Friday, October 5, 2012

Musings: The Chaos Walking Trilogy

The Chaos Walking Trilogy

I listened to the Chaos Walking trilogy in audiobook format in a very short amount of time (especially considering the length of the third book!) on my commute to and from work, at the gym, while cooking, on the bus... pretty much everywhere.  The series starts with The Knife of Never Letting Go, continues with The Ask and the Answer, and ends with Monsters of Men.  It takes place on a distant planet called New World, where human settlers have been living a subsistence lifestyle for about 25 years.  The native intelligent species, the Spackle, appear to have been almost entirely wiped out.  Everyone on New World can hear everyone else's thoughts - those of their neighbors, of their horses, of their dogs... everyone.  Except the women.  But there are no women in the town where our hero, Todd Hewitt, lives, so he really can hear the thoughts - the Noise - of everyone around him.

And then one day he must leave home with his truly wonderful dog, and he meets a young girl, Viola, who is a new settler to New World.  And as the two get to know each other on their adventure, and as we meet other characters in the books, we realize that much of Todd's world is built on lies upon lies upon lies, and it's difficult to know who to trust and what is true.

More than anything, this series is about information - the constant access to it that we all have, the dangerous ways we have of sorting through it, the things that stick out in our memory and those we are willing to forget, the way that charismatic or powerful people can manipulate it, the warped ways in which it can be presented, the withholding of key portions of it, and the intense need to have some space for yourself.  In New World, information leads to so many terrible (really, so many) things - genocide, slavery, war, dictatorships, terrorism... the list goes on.

Is it possible to like this series for its message and themes even though I disliked the characters and the absolutely frenetic pace?  Because that's how I felt about it.  I loved the way Ness brought in so many important themes to these books.  There's so much about free will, loyalty, safety, leadership and forgiveness (there is a lot to forgive here).  I liked how Ness brought in colonialism and the way people justify it, sexism and racism and the way people justify those, terrorism and the way that people justify that, totalitarian regimes and the way people justify those, and media manipulation - so much manipulation!  Reading this series can be really painful - bad things just KEEP HAPPENING, and you can see the tragic snowball effect that builds when trust is lost and people stumble and no one can quite forget what happened before, even as they cross their fingers and hope for things to be better and people to be kinder in future.

I really enjoyed these books for those reasons.

But the structure of the books really didn't work for me.  Maybe this is because I did them in audiobook, one right after the other.  But I don't think so - I think I would have been bothered regardless.  The narrators for these audiobooks are excellent.  There is so much feeling and inflection in their voices, and they truly personify their characters for me.  They were spot on.

But I just got so sick of the cliffhanger endings.  I am not sure how many chapters there are in this whole series - probably somewhere between 60 and 70.  And I would wager that every single one ends in a cliffhanger.  Honestly, it was exhausting.  At first, I wanted to keep reading to the next chapter, but after a while, I started playing a game with myself to guess very quickly in my head whether a certain phrase was the end of a chapter or not.  This may offend a lot of Ness fans, but the constant cliffhangers felt very Dan Brown to me.

And then in the third book, not only did the chapters end in cliffhangers, but the narrator of each chapter flipped mainly between the two central characters, Todd and Viola.  So many chapters ended/started like this:

"Todd!"  I yell.  "Todd!!"  [End Viola POV]
[Todd POV] "Todd!"  I hear Viola shouting for me.

Or:
[Todd POV] And then I heard it behind me - BOOM! [End Todd POV]
[Viola POV] BOOM!  The ground shook.

Is it necessary to say it all twice?!  I cannot tell you how many times Todd and Viola screamed out each other's name.  This was annoying as a general rule, but it was made even worse by having the fact relayed to me twice.  In audiobook format, it is even more frustrating.

The other aspect of these stories that bothered me were the villains.  In the first book and the third book, the villains just DO NOT STOP.  I feel like Aaron in the first book should have died like, four times, and yet he kept coming back.  And I thought I had reached the end of the third book (and the series), only to find that I had 3.5 parts (out of 14) still to go.  And in those 3.5 parts, the villain just kept coming and coming, too, even though he could have just nicely walked off into the sunset so much earlier than he did.  But no - BAD THINGS CONTINUED TO HAPPEN.

 So... I don't know.  Most people I know that have read this series have loved it.  I was blown away by the other Patrick Ness novel I read, A Monster Calls.  The man's writing brought me to tears.  But I just never felt as connected to Todd and Viola in this series (though they were pretty tough cookies), probably because of all the dramatic cliffhangers and name screaming.  Still, though - a very powerful series that brings attention to the information that inundates our lives constantly.

30 comments:

  1. As you know, this is one of my all-time favourite series, but I totally understand why the narrative structure wouldn't be a good match for everyone. Readers are all different and etc and etc. Still, sounds like you'll join me in eagerly awaiting his next novel? :P

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, definitely! And Jenny from Jenny's Books said I messed up big time by doing it in audiobook instead of physical book, so maybe that was the issue.

      Delete
  2. Interesting comments on the series. I have the entire series on my TBR pile, but haven't gotten around to reading it yet. You've given me something to think about, anyway. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, I'm glad to hear that! Would like to know your thoughts when you are done, too.

      Delete
  3. I never read the second two books of this trilogy. Honestly, the first book left me so tired - it was like reading a 200-page car chase scene - that I just didn't have the energy to ever pick up the second one. The further I get from that book, the less I like it, too. In fact, I've never picked up A Monster Calls because I worry it'll be too much like Knife.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I understand that as I felt that way after reading Catching Fire of Hunger Games - no real desire to continue that series.

      A Monster Call is totally different, though!

      Delete
  4. I had a similar reaction to you. I liked certain aspects, but the cliff hangers and never-ending villains got incredibly old.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, just exhausting! I mean, can't someone just stay dead? Or be not-pure-evil?

      Delete
  5. I loved book 1, cos it was different. Book 2 was ok but book 3, so freaking disappointing

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha, my reaction for book 3 was more, "ARE WE STILL NOT DONE?!?!"

      Delete
  6. I have not had much interest in this series until I read this review, now I think I might give it a go. I have added it to my wishlist, it sounds like it would be a good high interest read-a-thon book at least.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hmm, that does sound like a lot of cliffhangers! I have The Knife of Letting Go as part of a fantasy 'classics' set, so it'll be interesting to see if my opinion coincides with yours...

    ReplyDelete
  8. What a wonderful review. Based on this post, I have mixed feelings about reading this series. However, it sounds very intriguing to me, as a pick for both me and my son, especially since there's a wonderful dog. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  9. I listened to A Monster Calls on audiobook and it was stellar. I've been curious about his prior work ever since. Even though the cliffhangers would probably get annoying fast, I may one day give the first one a try. Thanks for the review.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I loved this series of books, and liked the high paced action feel. I though that the repetition was a great way of indicating very clearly whose POV we were in. But I'm terrible for ignoring chapter headings and the like so maybe that played its part.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I read these very fast, and wasn't so irritated with the style. I think audiobooks are only for really good writing.

    ReplyDelete
  12. There are some books that I just can't imagine as audiobooks and these books fit that category. The cliffhangers were .... cliff hangery... which isn't a good thing. It took a while to get used to the way the story was told but in the end I did like them. If I had to suggest a Patrick Ness book to start with I would definitely be suggesting A Monster Calls though.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Too bad that Ness felt the need to insert cliffhangers at so many points. It makes reading tiresome, in my opinion. I still want to read A Monster Calls, and I'll check out the first Chaos Walking book at the library without committing to the entire series...

    ReplyDelete
  14. The name screaming probably does work on page, if you set the book down. But then again, the cliffhangers keep you reading.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I loved The Knife of Never Letting Go but didn't love A Monster Calls. I still can't put my finger on why. The pace along with the cliffhangers of TKoNLG were so crazy but it made me keep reading.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I reiterate my conviction that audiobook is not the way to go with these. And also not the way to go (but you couldn't help it) was reading them after so many bloggers had raved about them. I think the element of discovery -- feeling like you've discovered something amazing -- is a big part of what makes good books good. Finding them after everyone else has sets a higher bar for the book to clear.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I think the audio might have affected this reading experience a little bit, because the bits about the end of the chapters and beginnings of chapters being too similar completely passed by me. I really loved these books, but I can see where you're coming from with some of its problems. I didn't mind so much the relentless nature of it, but I can see how it could be annoying. I also understand completely loving the message and point of a book, but not necessarily the execution.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I haven't read this series yet, and I'm confused as to how Todd can have false information if he can hear everyone's thoughts. I guess I better read the series, as such an idea is fascinating by itself. The chapter flipping you discuss sounds brilliant as a one-off or used a few times, but eek to it being used constantly. Having read so many positives your thoughts are too intriguing to not investigate it myself!

    ReplyDelete
  19. I had never thought about it before, but they really did yell each other's names quite often in these books.... funny.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I agree with you on the repetition during the transition from one POV to another. That sort of thing works for me in small doses, but it's a bit much when it happens all the time.

    I loved the series as a whole, but I don't think I felt nearly as strongly about it as most people do. By the time I closed the last book, I was ready for it to be over. I didn't feel the desperate, burning need for more, which is what tells me a series has wormed its way into my very soul. If Ness every writes a sequel, I'll read it, but I don't feel like it would improve my reading life to any great extent.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I read Knife, but never finished up the rest of the series, which I do intend to at some point. I loved it for all the things it made me think about, but have a lot of the same problems with it that you did. I was mind-boggled by the frenetic pace, the relentless depressing, awful things that kept happening, and the Terminator-esque villains that just won't *stay dead* already. I'll probably finish the series one day, but I doubt I'll love it unreservedly like so many of my other blogger friends seem to do!

    ReplyDelete
  22. I'm sorry these books didn't work for you, Aarti. Like others, I wonder if listening to them was part of the issue? These books aren't for everyone, that's for sure. They are so dark and bad things keep happening and happening and happening. You can't help but wonder when it will all end . . . I loved the trilogy, but that's just me.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I'm with Charlie, I'm confused at how a folk who can read at least one gender's mind be lied to. But that aside, the books sound like Robert Ludlum's novels - I used to love them but the last time I picked one up, the exclamation points alone exhausted me.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Heather and others have been trying to get me to read this series forever and I keep resisting. I'm not sure why. Maybe the downer effect and I KNOW it's going to make me cry at some point? Ugh. But, the cliffhanger endings might annoy, but I bet they'd keep me reading in my brain dead, readingless state. We'll see!

    ReplyDelete
  25. I think I learned more about this series from your review than any other I've read - they all just seem to be "LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE READ THIS NOW!!" I have them on my shelf and I'm sure I'll get to them eventually.

    ReplyDelete

I read every comment posted on this blog, even if it sometimes takes me a while to respond. Thank you for taking the time and effort to comment here! Unless you are spamming me, in which case, thanks for nothing.