Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, that unmanned drones fill the sky. And when her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she quickly begins to be shaped by her particular time and place until, finally, through the influence of a mysterious functionary, she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. Telling her story is her nephew, Benjamin Chestnut, born during war – part of the Miraculous Generation – now an old man confronting the dark secret of his past, his family’s role in the conflict and, in particular, that of his aunt, a woman who saved his life while destroying untold others.
What did I think?:
First of all, happy publication day to Omar El Akkad and a huge thank you to the lovely people at Pan Macmillan publishers who were kind enough to send me a copy of this stunning and powerful novel in exchange for an honest review. American War is set in the future yet feels ever so timely, especially with the things happening in the world at the moment and I was completely bowled over by how wonderful both the writing and the plot of the novel is. It’s a gritty, no holds barred account of everything that may occur when a country is at war and at times, it was quite an emotional reading experience.
Our narrator for the story is Benjamin Chestnut who is telling the story of his aunt, Sarat Chestnut and her life after war broke out between the South and North factions of America in 2074, initially over the usage of oil which becomes an illegal commodity. Sarat, her mother, twin sister Dana and older brother Simon are forced to leave their home and become refugees at Camp Patience with hundreds of others. From there, Sarat comes of age, survives a horrific incident that decimates part of her family and comes into contact with a gentleman that becomes quite excited about her potential to exact revenge on the perpetrators that ruined her life. This is the story of how war affects one particular family, how a series of traumatic events can change a person for good and how violence and mistrust can have such devastating consequences for an entire population.
This story is almost epic in its outlook. It looks at the characters from a family over a number of decades who have all been subjected to unbelievable suffering. The prospects of this actually happening are not entirely within the realm of fairy tales – I think this is what makes it all the more frightening and poignant to read. Climate change has obliterated many parts of the country, leaving them underwater and America a shadow of her previous mighty self. With the recent floods from Hurricane Harvey still affecting so many lives it is a terrifying thought that the events of this novel may not be as inconceivable as perhaps once thought. The author also provides us with a fascinating character in his main protagonist, Sarat who is ultimately flawed and commits some heinous acts but still managed to elicit my sympathy due to the hardships and the suffering that she had to face. I’m crossing all my fingers for this novel to do really well, personally I think it’s a phenomenal piece of writing and such an important read and I can’t wait for more people to experience it so I can gush about it even more.
Three armies march on New Prentisstown, each one intent on destroying the others. Todd and Viola are caught in the middle, with no chance of escape. As the battles commence, how can they hope to stop the fighting? How can there ever be peace when they’re so hopelessly outnumbered? And if war makes monsters of men, what terrible choices await?
What did I think?:
Ah, Patrick Ness. You’ve just gone and finished the Chaos Walking trilogy with a giant bang and I loved every second of it. I actually waited for a while before reading the third book, Monsters Of Men as, to be perfectly honest, I really didn’t want the series to end. It began with The Knife of Never Letting Go which I can only describe as epic and continued with The Ask And The Answer which made me conclude that Patrick Ness is now one of my all-time favourite authors. What then did I expect from Monsters Of Men? Well, I was slightly worried that my expectations were actually too high. Shouldn’t have worried though – the final book in the trilogy was just as nail-biting, thrilling and fascinating as when I first came to the series.
I find it very hard reviewing books in a trilogy, especially after the first book as I’m very wary of giving spoilers for those people that haven’t started the series yet. What I can tell you is this is the story of Todd and Viola who met in the first novel under strained and dangerous circumstances and their friendship and love for each other has gone from strength to strength. I’m not going to re-hash what has happened so far but at the beginning of Monsters Of Men they have been separated and are embroiled in a fierce war against both the Spackle (the native species of the New World – yes, humans in fact are the interlopers!) and the humans who are against the self-entitled leader of the humans, President Prentiss. The novel is told from both Todd and Viola’s perspectives and also from one of the Spackles whom we met in the previous novel which I found particularly intriguing. Todd must struggles with his conscience, the weight of his past and future decisions and the mind control of the Major whilst Viola begs for peace and is desperately trying to reach Todd.
This book meanders between being very fast-paced and action packed to slower, gentler sections where the reader can pause for breath before being sent into the next battle/exciting incident/devastating repercussion (sometimes all three!). Once again, the author presents us with a mastery of characters, from Todd and Viola who we have already fallen in love with to the villain of the piece President Prentiss to the bloodthirsty for revenge Spackle and the fierce Mistress Coyle (terrorist or freedom fighter – who can tell?). The old saying that war makes “monsters of men,” resonates very deeply especially in this final offering in the Chaos Walking Trilogy and all characters have to come face to face with another side of their personality that they may not have been aware they possessed. The brilliance of the writing and the thrilling plot truly shines through the narrative and I have to admit to being quite bereft when I turned over the final page, especially with an ending that left my heart in little pieces. I will read anything Patrick Ness writes – that is a promise!