Ness maintains his high standards throughout the trilogy. 4/5 stars each.
What it’s about (roughly)
The Chaos Walking trilogy is the story of Todd and Viola, two teenagers struggling to survive on New World, an alien planet where the thoughts of men and animals are audible. For a bit more background, you can read my review of Book 1, The Knife of Never Letting Go.
While this story has sci-fi elements, they are incidental. What make these books so impressive are their characters and themes. The trilogy forces us to consider questions such as: are war and torture ever justified? What’s the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter? What puts someone beyond redemption? Is mutual ignorance the root of all conflict? Does your age or your experience make you an adult? Not to mention the ugliness of slavery, sexism, racism and genocide… And people dismiss YA as simple! Ha! These are dark and difficult issues which the series refuses to shy away from simply because its main characters and readers are children. At this point I should say that I’m 34 and I think this book is suitable for anyone over the age of 14 (and possibly younger, although I think some children would find many events described very upsetting).
The Ask and the Answer suffered from a common “middle book” problem: the narrative didn’t really go anywhere. I’m not saying nothing happens, I just felt that for the high page count the story didn’t move forward as much as it could. That said, the character development continues to be marvellous. Todd and Viola are wonderful, complex characters who we care about and root for. We feel their pain and want them to be ok. I found myself wincing, urging them to hurry and I actually shouted, “For God’s sake, Todd!” at the page at one point in Book 3. Similarly, I would happily have climbed inside the book and smacked the main villain of the piece over the head with a heavy object.
Depicting thoughts isn’t as easy as you might think, and Ness does it convincingly. I’d like to give him particular praise for how he gives animals real character throughout the series and makes you care about them as much (and even more in some cases) than the humans and aliens. [SPOILER ALERT] If you were upset by what happened to Manchee in Book 1, I warn you there is more heart-breaking animal-related suffering in the rest of the series.
I thought Monsters of Men was a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. I wasn’t a great fan of the introduction of a third point of view (in addition to Todd and Viola), but I understand why it was necessary and started to warm up to it towards the end of the book.
Here be cliff-hangers
Thank goodness I came to this trilogy after it was complete. The Knife of Never Letting Go ends on a huge cliff-hanger and so does The Ask and the Answer. I’m lucky I could download the e-book of the third installment from my public library straight away! Monsters of Men also ends with important questions unanswered – something which might infuriate those who think they deserve everything tied up tightly after investing their time in three lengthy books. But I thought the ending was perfect. [SPOILER ALERT] It’s subdued but hopeful and, after the series of dark events which at points you start to doubt could have any conclusion other than complete destruction for everyone, I think it’s well-judged.
Overall, I delighted to say that I continue my journey through Patrick Ness’ back catalogue able to recommend everything I’ve read. If you haven’t read anything by him but don’t want to start with a trilogy, then I can’t recommend A Monster Calls enough (click for my review). It’s short, incredibly moving and wonderfully written.