An unlikely Teen Fiction title, Monkey Wars at a glance seems like it would be aimed at a much younger age bracket – But trust me when I say this is a Teen novel, through & through. Fast, brutal, & expertly written, this is a unique look at social interactions with a healthy dose of Romeo & Juliet throw in. A really gripping read.
The book opens of the peaceful, if mischievous, Rhesus Monkeys who live in comfortable tranquillity in an abandoned human cemetery. In fact, the book begins as a savage pack of Langur Monkeys storming the peaceful troop’s home & slaughtering the smaller primates left, right & centre. The Rhesus flee for their lives, & one young female of the troop, the idealistic Papina, loses her father in the fray that ultimately takes her home. Meanwhile, the book also follows an ambitious & thoughtful young Langur named Mico, who believes his troop are doing good by exterminating the Rhesus, who have been held responsible for a number of attacks on humans throughout the city. His quick wit & pragmatic nature soon set him apart from the usual militia of Langur Monkeys, & he is quickly earmarked as assistant to one of the highest members of the troop, Lord Tyrell. As Mico rises the ranks though, he starts to discover the twisted, power hungry shadows lurking behind Tyrell’s actions & decisions. Eventually, he forms a secret, clandestine friendship with a drifting young female Rhesus Monkey – Papina – & through her memories of the massacre in the cemetery, his view of the entire Langur way of life begins to fall apart. Mico has a decision to make, does he keep his comfortable position in the Langur Troop, & watch them lay waste to the Rhesus Monkeys across the city, or does he betray his people & bring the world as he knows it crashing to the ground?
Monkey Wars is a thrilling mix of action, emotion & political intrigue. Mico has a phenomenal character development arc, & his anguished passages are really reminiscent of the deep emotional turmoil from Macbeth. The clandestine, cloak & dagger politics of his secret meetings create a deep tension, & Lord Tyrell’s increasingly unhinged & unpredictable behaviour only help to add to that. Mico is a flawed character, selfish as well as brave, & that makes him an easy to root for protagonist – His best intentions are often overruled by his own desires, & that’s something I think lots of people can relate to. Papina is a good counterpoint to this inner-turmoil, as her genuine, honest & heartfelt nature creates a nice, placid & calming atmosphere within the chaos & violence of the books setting & plot. Viewing the world through her innocent eyes lets us see the true horror of the Langur’s actions, & her gradual strengthening to a noble, proud warrior is a great dynamic shift between her & Mico. Finally, Lord Tyrell makes a strangely relatable antagonist – his thirst for power is a classic motivator for bad guys, & his slow descent into more & more extreme actions against the Rhesus is horrifying & gripping to follow. He’s truly insane, but ultimately quite tragic.
What makes Monkey Wars such a fantastic read is the way it’s written. The action is visceral, the violence is harsh & realistic, making the fighting that bit more gritty & at times, almost uncomfortable in its brutality. The political intrigue, as I said earlier, is tense, & the underhanded, backstabbing nature of the Langur creates a tense web of betrayal, similar to a Game of Thrones plot line, with unpredictable twists in character behaviours. The books stunning third act is a triumphant turn-around, with a real feel-good final struggle that helps to inject some positivity back into the book’s bleak nature. Also, by setting the novel in an Indian city, Richard Kurti is able to use the dilapidated & squalid conditions as a backdrop for this epic struggle for survival, one completely overlooked by the city’s human inhabitants, & this highlights some of the atrocious conditions for animals in such overcrowded environments.
Ultimately, Monkey Wars was tense, fast paced & unique. The character’s where likeable & diverse, the plot was constantly shifting, & the writing style was engaging & viscerally descriptive. Definitely one of the best books to come out of 2013, you’ll read nothing else quite like it, & you’ll enjoy every step of the way.
As always, thanks so much for reading!