The final book in Patrick Ness’s CHAOS WALKING trilogy, Monsters of Men, brings this highly recommended series to a more than satisfying close. In doing so, much as he did with book two, Ness expands the storyline and the depth, in this case offering up an entirely new perspective.
Monsters of Men begins where The Ask and the Answer ended, with Todd freeing the Mayor and allowing him to take control of the city so as to defend it against the Spackle army that has just attacked, becoming one of his primary lieutenants in the process. Meanwhile, Viola is up in the hills with Mistress Coyle’s resistance/terrorist group, which is also where the new scout ship is, although the two pilots there are trying to remain wholly neutral, not just between the two human factions but in the Spackle-Human conflict as well.
If the first book was often about gender and personal violence, and the second one was about means versus ends, Monsters of Men focuses more on war and its impact, as well as the choices it drives people to. In more general fashion, this entire series has always been about choice and Ness has done a good job of raising the stakes each book in terms of the impact of said choices. In book one, the choices directly affected Todd and Viola and a handful of others. In book two, their choices had an impact on an entire city. And here, what they choose to do (as well as others — the Mayor, Coyle, etc.) will affect not just this human settlement, but the humans waiting in the colonizing fleet in the space above, the Spackle, and pretty much the planet (literally so in some fashion). These stakes might have seemed a bit overwrought in book one, but here, after we’ve traveled so far and seen so much growth in these characters, the stakes feel just right.
Along with continuing to watch Todd and Viola struggle with deep moral issues, my favorite part of the book was the introduction of a Spackle viewpoint. To be more precise, we get the point of view of the Spackle (known as 1017 to Todd, “the Return” by his own people) whom Todd saved in book two from the slaughter of the Spackle slaves. There is no gratitude to be had, however, as the Return seeks only vengeance for the death of his people, their enslavement, but especially and much more personally for the murder of his beloved. Some of the most moving parts are the conversation between the Return and the leader of the Spackle, who speaks for the Land. The species have a shared linkage, always there (this is the “virus” that was somewhat warped among humans) but the Return no longer can fit himself in — he is lonely despite being surrounded by thousands of his kind.
There’s also a nice parallel in the way the Mayor sees Todd as his successor and the Spackle leader sees the Return as his own.
Unlike the other books, I don’t want to go too much into detail about Monsters of Men with regard to plot. The basic storyline is the war between the Spackle and the humans and the questions of whether the two human factions will band together against a common enemy or not, will the scout ship choose a side or not, will Todd and Viola choose their leaders’ methods or find an alternative, will there be peace.
The plot elements are handled deftly, though the world and logistics are a bit thinly presented; it’s a bigger stage with a larger cast and I’m not sure Ness does a great job of nailing things down, though I can say it didn’t bother me much at all. There is tension and suspense throughout, as well as many moving, emotional scenes, something Ness has shown a great aptitude for throughout the series. As with the other books, there are some flaws, but to be honest, I have little interest in detailing them since they didn’t preclude the book and this series from being one of my favorite recent reads. The flaws are noticeable enough that sometimes I might question whether the book are always “good” or well-written, but I can’t complain about the result. Flaws or no, this is a wonderfully moving, thoughtful reading experience and one which I highly recommend. I think one reason for that is it deals so consistently, so relentlessly, with the idea of complexity. Whether it be the characters or the situations, complexity rears its head again and again. Horrible people do good things, good people do horrible things, good and bad people face horrible choices. It’s a struggle worth watching.