Sir James Murrray Society
Book Review: Monsters of Men
Having been unfortunate enough to have never read the preceding two novels in the Chaos Walking Trilogy (The Knife of Never Letting Go & The Ask and the Answer), I immediately had doubts at diving into the latest instalment into the series, Monsters of Men.
Upon opening the book however, I instantly found reprieve from my anxiety; from the beautifully constructed character relationships and interactions to the unwaveringly fascinating concept of Noise, author Patrick Ness has created a world in which each character’s own influence on the world around them is as great as his effect upon the reader!
Monsters of Men is set on a planet known as New World. 23 years prior to the first novel, some settlers embarked on a journey from Old World (a planet speculated to be Earth) to begin new, flawless lives elsewhere and (essentially) establish a utopia. The first and only settlement created on New World is Prentisstown, the main setting for the story.
After many years however, conflict with the indigenous race, called the Spackle (who refer to themselves as the Land), seems to have hindered development and by their releasing of a deadly “germ” has sadly, killed all women in Prentisstown effectively destroying the human population.
Another side effect of the so-called “germ” is Noise, a state in which all, including the innermost, thoughts of men are broadcasted outwards like their regular voice to be heard by all.
The main protagonist of the story, Todd Hewitt (who had believed his small colony of humans to be the only on the planet) believes this until he uncovers the truth: the “germ” was not created by the Spackle but had been present before the settlers arrived and that because it only affects men, a genocide of all the women occurred at the men’s hands (who could not bear to have their thoughts heard by women who were impervious to the germ’s mind-probing effects).
Viola Eade, a lone settler and companion of Todd (whose very presence contradicts everything Todd has come to accept) aids him in revealing these fallacies to be the work of the megalomaniac “Mayor” of Prentisstown, David Prentiss.
From the outset of Monsters of Men, a war (which has stemmed from the Mayor’s power-hungriness) rages between the humans and the mentally linked Spackle.
As the protagonists, Todd and Viola both strive for peace but face conflict from their devout loyalty to each other and the lengths they will go to in order to ensure the other’s safety.
The intricate and complex storyline of Chaos Walking is sensational and masterfully crafted by Patrick Ness to encompass elements of mystery, suspense, fear and tension, all the while developing the reader’s understanding through Noise and a brilliant first person narrative.
A unique dynamic of Monsters of Men is that it flows seamlessly between the perspectives of Todd, Viola; and “The Return”, the last of the Burden/the Spackle left behind as slaves to the humans of Prentisstown who is bent on revenge against the Knife (Todd).
Even within the same setting, the reader is able to attain different outlooks upon scenarios involving multiple characters; this also supplements the functionality of the characters’ Noise. The alternation between characters is also accompanied by a distinct change in font – Viola’s is a deep-set bold laden with emotion whilst Todd’s is a freer type which reflects his lack of “direkshun” on grammar and education. Most interestingly is The Return’s font style; akin to calligraphy, this symbolises the Land’s lack of coherent language but rather how information is passed through thought, image and emotion.
Monsters of Men has so far, proved to be a fast-paced, thrilling story with many eccentricities that keeps the reader engaged and mystified. The book is an excellent read by any measure which I recommend to anybody who is open to something different, creative and utterly mesmerising.
Joshua Jackson, Belmont School
Posted on: 08 Jun 2011
Book Review: White Crow by Marcus Sedgewick
The book is written from three people’s views, Ferelith’s (the elf), the Rector and a general narrator. The story has an extremely deep and dark meaning and shows how desperate some people are to answer the question: Is there life after death? One theme runs through the book; if you want to prove something impossible, do not try to prove everything wrong but instead look for the one exception because if there is one then it is not impossible. “If you wish to upset the law that all crows are black, you mustn’t seek to show that no crows are; it is enough if you prove one single crow can be white.” – William James, American psychologist and philosopher.
Ferelith is a severely depressed character but does not quite realise it yet. Her mother went mad and hanged herself in an asylum. Shortly after this her father left her. After her mother died, she appeared to Ferelith. This is what instils her deep desire to prove that there is life after death.
Rebecca is the new girl in Winterfold. She moves to the secluded little village to escape from the press. Her father, Detective John Case, was accused of murdering a girl whom he had been looking for. It was his decision that meant that she died.
The majority of the book is about how Ferelith and Rebecca’s relationship develops and how the further into the book, the more Rebecca can sense that there is something unsettling about Ferelith, the way she dresses in black and how her actions seem to constantly revolve around death. Then in the last fifty pages or so, the plot develops and as the blurb says “...sets in motion a shocking chain of events.”
Whilst the modern Winterfold’s tale unfolds, there are many diary entries from a rector from the year 1798. He describes an experiment which he is doing with a French doctor named Dr Barriuex. It takes a lot of entries to work out what they were actually doing. They had created a candle room where in the centre of the floor, there was a chair which was bolted to the floor. The panels of wood with which the chair was on were able to slide down rails backwards to a sword which would cut the head off of the victim. The monk and doctor would then ask him some questions about what the head could see. This generally failed but they had some success. The facial features responded but they rarely ever spoke. The monk begins to regret the experiment and his entries reveal that he is petrified of what might happen to him on his judgement day. When an angry mob arrives at his home, he lies and says that it was all the doctor’s doing and to go and brick him into the chamber. That is exactly what the mob does.
For a forfeit, Ferelith takes Rebecca to the candle room, lights the five candles and then leaves. Rebecca is engulfed by fear and shock at what her so-called friend has done to her. When Ferelith returns they fight until Rebecca leaves. It then takes them a few weeks to meet again where they find the rails. Whilst halfway down they are stopped by a bricked up wall obviously created by someone who did not want people to see what was behind it. The two girls then return to the room but suddenly the world starts shaking as they realise that the cliff which the hall is on is about to collapse. They make a narrow escape but the landslide meant that the entrance to the chamber was open. They find all of the dismembered human bodies, the heads in crevices of the walls and a full skeleton looking as if it was trying to escape. Just as they are about to make their way back up to the top, Ferelith jumps and commits suicide but returns to Rebecca and comforts her until the search party arrives.
Ferelith is the white crow.
At first I found the novel quite difficult to enjoy, as it took a long time to develop but once the plot started rolling, I was rooted to the book and was actually being told to stop reading. I thoroughly enjoyed the story. Marcus Sedgwick has outdone himself once again!
Caitlin Donovan, Belmont School
Posted on: 08 Jun 2011
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