Title: The New World (short story)/The Knife of Never Letting Go/The Ask and the Answer/Monsters of Men (all Nook)
Author: Patrick Ness
Publisher: .....someone
Genre: SciFi, Post Apocalypse, Dystopia
Release Date: 2010?

Oh, these books.  So. very. good.  Short synopsis is: Earth/home planet got screwed up.  People left at various times for various reasons, the better to settle this new planet that had a lot of the same things earth did, geographically speaking.  It was life bearing - there were indigenous plants, animals, and people.  Something happened that drove no small number of the first settlers to varying degrees of insanity, and there was a war that nearly wiped out both sides and quite a few of the human settlements.

We start our journey in Prentisstown, where there are only men and boys - or a boy, who is about to hit the magical age of thirteen, at which manhood is . . . well, enforced for lack of a better word, but we learn more about that later.  Our young protagonist, Todd, is unhappy.  He's lonely, and he knows something is wrong.  One day, not long before his birthday, he wanders out into the swamp near his village and runs into Viola - who is introduced better in The New World, the short story prequel, than she is here - and is terrified out of his wits, because he's never seen a woman (or girl, as Viola is roughly the same age as he is) before in the time he can remember.  Also because there's a trait that marks her out as starkly different than the men he knows, but to reveal that here would be telling, wouldn't it?

At any rate, Todd meets Viola and his world falls apart.  His village (with the exception of his foster fathers, who took over his upbringing when his mother died), intent on turning him into a man in the creepy, horrifying way they've agreed on for the majority of his thirteen years, go on the hunt for him and Viola both.  There's the dystopic dream team of politics and religion, and Todd and Viola escape death at the hands of a madman so often I lost count.  In the end - which, in this first book, isn't really an end; it reads almost like a serial - Todd and Viola are on completely uncertain and unfamiliar ground, and on opposite sides of what appears to be shaping into a civil war.  This is, all told, some truly amazing world building, and the character building isn't far behind.

In the second book, we pick up exactly where we left off; this is a device I wasn't particularly familiar with before The Hunger Games, though of course it must have been in use.  Todd and Viola are still on opposite sides and everything they think they know about this planet and their surroundings (both environmental and societal), their trust in each other and their endurance (physical, mental and emotional) continue to be tested.  This is, in fact, the darkest YA fiction I've read in . . . perhaps ever, really, and I love it all the more for that.  When I actually was what most people consider YA, there didn't seem to be a lot of light in the world, and that continues to be a theme.  Regardless, there are factions - made up of women which exist in far more abundance than Todd knew of (obviously) and men, in a large part.  Which isn't to say there aren't men in the Answer (one of the factions, clearly), but there truly aren't any women in the Ask.  (The settlers who were on New World, who Viola and her bunch of people didn't know about, are very Old West meets Puritan.  The grammar and writing in the parts Todd tells reflect this well, and often made me twitch.  Dialects in dialog are fine - entire books written in them require my poor little middle class American brain to translate.)  The character progression throughout is fantastic, and Mayor/President Prentiss may be one of the best written villains I've ever come across in any sort of literature, from children's up through adult, in any and all genres.  Aside from Prentiss, the characterization and progression both are phenomenal, though it's truly this man who shines through this and Monsters of Men.

Ah, the final book.  I read these three in a row with no break between them and by the time I hit this one I was ready to be done - not because I didn't like them, obviously, but because they were so very draining.  It's not every book that makes you feel like you're there in that Bastian-fighting-the-Nothing sense, but Ness was fantastic at that throughout, and I was exhausted.  Here, though, is where - if you'll pardon the vernacular - shit got real.  There was violence, there was mind control, there was genocide and all of those things that, in a war, make monsters of men.  Here, Todd and Viola are still uncertain of each other and who they can trust.  Here, Todd thinks he can 'save' Prentiss.  Here, we find out that the 'aliens' - that indigenous species mentioned earlier - aren't as rare as we thought, and they're pissed off.  This is a suitably dramatic and horrific end for an awesome - in all senses - trio (plus a bit) of books.

Five stars.  Superb.  What are you waiting for?  Go read it now.
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