiots they are. No one can see the futility.

I need to talk about The Mayor, the most developed character in the book. I never trusted him…well, maybe for chapter or two, but he never seemed anything less than sociopathic. Like most dictators, he was charming with it, able to (literally) bend minds to his will. He claimed that the best parts of Todd rubbed off on him. I didn’t believe him…until his actions at the climax of the book.

It’s a long haul from the start of book one right the way to the end of book three – it’s about 1500 pages, actually. I’ve been on that world with Todd and Viola, fought as they fought, felt their frustrations and their exhaustion.

Ness is one hell of a writer, and I’ll be back for more.

Review of Part One…Here

Part Two…Here

Tony’s Review: The Ask and The Answer, Patrick Ness



The sequel to “The Knife of Letting Go” picks up straight where it left off – Todd and Viola have arrived at Haven…but they’ve been beaten there by the mayor of Prentisstown, who now calls himself President Prentiss of New Prentisstown.

Todd and Viola become separated, and spend the rest of the book in different camps – Viola in “The Answer” a group of terrorists / freedom fighters who want to overthrow Prentiss, and Todd, who is left with the mayor.

There are no easy answers or black and white mentality for either of them. Todd is faced with hard choices, and the President brainwashes him effectively into watching and performing acts of cruelty and torture against the indigenous population – a case study of Milgram’s experiments ( on dehumanising, and a chilling echo of genocide. Dehumanise a section of your population, see them as subhuman, and you can do anything to them. Stick yellow stars on them or brand them with an iron. Lock them in a prison camp and watch over them with rifles.

Similarly for Viola, whose opposing group of women are just as ruthless as the President. They have no qualms about blowing up barracks where soldiers sleep, or using bombs that only become live when you pick them up.

There are no heroes in this book. There are no winners. Todd and Viola do the best they can with the situation they find themselves in; like a real war, their hands come out covered in blood. How they deal with what they’ve gone through is what makes them the people they are.

Only three stars though, because once again Ness leaves the book on a complete cliff-hanger – it’s becoming a habit for him. Luckily, I don’t have to wait for the sequel. And Ness’s genocide and not-black-and-white war sometimes gets lost on the way through the 500+ pages, meandering a little until it seems to find what sort of ending he’s going for.

I’m reviewing the final part of the trilogy “Monsters of Men” next month.

Tony’s Review: The Knife of Never Letting Go

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4/5 – Spoilers throughout

Todd Hewitt lives in a strange village on a distant colony world…a village where there are no women, and all the men (and all the animals) can hear thoughts…that is, every thought. This Noise – as Todd calls it – is constant, a mash of every waking and sleeping thought; enough to drive men away from each other into isolation or lose their sanity. It’s covered in the book with changes in font and size, a really nice idea – (if you look at the first example, you can see Aaron thinking Todd Hewitt? by the way)

Todd has been told that the village where he lives is the only one left on the planet; and since there are no women, one day that will die out as well…

When Todd stumbles across something in the local swamp – a silence, a hole in the noise of the world, he has to investigate. And everything he’s been told is a lie…

It took me three or four chapters to settle into this, but once I did, it rocketed away and I couldn’t finish it fast enough. Other reviewers have complained about the constant danger-escape-danger-escape format, and the bad language, but I didn’t notice any of it. I was swept into Todd’s world, his stream-of-consciousness narrative, and I was eager to finish it.

As for the bad language, did they read the same book? Todd uses ‘effing’ – and then says, ‘…except I didn’t say effing.’ His language is never worse than that. Puzzled over that.

Todd has a great narrative voice, a real treat. He uses words like direcshuns and creechers, and when Viola shows him his crashed spaceship, it takes him a minute to work it out. I like that; no telling here, just all show.

There were plot twists I saw coming thirty pages back from where they appeared – Todd is told there are no women on the planet, so it was inevitable that the silence, when he finds it, is going to be a girl; he’s told that the village where he lives is the only one left on the planet – so it’s inevitable that the rest of the world exists and is populated. I also worked out about half-way through that Prentisstown was a ‘penal colony’ (I didn’t know why though, that was a startle.)

The world Todd travels through is rich and verdant, vividly described and created. When Todd comes across creatures he doesn’t know the names of, all he can do is marvel at them; he has no names for them, so neither do we. The people he meets all have different viewpoints on life – and different accents. I read the dialogue of the first people he meets in a Scottish accent; it was simply how they sounded to me, along with another family that sounded Dutch. This is a world full of everyone, not just a homogenised colony.

Also refreshing is his attitude to Viola. He’s never seen a girl before, so he doesn’t act any differently around her, or think she’s incapable of action because of her gender; nor does he fall instantly in love, or even romantically attached to her – she’s a friend like any other to him. There’s a wonderful moment towards the end where he realises he can use Viola’s body language to tell her moods. It’s a real insight for him, and a wonderful piece of writing.

The book is rich in symbolism. Todd and Viola travel through an unspoilt world to Haven – only a letter short of heaven – always being told that hope is lying there…salvation awaits them if they can only make it.

The knife Todd is given takes on a character of its own as well. He’s given the choice again and again to kill, and he can feel the power of life or death this inanimate object gives him. How he uses it shapes and defines Todd, and he begins to realise a man who kills isn’t who he wants to be. He will not kill, even in self-defence, even under extreme provocation.

Except that’s where part of the story breaks. Todd kills a local intelligent alien – a Spackle – attacking him viciously without provocation; two pages later, the incident is all but forgotten. Yet he refuses to kill Aaron (who is virtually a Terminator – that boy does not stay down!) and the price he pays for letting Mr Prentiss Jr live is high.

Frontier life is brutal, and the violence in the book is brutal as well, not shying away from describing gory details, especially in Todd’s battles with Aaron near the climax.

Some of Todd and Viola’s actions aren’t logical – why are they walking? Why don’t they steal a horse? They could travel most of the way by boat, for instance, and it never occurs to them.

The most wonderful part of the book is one quite a few people seemed to have picked up on – Manchee the dog. Originally, it seems, he’s just there for comic relief, but he turns on the dog loyalty as the story develops, a shining example of dog-dom, unswerving in his devotion to Todd and Viola. No Disney animal here though – his life is poo and squirrels. He’s the star of the show, without doubt.

And it was inevitable that he would die. Unnecessary, but inevitable. Heart-breaking as well, but I saw it coming ten pages before it happened.

There are parts of the book that didn’t work for me. The climax is a cliff-hanger, and I should have felt manipulated by it, but I don’t (Then again, I don’t have to wait for the sequel!). Todd is told things and doesn’t relate them to the reader until a hundred pages further on, a bit of a cheat there, especially for a first-person present tense.

Worst of all is exposition that’s about to begin when –
Oh sorry, I got called away there.

Annoying isn’t it? Imagine a conversation being interrupted by a random horse-rider and then the characters moving on, even though they could have continued their conversation as before.

Luckily, I spotted when it was and wasn’t going to happen, and it produced more of a rueful smile than annoyance. But it was starting to get old.

In some ways, this book is manipulative. It knows what buttons to push, when to hold a finger over those buttons and not push them. Sometimes it holds the finger over those buttons for two hundred pages before pressing them. Todd and Viola are constantly in danger and escaping it, but it doesn’t feel repetitive.

But I didn’t feel manipulated. Like good magic tricks, no one cares if the tricks are good and the reveals are worth it. And they are worth it.

The best trick in the book loops right back to the start of the journey – Todd wonders which fork in the path to take, and when the Mayor arrives at Haven before him, we find out what would have happened if he’d taken the other one. Nice touch. Very nice touch.

I already have the library looking for the sequel. Count me in.

(Review of the sequel “The Ask and The Answer” next month)