Monday, January 28, 2013

The Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness

I finished reading the Chaos Walking trilogy today.  I kept putting the book down after only a chapter or two the last few weeks and then it occurred to me why I wasn't finishing it up as quickly as the other ones.  I didn't want to say goodbye.

This series has opened my eyes to the possibilities of science fiction -- most older sci-fi is dry, dusty, high ideals and ideas with little personal investment.

The Chaos Walking trilogy, while full of ideas, is also filled to the brim with personal investment.

For starters, it is told in first person with two (then three) POV's.  The emotional investment is heightened because we are *in* the characters' heads instead of watching from the outside.  Everything that happens to them gets experienced by you second hand, instead of from a distance.  It's real.  Personal.  Intimate.

Next, the book speaks to several issues we deal with today -- overload of information, terrorism, racism/sexism, and the horrors of war.  All of this is wrapped up in a story about a boy and girl who find each other and will do anything to protect the other.

Yes -- amidst all the horror in this story, the deepest part of the story is love -- romantic, paternal/maternal, friendship, etc.  Everything links back to what we'll do for the ones we love and how strong their love makes us.

I don't know that I can properly sort out for you everything I think is wonderful about these books.  I'm not quite distanced enough yet to see the entire story (I'm still crying about the penultimate chapter) but I'll give it a shot.

One thing I really, really appreciate is the character of Todd Hewitt.  The story focuses on Todd and the difference between him and the Mayor.  The difference between a good man and a man.  The choices Todd makes, the mistakes he regrets making...he regrets, he tries to do better.  Only a good man learns from his mistakes and calls them by that name.  He strives to do better.  He is redeemable.

I also appreciate the main female character, Viola.  She's strong, independent, and willing to risk everything for the man she loves.  And then realizes what happens when you make war personal.  She is brought to a world where people are living apart, in fear, and as the world crumbles around her, she grits her teeth and does what she can to prevent the entire world from falling into chaos.

They suffer through so much, together and apart.  They're always there for each other, even if they're separated by distance.  They struggle together to come to terms with the changes of the world around them and to find their places in it.  They're heroic without trying to be, fully aware of their brokenness.

Another thing I really appreciated was that through all of the horror of the series (terrorist attacks, enslavement, betrayal, beloved characters' deaths, civil war, etc.), the ending concludes with hope.  The hope that we can do better, the hope that peace is still attainable, even after everything that's happened.  Oftentimes if you're reading a war story, the hopelessness drags you down into the muck and there's no escape.  Fortunately, Chaos Walking ends with a hopeful message about the strength it takes to find peace, to forgive and work together for a better life.  Hope for the future.

It's such a thrilling, terrifying, electrifying ride to see the characters change and be changed, make choices, choices they have to make to survive...I wonder if we would have done any better?

What I think this series really boils down to is the choices we make and the reasons behind them.

“That's the thing I'm learning about being thrown out on yer own. Nobody does nothing for you. If you don't change it, it don't get changed.” -- The Knife of Never Letting Go  

“We are the choices we make. And have to make. We aren’t anything else.”  -- The Ask and the Answer

“Choices may be unbelievably hard but they're never impossible. To say you have no choice is to release yourself from responsibility and that's not how a person with integrity acts.” -- Monsters of Men

I'm really sad to see the end of this only consolation is that my library has a standalone novel by Patrick Ness that I'm going to read next weekend.

What are your thoughts on the Chaos Walking Trilogy?  I'd love to hear them.

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