Monsters of Men“‘War,’ says Mayor Prentiss, his eyes glinting. ‘At last.'”

Every so often, a book comes along that blows everything else out of the water; a game-changer, one that rewrites the rules for a genre or for the whole literary scene. Even rarer than that is a whole series that manages to do such a thing.

It also appears to me in my experience and that of my friends, that trilogies and the like don’t always measure up to the first installment. We are more familiar of this in the world of film, where sequels are made constantly and without anyone asking for them. (As an aside, did you know that Hollywood is currently working on sequels for Shakespeare In Love and The Naked Gun?) I have friends who are fans of both Twilight and The Hunger Games, but generally openly admit they decline in quality over time.

But then you have Patrick Ness and the Chaos Walking trilogy – three books that maintain a level of sophistication and excitement for over 1500 pages. This is the final installment. This is where it all comes to an end.

NOTE: Below there will be spoilers for those who haven’t yet read the first two books in the Chaos Walking trilogy. Read on at your own risk.

The novel opens in the heart of the action as Mayor Prentiss’s army, Mistress Coyle’s freedom fighters the Answer, and the native Spackle are all preparing for war – three sides and there can only be one winner. At the same time, the first new settlers – Simone and Bradley – have arrived and are finding themselves thrown into a situation that they do not understand.

War is brutal and fast, and peace negotiations are slow to take hold, as Prentiss and Coyle fight among themselves to see who will get the honour of being the hero of the hour, rather than fighting together to take down the Spackle. But among them all still sit Todd and Viola, neither of whom want war and would rather everyone stopped fighting altogether, for the sake of humanity, and for the incoming settlers.

As all the armies struggle, everyone must make life or death choices that will affect everything else from now on. Should the Spackle be bombed? Should the river the men were relying on be dammed? Should they find a cure for the infected bands that are affecting all of the women? It may be every man for himself in these difficult times, but they’re going to have to work together if they have any chance of peace.

Like the first two books, this one is fast-paced, tearing through the plot at almost breakneck speed like Gromit laying track while riding a model train. You are so caught up in the action, and the constant switching between three narrators (Todd, Viola, and a Spackle that hates Todd, known at first only as 1017 or The Return) that the six hundred pages slip out from under you. Again, there is a constant theme of choice here, about grey morality, but other themes come back bigger and better. Ness is writing about torture, terrorism, feminism, genocide, but for a younger audience and he is nailing it every single time. There’s an ever-present sense of ambiguity, as you feel you aren’t always being told everything but still have to make a painful decision somewhere along the line. Ness refuses to talk down to his readers, meaning that absolutely anyone can and should read these books.

There are some wonderful moments, such as the introduction of a Spackle narrator, who allows us to see that the species has evolved a sort of hive mind, allowing them to communicate at all times, and always know what everyone else knows. They call themselves the Land and are led by one known as the Sky, who seems to be the only one capable of keeping secrets – and boy does he have some secrets.

The new settlers are a great addition too, Simone being a dazzling, intelligent woman, and Bradley being the first character we’ve met before and after he gains the Noise. We see the struggle there is to adjust to it. Todd is at his finest here, constantly appearing to save the Mayor’s life despite his insistence that he wants him dead, and Viola is a great addition to the pantheon of female role models in the genre. The idea of having the older characters be somewhat shifty means you can never be totally sure whose side you’re supposed to be on. The Mayor calls himself a general and Mistress Coyle a terrorist. She in turn refers to herself as a freedom fighter and him as a mass murderer. Everyone’s truth is different, and everyone is the protagonist in their own story.

Like all good science fiction, this is about humanity, about how we seem to consistently have to destroy everything we create. As Bradley says, “Do we hate paradise so much we have to be sure it becomes a trash heap?” The book does end on a slightly more hopeful note, but there is still so much potential there and the cliffhanger, as I’ve come to expect from the series, is far from slight. Still, this was a good place to end. We don’t need to know what happened next, we can imagine, and we can imagine for the better.

This series is incredible and I won’t hesitate to recommend it to absolutely anyone. Powerful, startlingly well-written and a page-turner from start to finish, I don’t think I can fault it. As I said in my review for The Ask And The Answer, this is how you do young adult fiction, but I’d like to amend that. This is how you do fiction. All writers should aspire to be as sure of themselves and their worlds as Patrick Ness is here.

The books seem to be gaining a small following, but they deserve far more, and I have absolutely no doubt that they will get it.

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