The first two books in the series, The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer, stand out for their inventiveness, their fierce pace, and their vivid characters. Monsters of Men meets the standard, then ups the stakes, then ups them again, and then again. There are a billion points in the story where I didn’t think Ness could ratchet up the tension any more – and then he does.
Avoid spoilers, if you can. I’m not giving anything away, so, vague summary ahead: Monsters of Men is about young people coming into power, guided by those who are in power (and who, in most cases, have been corrupted by it). Our heroes Todd and Viola are mostly back together again, in the sense that they share many more scenes than they did in The Ask and the Answer and find ways to communicate even when they’re apart, but they’re still constantly buffeted and battered by the competing forces of Mistress Coyle and Mayor Prentiss.
Who, by the way, is the strongest and most difficult character. Is he really the villain of this story, or is he its hero? Ness doesn’t answer that question (and nor should he), instead crafting a character who is at once charismatic, paternal, untrustworthy and chilling. Which is just the way it should be. Of all the characters in Chaos Walking, the Mayor will stay with me the longest.
(And maybe Manchee. Love that dog.)
Kudos to Ness for avoiding the drippy sentiment that often plagues finales (Deathly Hallows, anyone?), but he does cheat a few times: a lot of the support characters feel stand-in-ish, and a couple of the plot twists seem like they’ve been thrown in for shock value rather than to enhance the story. (Particularly the very final twist, which came this close to ruining the whole series for me. Ultimately, though, Ness turns it into a very satisfying conclusion.)
I’ve been lucky with the series: I only started reading it in the month leading up to Monster’s release, meaning I didn’t have to wait a year between instalments like everyone else. I literally read all three entries one after the other. So I’m not sure what the feeling is in the Chaos Walking fanbase – but I have a feeling they’ll like the final book as much as I did.
– Sam Downing