Monsters of Men is the kind of series closer you hope for. It’s raw and real and answers questions but doesn’t leave things so definite that you can’t use your imagination. It grows the characters and the world and the plot without wrapping everything up in a neat little bow, and when you get to the last pages you are aching for more, but you still feel like the story that’s been told has come to a close (as much as you wish it hadn’t).
The final installment of the Chaos Walking trilogy, like it’s predecessor, picks up immediately (and I mean immediately) where The Ask and The Answer left off. This is probably one of my favorite things about this trilogy: there are no time jumps or gaps. The whole series feels like one big book separated into three distinct but intricately tied acts. War has come to New Prentisstown, from a source both completely expected and totally unexpected. Obviously, war makes monsters of men. Watching that happen and wondering how far it will go drives this book forward at a pace terrifyingly fast and yet absolutely perfect.
I’ve talked a lot in my reviews about Todd and Viola. Monsters of Men really highlighted how much they’ve changed in such a short amount of time. As always, their relationship was incredibly real; they were both willing to sacrifice everything for the other. There was a lot of reflection after the fact about what that meant, but at the same time, neither of them would flinch when there was the chance to save each other.
Todd and Viola have one of the best relationships I’ve ever read in a young adult book. It’s co-dependent, but in a self-aware way that makes it seem less so. And when you read it, you feel in your gut how important they are to each other while at the same time your brain can tell you why that’s the way things are. These two bring out the best in each other, even if at times that kind of devotion can bring out some of the weakest parts that are in all of us. It’s easy to sit back as a reader and judge Viola for picking Todd over peace or Todd for picking Viola over the Spackle, but it’s a lot harder to imagine sacrificing someone that matters that much to you.
The best part of Monsters and Men (aside from Todd and Viola, because I can’t seem to stop gushing about them), was the Mayor/President. It’s a tough thing to create a good villain. They have to be someone you can hate but, at the same time, they can’t just be entirely evil or else they’re boring. The Mayor in the other books certainly wasn’t boring – not by a long shot – but the more we saw of him in this book the more human he seemed and that scared the heck out of me. When Todd, the best character I’ve ever read, doesn’t know how he feels about him, then how am I supposed to? It was brilliant. And…I wish I could talk about how the Mayor ends up, but I can’t. Because it’s epic brilliance and I don’t want to spoil it.
The one thing about this book that I’m not sure how I feel about is the addition of a third point of view. On the one hand, allowing a Spackle point of view really highlighted the political gray areas these books live in; it let us know the other side. On the other hand…it let us know the other side. Maybe it’s just that the Spackle never struck me as war-mongering – they were never portrayed in a way that I’d need their point of view to highlight the moral ambiguity of the current (and old)) war. Sometimes it felt like too much information. But then again, the third point of view was incredibly important to how I viewed the ending. So…I didn’t necessarily dislike it. But I also didn’t love it like I loved the rest of this book and the previous two.
The ending of Monsters of Men is my favorite YA ending ever. It was ambiguous without leaving you questioning and real without being bleak. Most of all, it fit with the books – it was real and visceral and had my whole chest aching.
Reviewing these books has been impossible for me, because everything I feel about them I feel deep in my gut. And it’s all about how I reacted to things as I read them. That alone was brilliant – the ride these books take you on is one I know I won’t be forgetting any time soon. The main problem is that there are a million things I want to talk about. I want to write a dissertation about how these books have effected me and how incredibly smart and well-planned and thoughtfully written they are.
The Chaos Walking trilogy will change the way you think about young adult books. I haven’t been able to get into a book since I put Monsters down because all I can think about is these characters and that ending and…everyone should go read these books so I have someone to talk about them with.