I have actually known Beth as an online friend for at least 5 years (maybe longer). We originally met at the forums that Sara Donati, author of the Into the Wilderness series, started as a spin off from her now defunct blog. There are a group of us that started chatting in those forums, and who now communicate regularly through Facebook. None of us have ever met in real life as we live all over the world (Canada, New Zealand, US, Australia and Beth is in France), but these ladies have shared many milestones, both good and bad, and they probably know as much about where I am at with life etc as my real life friends, if not more.
A couple of months ago, Beth happened to casually drop in conversation that she had started a book blog. When I rushed over to say woo-hoo, it turned out that it had been going for a while! Not sure how I didn't know but still. When we realised that we were both about to read the same book we decided to do a joint review of it!
Now that we have an introduction as long that is almost as long as a blog post, here are our thoughts on Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness, the third and final book in the Chaos Walking trilogy.
I have the first half of the conversation, and Beth has the second half at her blogs. Beth's thoughts are in italics.
M: In preparation for this discussion, Beth and I discussed the format we wanted to use. I didn’t review the first two books in the series so we thought we would start with a brief discussion of those and then move onto Monsters of Men.
B: The first book, The Knife of Never Letting Go, really blew me away--I haven’t been that affected by a book in a long time. I loved The Ask and the Answer, too, and thought the quality of the writing was just as good. The story progresses from being very focused on the development of the two main characters--Todd and Viola--and their relationship to encompassing other characters who represent different factions in the New World. I liked that because you really get to know Todd and Viola as individuals and then start to expand out and get a wider view of how they fit into the context of their world.
M: I am pretty sure that these books wouldn’t have caught my attention if not for the very positive reviews that I began to see around the blogosphere.
When I did start The Knife of Never Letting Go I was surprised to see the way that the author used language, and to be honest was a bit concerned about whether the speech patterns and deliberate miss-spellings would become wearing after a while or not, but it really didn’t. I was engrossed from beginning to end. This particular form of language followed through all three books, although to a much lesser extent in the last book as Todd learned to control his Noise and basically grew into a man. How did you find it?
B: I felt the same way when I started The Knife of Never Letting Go, as Todd’s rather ‘uneducated’ speech patterns are jarring. I also had a hard time with the Noise itself, how you could hear everything that everyone was thinking--which I imagine is how it must be for someone who is hearing it for the first time, as Viola is in the first book. I got used to it surprisingly quickly, though, and one thing I noticed about Monsters of Men is that there is much less of the nonstandard grammar and spelling that you find it the first two books. Like you said, it’s part of Todd learning to control his Noise, but also I think a reflection of the influence of the Mayor on his thoughts.
M: Maybe in explanation we should talk about the world that the trilogy is set in, and explain Noise. The people in the novel are settlers from another land. They have landed on the planet and started to settle, but one particular aspect of this planet is that for males every thought that they have can be heard by everyone else including animals - there are no secrets...ever. This has obvious drawbacks but also has the effect of being mentally draining. Eventually, the women settlers all disappear in various ways, leaving a town full of men. Our main character, Todd, is the youngest boy and he is about to become a man, but only if he can pass the initiation test set by the Mayor, Mr Prentiss who controls basically everyone in the settlement.
B: I don’t know about you, but I don’t normally read a lot of science fiction, and the fact that the story is set on another planet and has its own, non-human inhabitants, was another thing that I was unsure about when starting the trilogy. The natives in New World are known as the Spackle, and it’s from them that the human settlers catch the Noise virus. We learn a lot more about Noise and how it works in Monsters of Men, and while the first two books alternate between Todd and Viola’s points of view, in the third book we finally get to hear the Spackle voice, too.
The Noise sets up this natural divide between the sexes, because men catch the Noise virus and women don’t. Women are Noiseless, silent “nothing,” as Todd calls Viola in the first book. This would be a difficult situation for anyone, but I think the fact that they’re teenagers, in that phase of life when you’re so unsure of yourself anyway and still trying to figure out who you are, to have to share your true self, your every thought, good and bad, must be hopelessly embarrassing. At yet, it’s ultimately what makes their relationship strong.
B: The Knife of Never Letting Go ends with a big cliffhanger, and second novel picks up right where the first one ends. At this point, we realize that there is no safe haven to be found in the capital city of Haven. A battle is at hand, and it’s not just between Todd and the Mayor, but involves all of the human settlement on New World. It’s a battle of ideologies but also of wills, and Todd and Viola find themselves caught in middle as two sides form--The Ask and The Answer.
M: I think it is important to point out that the battle of ideologies also includes the women of Haven (just in case anyone is thinking that it sounds like a very boy-centric book so far!)
B: Yes, the women play a really important role. It’s not strictly a battle between the sexes, but the policies of the Mayor deepen the divide between men and women in the settlement. A lot of men are deeply suspicious of women because they can’t hear their thoughts, and there’s plenty of bad history between them to make both sides wary of one another. Viola gets some strong female role models as she is introduced to the female community of Haven, in particular the healers.
Head over to Beth's blog to read the second half of our discussion where we talk more specifically about Monsters of Men, the final book in the trilogy.
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