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Tag: Patrick Ness

Monsters of Men (Chaos Walking #3) by Patrick Ness

I figured I would continue to slog through my by now substantial backlog of book I have read but not reviewed. And what better place to start then the last book in a series … (book 1 review, book two review)

I enjoyed finishing up this series via audio book. I thought Ness really wrestled with some interesting aspects in Monsters of Men. The story explores ideas like the tension between the quest for peace and the requirements of leadership and self-defense; and issues of trust and betrayal (and the related issue of whether people can truly change).

There was also a nice mix of action and character building and interaction; something that can be a challenge in a series like this.  You could see where things were headed at times but Ness also pulled off some nice unexpected twists.  I thought Mayor/President Prentiss was a particularly engaging and fascinating character right up until the end.

 [WARNING: spoilers below]

I have to say, however, that I was disappointed with the ending. I really think it would have been a powerful conclusion if the story ends on the beach with the Return pondering his actions and the repercussions. The way the book actually ends diluted the power of those events somehow in some sort of attempt to add a happy ending of the possibility of one I guess. Didn’t work for me.

All in all, however, it was a really creative and engaging series with imaginative world building and some powerful characters.  Whether in audio, Kindle or old-fashioned book version,  I recommend the series.

The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking #2) by Patrick Ness

After having listened to The Knife of Never Letting Go in the car, I reserved the The Ask and the Answer in the audio format as well. But while I was waiting for that to come in, I decided to just read it on my Kindle (I had picked up all three ebooks sometime ago but never read them).

I think I enjoyed the second book more than the first. Perhaps it was because I was not as distracted by the unique dialects while reading as I was when listening. But I think it had more to do with the larger canvas and wider angle of this story.

The first book was all about Todd and the slow revelation of what life was like on New World. It quickly becomes a cycle of run and capture, seeming victory followed by seeming defeat, right up until the end of the book. This pattern got old for me.

In the second book there is more action as Todd and Viola end up caught up in the clash of the “Ask and the Answer.”  We learn more about Mayor Prentiss, and his son Davy, and start to understand the opposing forces known as the Answer. The varied angles and the additional characters make the story seem fuller and less repetitive.

I am not a big fan of dystopian fiction, and I still found some of the writing over the top and disjointed, but I enjoyed the suspense and ambiguity more in this volume; even as Mayor/President Prentiss seems to turn even darker and more maniacal.

Looking forward to the conclusion in book three (whether ebook or audiobook).

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking #1) by Patrick Ness [Audio]

Some time ago I downloaded the entire Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness on my Kindle. It was one of many, many discounted or free ebooks I have grabbed for my Kindle never seemingly able to resist a cheap or free book.

But, like the vast majority of said acquired books, I never got around to reading the series. But then I happened to stumble on the audio version of The Knife of Never Letting Go at the local library and picked it up for the daily commute. And thus my exploration of the series began.

Interestingly, this was one of those books where I think the audio version might have hindered my enjoyment (often it seems the opposite). I found the accent and language style of the main character quite annoying. I am not sure why, but it just grated on me. I don’t think it was the fault of the narrator and I think if I had been reading it I might have gotten past it.

That experiential note aside, there was a great deal of creativity and world building in this first book that helps explain the popularity of the series.  There is tension and action from the start. And there is the contrast between the seemingly universal human elements with the otherworldly aspects; vulnerability and emotion with violence and desperation.

I did, however, find the repetitive/cyclical nature of the story frustrating at times. Run, capture, escape, run, confrontation, escape, run, confrontation, etc. etc.

And of course, the whole story ends with a giant cliffhanger.

But I was intrigued enough to push on through and keep with the series. The hook for the series, is just creative enough to keep me going and the characters, particularly Todd, are interesting enough that I want to know more.

My reaction to the next two books, alas, will have to wait until another post …

The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

Regular readers will recall that I am a fan of mythology and the reworking of mythological elements or stories.  So when I saw a few reviews for The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness I was intrigued. Here is the first sentence of the publisher’s blurb:

A magical novel, based on a Japanese folk tale, that imagines how the life of a broken-hearted man is transformed when he rescues an injured white crane that has landed in his backyard.

Had me hooked right there.  Throw in the fact that Ness is the author of a YA fantasy series I have been meaning to read for sometime and I was definitely hooked.

The Crane WifeGeorge Duncan is an American living and working in London.  At forty-eight, he owns a small print shop, is divorced, and lonelier than he realizes.  All of the women with whom he has relationships eventually leave him for being too nice.  But one night he is woken by an astonishing sound—a terrific keening, which is coming from somewhere in his garden.  When he investigates he finds a great white crane, a bird taller than even himself.  It has been shot through the wing with an arrow.  Moved more than he can say, George struggles to take out the arrow from the bird’s wing, saving its life before it flies away into the night sky.

The next morning, a shaken George tries to go about his daily life, retreating to the back of his store and making cuttings from discarded books—a harmless, personal hobby—when through the front door of the shop a woman walks in.  Her name is Kumiko, and she asks George to help her with her own artwork.  George is dumbstruck by her beauty and her enigmatic nature, and begins to fall desperately in love with her.   She seems to hold the potential to change his entire life, if he could only get her to reveal the secret of who she is and why she has brought her artwork to him.

I found it to be a lyrical and imaginative story. Granted it requires the “suspension of disbelief” but if you can just let the story flow the mix of fantasy and folklore is beautiful. It includes an insightful portrayal of relationships and family and an ethereal folktale about love and violence.

It is a rather unique mix of styles and approaches, however, and not everybody will get swept up in it as I did.

Ursula K. Le Guin in her Guardian reviewhad this to say:

The tremendous effect of the sliced-up-book-and-feather artworks on everyone’s emotions isn’t made very believable, and the passages where deep mythic chords are struck ring less true than the scenes having to do with ordinary London life. The merely human characters are vivid and likeable, the story is lively and often quite funny. Momentum slackens only in the long passages of unbroken, unascribed, brief-line dialogue. Where a play or film script might use [Pause] or [Beat] as a signal to the actors, these dialogues repeatedly use ellipses-in-quotes: “…” Is the reader expected somehow to perform these silences? A script isn’t a narrative; it’s a quite different way of telling a story, and for me these dialogues, even when clever, fail to work as part of a novel. But expectations change with generations, and the reduction of human relationships to a back-and-forth table-tennis bounce of bodiless voices may be perfectly satisfactory to readers who spend a lot of time on a mobile phone.

In contrast, Paul Di Fillipo

This artful, jumpy narration, to my sensibilities at least, harks back more to the YA approach of keeping a boredom-intolerant teenage reader heavily invested in a cascade of swift events. It’s definitely not the chin-pulling, deliberately protracted, lugubrious pace of much adult literary fiction. And yet Ness’s themes, attitudes, and topics are markedly “adult.” Loneliness, regret, betrayal, disappointment, an inability to make one’s exterior life and circumstances match one’s hidden interior portrait, a sense of false steps and no turning back — until a miracle occurs and is met receptively.

I will agree with Le Guin that the “straight” mythological sections seemed awkwardly woven into the story at times but I liked the dialog and found the book readable and lyrical.  It didn’t seem to be striving for cool as Le Guin believes.

I do wonder if perhaps the novel would have been stronger with less mythology in the foreground and instead merely hinted at the myth and let the supernatural or speculative lurk in the background. The characters are so well done and yet aspects of the writing ethereal and mystical. I think he could have left the folklore connection floating but felt rather than so bluntly described.

But as is I found it a wonderful read. Perhaps not surprising given my penchant for both myth and fantastical young adult fiction.  So if you have an interest in either of those areas or both, this would be a must read to my mind.  But it doesn’t require that interest to be enjoyed.


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