Chaos Walking, Book 3
by Patrick Ness
624 pages, Walker Books
Review by SF Winser
I said, about book one of this series (The Knife of Never Letting Go), that it was one of the best books I’d read all year... It was one of the rare times where I unreservedly liked a book in a trilogy without knowing what was coming in the next two installments. There was no way a writer who managed the great feat accomplished in 'Knife' was not going to do something at least passable for the next two books.
Now we come to the conclusion of this series and I feel worn out. Two books on much has changed for the protagonists. Nothing has changed for me except I feel kind of raw.
I sat, gasping, for five whole minutes, racing through to the end of this book. Willing myself not to weep. I finished it. It took - I think – another couple of minutes for my eyes to focus properly again. I had to stare into space for a while for reality to snap back into place.
We at Booksquawk try not to make others’ buying decisions for them. But, let me say this: The next person who says YA is just for kids... I will take a string bag. I will place these three, heavy novels within. They will graciously accept these books, go away and when they return I will expect groveling apologies and extravagant gifts of thanks. If they do not accept the books, then I shall take that string bag full of heavy books and I shall beat them. And beat them. About the head and shoulders and that nasty soft part above the kidneys. I will stop only when they either give in and take the bag away with a sincere promise to read these (slightly bloodied) books or until they at least shut the hell up when they clearly know nothing about a subject.
These are books about kids in bad situations on an alien planet. No. No. That’s the plot. These books are ABOUT morality. Humanity. Tough decisions, regret and redemption. These are big, big themes. Damn me sideways with a rubber ray-gun if Ness doesn’t succeed in exploring and controlling that heavy mix with great and astounding brilliance.
In ‘Monsters of Men’ we get our main protags back (Notice how I’m telling you as-little-as-possible about the plot. You’ll thank me later. One of Ness’s big skills is in twists and turns and big reveals. He changes the plot on a dime – I can’t tell you a damn thing without ruining the reading experience). But now, the war they thought that they’d stopped... is bigger than they could have imagined. They get thrust into politics and tough decisions. Who would you kill to save a loved one? Would you? If so... how many people would you kill? And would your loved ones thank you for it? Is there a path back from genocide? Can forgiveness be a weapon? Can the criminally insane be truly evil? Can they be redeemed and changed? How do people affect politics and vice versa...? Man, I’m riffing big questions off the top of my head. All of them and more thoroughly explored and experienced by the likable main characters.
Ness treats his characters very badly. They go through physical, emotional and moral pain that would break many people. I can’t even say that they stayed centered. In fact, it’s kind of the point that they DO lose their way at times. I remember talking about these books with a library colleague (after thrusting book 1 into her hands and demanding that she read it) and recommending that she have at least two 'in between' books. One to read after book 1. One to read after book 2. Because these books are emotionally harrowing. It'd be tough on the nerves to read all three in one gulp. Like skulling three extra large fruit daiquiris in five minutes. Very nice, enriching and fun on their own, but they're much less taxing on the system if you space them out a little. And a glass of water in between will mean your head thanks you in the morning.
The main theme, of all three books, is: how far can you go before you can’t come back. Where does redemption end? And where does it start? There are religions based on these questions. Ness does as much in these three books to explain his feelings on this subject as any shelf-full of texts of religious apologetics.
Okay, I'm having a fanboy moment. These are very good books. Yes there are flaws, but the best books are the ones that make you forget them or just not care. I don't care about the flaws. I remember noting one or two as I was reading but right now, only a few hours later, I can't recall any specifics. My head is full of warm book, slowly digesting in my subconscious and all I can think is how much I want to reread them from the beginning again.