Chaos Walking Series

Thursday, December 22, 2011

So here’s the thing, I’ve been dragging my feet on writing reviews for this series because there are so many great ones out there already. I don’t want to repeat what everyone has already said, so here’s what I’m going to do. I’m writing one big post about the whole series. I read all three books, plus the short prequel story in one nonstop stream and so they felt like one book to me anyway. I’m also not going to do a recap explaining the whole premise behind the books. I think just about everyone knows that at this point (if you don’t, Google it and you’ll find a million summaries).

If you haven’t read the series yet, I would recommend not reading these reviews. I’m reviewing the whole series in one post, which makes it almost impossible not to spoil something along the way. For you guys, let me just say that the series is good. It has some flaws, but it’s incredibly engaging and readable. If you like dystopian novels or coming-of-age in the midst of war style books, I would highly recommend it. Now stop reading this so I don’t ruin it for you.

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Book One of the Chaos Walking trilogy)
by Patrick Ness

I had incredibly high expectations for this series and I was a bit nervous going into it. I wasn’t sure the talking animals and casual dialogue would work for me and at first it was hard to adjust to, but then I was hooked. I’m not even sure when it happened, somewhere around the time Viola started talking or when we started to learn a bit more about the real story behind Prentisstown.

Todd Hewitt, who lives in Prentisstown, is the youngest boy in the village. There are no women at all. The entire first book is told from his point of view. He ends up on the run, trying to escape Mayor Prentiss and the crazy priest, Aaron. Along the way he meets a girl, Viola Eade, which throws a wrench in his whole world, because he’s never met a girl in his entire life.

Todd’s dog, Manchee, is the first example we have of the planet’s speaking animals. He sounds exactly like any dog would sound, “Squirrel, hi Todd, hungry Todd.” As silly as that sounds, you fall in love with him and just want to take him home with you… then Ness kills him off. Seriously, it was one of the most shocking moments of the entire trilogy for me.

The 1st book’s main theme is really protecting the innocence of youth. This continues throughout the series, but it’s especially important in Knife. Ness also brings up questions about the value of self-sacrifice, blindly trusting authority, and the roles of men and women in society. There are a lot of big issues and nothing is resolved by the end. Instead we are left with a cliff-hanger and an emotionally draining climax. That’s not a bad thing, but I’d hate to have had to wait for the next book.

The Ask and the Answer (Book Two of the Chaos Walking trilogy)

The Ask and the Answer was my favorite book in the trilogy. We were already immersed in the characters’ stories, so we skip a lot of introduction. We also got to know The Mayor, Viola and 1017 better, but they were aslo still a bit of a mystery. By the final book I was a little burnt out on aspects of their stories.

This book rotates back and forth between Todd and Viola’s points of view. I loved getting to know more about Viola and hearing what she was thinking. I also thought Mayor Prentiss became a much more fascinating villain in this installment. He’s not just a big bad guy, he’s one of those delicious creeps who walk the line between kindness and cruelty. There’s no doubt that he is evil, but he does his dirty deeds with a smile on his face, while shaking your hand.

The Mayor’s son, Davy, is one of the series most intriguing characters. He's not good, but he's also a product of his environment. You have to wonder how you would turn out if you were raised by such a cold, calculating father. His development throughout this book was so well-done. It's rare to have a character start off so detestable and then gain your sympathy so quickly.

I also loved 1017, a Spackle (the planet's native race), when he was an enigma in Book 2 more than I did in Book 3 when we got to know him. I loved seeing him only through Todd’s eyes and having to wonder what he was thinking.

The second book is masterfully paced. We are given bits and pieces of information, but never enough to understand everything. Seeing the world through both Todd and Viola’s is confusing, but in a good way. They don’t always know who they can trust and so neither do we.

There isn't just one good guy and one bad guy. You have to look not only at everyone’s actions, but at the true motivations behind those actions. Then Todd and Viola are left to try and determine where their allegiances lie.

Monsters of Men (Book Three of the Chaos Walking trilogy)

The third and final book of the trilogy is even darker than the first two. There are some aspects of the book that I loved, like the addition of a few crew members from Viola’s ship, but at times the plot felt repetitive. Just as they defeated one enemy another would present itself. There was an endless stream of fighting, which left less time for character development.

I also struggled with the ending. All of you who have read it will know what I’m talking about. I felt so emotionally invested in the characters and the end twist felt like Ness was pulling the rug out from under me. I understand not wanting to give them a cheesy happy ending, but I felt like the challenges Viola and Todd faced in re-establishing a new society and maintaining peace with the Spackle were more than enough to keep things complicated. For me, the ending cheapened the struggle they'd survived for three books.

The New World (prequel short story from Chaos Walking trilogy)

I loved this brief glimpse into Viola’s life before she landed on the planet. She seems so much younger and more carefree. She’s worried about the things any teenager would worry about, missing out on something fun, what her friends think of her. War forces her to grow up so quickly. I’m so glad Ness allowed us a chance to meet her before that happened.

Chaos Walking Trilogy
by Patrick Ness

In the end, I would definitely recommend the trilogy. It is a fascinating read. I did have a few complaints, but overall it was the characters that made the journey well worth it. I would read them all over again for a chance to spend time with Ben, Wilf, Manchee, Viola, and even the vicious Mayor Prentiss. They are characters that stay with you, whether it’s because you love them or love to hate them. I gave the individual books their own ratings, but I would give the whole series 4 stars. It really was wonderful to read, but aspects of the first and final installments left me a bit frustrated. But, there’s something to be said for an author that can make you so emotionally invested in his characters that you feel protective of them.

Three books + one short story
1st book: 496 pages, 2nd book: 519 pages, 3rd book: 603 pages, Prequel: 23 pages
= 1,641 pages total


Ana S. said...

So glad you enjoyed it overall! I love the whole series, but the middle book is definitely my favourite. And that in itself is a pretty rare thing.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Despite criticisms that I had, I did love this series and am really glad I read it. I'm not sure I will ever forgive Ness for a couple of his evil deeds though. He cannot be trusted.

Jenners said...

Great job reviewing the series. You do end up feeling like it is one really long book as I can't imagine anyone not reading all of them in a row once they start.

I loved Manchee too. I couldn't believe when Ness killed him off. If that stupid Aaron could keep coming back to life, why not Manchee!?

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Nymeth - It is strange to like the middle book the best. Usually it's the 1st or 3rd in the trilogy, but not here.

Sandy - Definitely not to be trusted. Love the new picture!

Jenners - No kidding! What the heck was with the unkillable Aaron? I really thought Manchee was going to come back in the next book. It took me awhile to accept the fact that he was gone.

Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

I've skipped reading these, but promise to return when I finally pull the first one off the TBR!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Alex - Ha, that's what I did. I tagged a dozen reviews of these books before I read them. I didn't want anything spoiled first.

Jeanne said...

I just got the first one of these, so am relieved to see you like the series. (And I love "spoilers" so I read every word.)

Jenny said...

Oh my God, the third book made me cry so many tears. But good tears! I liked the end -- because I thought it played up a lot of the themes the book had been exploring all along -- but I know a lot of people weren't crazy about it. Oh but in the third book when someone wasn't dead after all, YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN, I went through so many Kleenex.

I'm glad you liked these! :)

Trisha said...

I'm a huge fan, so it always makes me happy when others enjoy it as well!

odysseus said...

great review



Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jeanne - I almost wish I'd known some of the spoilers in advance (and I hate spoilers), but they were just so shocking.

Jenny - I agree that the ending continued many of the themes, but it broke my heart!

Trisha - I have books I feel that way about. I'm so excited when someone else discovers them for the first time.

Danielle said...

Ha, I agree! Aaron came back so many times, why couldn't Menchee!? I have to be honest, I kept thinking even in the final book, this would be a good place for Menchee to be revealed as alive and well!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Danielle - Right! Aaron just can't die, but every other character can. What's that about?