Fair warning: This post contains spoilers.
After the ice melted and we were able to venture out into the world again, one of the first things I did was get a copy of the second book in the Chaos Walking trilogy, The Ask and the Answer. Like its predecessor, the second book grabbed me from the get-go and I read it in the space of a day. All the hope that Todd and Viola had in the first book is quickly dashed to bits in the first pages of the second installment. Having finally reached Haven, they discover that the Mayor has beat them to it and has already claimed victory and deemed himself President of New Prentisstown. At first, I was a bit flabbergasted; what kind of people would give up without even putting up a show of resistance? It didn’t seem possible. But as I kept reading, and the former mayor of Haven was shown for the man he was (and wasn’t) I began to at least understand, although I never did empathize.
Viola and Todd are separated for most of the book, but alternate the narration, so we see from each one what they are experiencing and how they question how much the other is hiding, and where their true loyalties lie. For me, Todd is still the more complex and falliable character; his treatment of the imprisoned Spackle being just one example.
The second book ends on the cusp of yet another war, this one involving three sides: Mayor Prentiss and his army, Mistress Coyle and her revolutionaries; and the Spackle, the planet’s native species. We are left wondering if peace will ever be possible.
I had to wait a few days – and a couple books later – to find out the answer to that question. Monsters of Men had appeared on a number of book bloggers’ ‘best of 2010′ lists, including Jenny’s, and seeing them was what prompted me to move the first book to the top of my 2011 TBR stack.
In the final book, Ness continues to explore the complexities of war and the people involved. He introduces a third narrative stream, that of The Return (#1017 of the Spackle) as he grapples with his place in The Land, the communal native population. This triple narration, sometimes with only a few pages between a switch, makes for a very fast-paced story, so that the reader is racing along with the events transpiring in the novel. With the guidance of Todd and Viola, Mistress Coyle and Mayor Prentiss have formed an uneasy alliance in order to defeat the Spackle and bring peace to the planet, once and for all. But they don’t agree on how or who should bring about that peace, and so the book is both a literal and figurative battlefield. Todd and Viola are swept up in the events even as they try to control them.
This book was a consummate finale to the trilogy; there’s nothing to mar its pitch-perfect scope and delivery. There are enough moments of human emotion to balance the continued violence and enough hope to overcome the despair. Obvious comparisons to the Hunger Games trilogy abound, but I think if forced, I would have to say that the Chaos Walking trilogy edges out the other. There’s more depth to these books, more shades of gray. No villain is pure evil; no hero is a saint. There are no easy answers to the difficult asks.
Postscript: Actually, there was one thing about this trilogy that kind of bugged me, and that’s the deliberate misspelling of words with the -tion suffix, such as abomination, by spelling them almost phonetically, like abominashun when Todd was narrating. Those are the only instances of this type that I found throughout the book and I wondered why the author did that. Was it to show Todd’s semi-literate state? But then why was he able to spell everything else, including more complicated words, correctly? Changing the spelling didn’t alterate how I said the word in my head, it just made it stand out and I bristled every time I encountered such a word. Was anybody else bothered by this and/or have any reason to offer why the author chose to do that?