Monkey Wars

Monkey Wars

by Richard Kurti

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“Strikingly original” is how Anthony Horowitz, author of the Alex Rider series, describes Monkey Wars.
“Kurti draws from history to deliver a powerful allegory . . . [and] keeps this effective, memorable tale rooted in reality.” —Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
Sustain the weak. Destroy the strong. A dark fable in the vein of Animal Farm, Watership Down, and The Wave, this action-packed page-turner is told entirely from the monkeys’ points of view and shines a light on the politics of power, the rise of tyrants, and the personal dilemmas that must be faced when your life is on the line.
When rhesus monkeys are brutally massacred on the dusty streets of Kolkata by a troop of power-hungry langur monkeys, Mico, a privileged langur, becomes entangled in the secrets at the heart of his troop’s leadership and is shocked at what he discovers. He feels compelled to help the few surviving rhesus, especially Papina, a young female he befriends, even though doing so goes against everything he’s been taught. As more blood is spilled, Mico realizes that choosing between right and wrong won’t be easy. Includes a note from the author, as well as interesting monkey species facts.
Additional praise for MONKEY WARS
“The allure of power—even for the most conscientious—is portrayed with frightening effectiveness. Powerful.”—Kirkus Reviews
“An imaginative fable about the nature of power and the responsibility of the individual. With plenty of action . . . a fascinating epilogue . . . [and] striking cover art.” —Booklist
“Following in the tradition of George Orwell’s Animal Farm and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, war and politics shape the lives of several monkey troops. An interesting premise that will provide readers with an introduction to fascism and political corruption.” —School Library Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385388481
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 01/06/2015
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 416
File size: 3 MB
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

After studying philosophy and English at King’s College, Cambridge, England, RICHARD KURTI worked at the BBC as a TV sound recordist. This led to a career as a freelance director and then as a full-time screenwriter. Richard’s film writing includes fourteen commissions for studios in the United States and the United Kingdom. His writing for television includes BBC adaptations of Kidnapped and Sherlock Holmes and has earned widespread industry recognition. He lives in Essex.

Read an Excerpt

They struck at noon.
Monkeys shrieked in confusion as langur fighters sprang down from the cemetery walls, howling in an attacking frenzy. As they stormed through the tombs, fear and panic flashed everywhere. And with the screams came the smell of blood.
It was so terrifyingly fast Papina barely had time to think.
One moment she was relaxing in the sun-dappled tranquillity; the next her mother was scooping her up and leaping into the banyan trees, abandoning everything in a frantic scramble for survival.
Swooping through the canopy, clinging to her mother, Papina glanced down and saw an unstoppable wave of langur monkeys thundering through the cemetery. They pounced on their rhesus victims with howls of bloodlust and dragged them into the shadows to finish them off, langur claws savaging rhesus flesh.
Papina closed her eyes, desperate to shut out the horror, and suddenly her mind jerked to save the one thing she could still understand--
“My carving!”
“WHAT?!” Willow screamed, incredulous.
“I have to get it!” Papina shouted, as if somehow clutching it would make everything all right.
Suddenly the branches in front of them snapped apart as two forbidding langurs lunged toward them.
Willow let go of the branch and dropped--two breaths in free fall--then reached out, grabbed a vine and swung.
With claws scratching across stone, Papina and Willow grasped for the perimeter wall and dropped down on the far side, outside the cemetery for the first time in their lives.
All they could do now was run.

Chaat had been out scavenging, and had no idea anything was wrong as he casually made his way back through the streets carrying some pilfered pomegranates . . . when suddenly he stumbled on a group of trembling monkeys huddled in the shadows. They looked so distraught Chaat assumed they were just slum monkeys. Then Willow called his name and he realized with a shock they were his own family.
The words tumbled out of Willow’s mouth: “ambush . . . blood . . . slaughter . . . attacked by langurs.”
But it didn’t make sense to Chaat--everyone knew the rhesus lived in the derelict cemetery; they’d always lived there, ever since the humans had abandoned it generations ago.
He tore open a pomegranate, squeezed some white pith onto his fingers and rubbed it on his forehead, making the Universal Sign of Peace. But as he turned to run back to the cemetery, Willow grabbed his arm.
“I have to.”
“You mustn’t go back!”
“They can’t just drive us out of our home!”
Then he felt another pair of hands clamp around his leg--it was Papina, emphatically refusing to let him leave.
Softening his tone, Chaat put his arm around his daughter. “Don’t worry. Before you know it, we’ll all be safe at home again.” He lifted Papina’s head to look into her frightened eyes. “Tell you what, while I’m there, I’ll even check that your carving is in its usual place, make sure it’s safe. How’s that?”
Papina gave a mute nod. Chaat hugged her one last time, then turned and scampered away over the rooftops, determined to set everything right.

Now Papina sat silently on top of the public library, her heart slowly breaking. Why had they been attacked with such hatred? she wondered. Just because they looked different? Because they had brown fur, not gray, and pink faces, not black? But rhesus or langur, they were all monkeys and they all needed somewhere to live.
Papina looked from the distant cemetery to the handful of shattered survivors huddled farther along the roof, her young mind struggling to make sense of what had just happened.
Underneath all her confusion lay the darkest fear of all--even though they had waited the whole afternoon, still her father hadn’t returned. As the sun sank toward the horizon, Papina was gripped by the dreadful foreboding that she would never see him again. It felt as if a hole was opening up inside her, a yawning emptiness that nothing would ever be able to fill.
“We have to go.” The voice cut hard across her grief.
Papina looked up and saw her mother beckoning.
Willow scrambled over the roof tiles and grabbed her hand. “Move. Now!”
Papina pulled back defiantly. “Not without Dad!”
“We have to get away before the langur hunt us down.”
Papina didn’t want to hear it; she clamped her hands over her ears.
“Listen to me!” urged Willow. “We have to survive. It’s what Chaat wanted.”
With that she took hold of Papina, dragged her across the roof and bundled her down the stepped walls.
Furtively, fearfully, the rhesus survivors made their way into the Kolkata streets.

For Mico it was like entering paradise--one moment he was clinging to his mother, surrounded by all the frantic noise of the city, the next he was in the cool, green tranquillity of the cemetery. Whatever the humans had meant this strange place to be, for monkeys it was perfect. High walls kept out the chaos of the city, there were row upon row of small stone buildings to scramble over, and a thick canopy of banyan trees was just begging to be explored.
Dropping down from his mother’s back, Mico scampered excitedly up the central pathway, following the rest of the langur troop as they processed in.
“Mico, wait!” Kima called after him, but it was too late.
Hopping onto a fallen tombstone, he reached up, grabbed a low-hanging branch, swung himself round the corner . . . and skidded to an astonished stop.
Towering in front of him was an imposing mausoleum. The walls were lined with carved pillars, and each corner of the long, rectangular building was adorned with a magnificent stone tiger. On the roof of this great vault, all the langur leaders were lined up.
In the center stood the Lord Ruler Gospodar, large and handsome with a coat of pure gray and a striking flash of white fur crowning his head. Crouched next to him were his trusted advisors, the troop deputies; and ranged on either side of them in two long, brooding lines, were Gospodar’s elites.
Mico gazed up at the elites in silent awe; he’d never seen the fighting monkeys all gathered together like this. Powerfully built, with long limbs and even longer tails, many of them had tramlines in their gray fur, the marks of battle, which they wore with pride. But to Mico’s young eyes, the scarred faces and ragged ears made the elites look grotesque.
Instinctively he edged backward, and suddenly felt a hand grab him.
“How many times do I have to tell you about running off?” said Kima as she slung him onto her back, and for once, Mico was grateful to have been caught by his mother.
By now the last of the troop had arrived, and spontaneously the monkeys started expressing their elation by thumping the ground with their fists. It sent a wave of excitement surging across the crowd. A huge smile spread across Lord Gospodar’s face as he bathed in the euphoria, until finally he raised his arms to speak.
“My fellow monkeys, this is a day when right conquers wrong!” he boomed. “A day when courage is rewarded!”
A huge cheer went up from the monkeys.
“As we admire our magnificent new home”--Gospodar opened his arms, embracing the cemetery--“there should be one thought in our minds: WE DESERVE THIS!”
The howls of approval were deafening. Enthralled by the sheer energy of the spectacle, Mico started to laugh. As he gazed up at Lord Gospodar standing on the mausoleum, so full of conviction, suddenly he understood why everyone loved the leader, why they trusted him.
Encouraged by the adulation, Gospodar started to reminisce. “Those of us who are older will remember it was just three monsoons ago that we were slum monkeys, scavenging around in the filth of the city. I spent my youth not playing or laughing, but trying to fight off the pangs of hunger. . . .”
With dismay, Mico realized that the speech was going to go on and on. “Can we go now?” he whispered in his mother’s ear.
Which left a simple choice: boredom or escape.
Mico’s eyes gazed up at the tangled tree canopy--so many tempting runs to be tried out; he looked across at the maze of strangely shaped miniature buildings surrounding them, and made up his mind.
Gently letting go of Kima’s ears, he slid down her back and edged his way through the mass of monkeys until he stood at the very edge of the crowd. He surveyed the network of shady paths leading off into the cemetery, gave a final backward glance to check he wasn’t being watched, then slipped away.

Other young monkeys would have found the damp, decaying structures in the cemetery unnerving, but to Mico they were fascinating.
He wondered why there were strange markings on all the stones, why the humans had made buildings that were too small for them to live in, and why the whole place had been abandoned. For Mico there were always questions to be asked. Intrigued, he scrambled up the side of a miniature pyramid, launched himself onto a dome, dropped down between some stone columns--
And instantly froze.
Up ahead something was moving in the shadows. Quickly Mico darted behind a tombstone, then very cautiously peeped out. At the end of the pathway he could see a group of langur footsoldiers working in the shadows. They seemed to be dragging something through the dirt.
Suddenly a gruff voice boomed angrily at them, “Kill like the thunder; clean like the rain!”
The footsoldiers snapped to attention as General Pogo emerged from the shadows. “Monsoon rain. Not a spring shower,” he said, glaring darkly at them.
“Understood, sir. Won’t happen again.”
They had good reason to be nervous. Pogo was a warrior with a fearsome reputation, backed up by an admirable scar that slashed across his face, right over the empty socket that had once contained an eyeball.
“Next time I say clean everything up, I mean everything,” he said, rolling his eye sternly from one soldier to the next. “We have rules for a reason.”
“We think he may have come back, sir.”
“Come back?” Pogo seemed puzzled.
“We caught him hiding, sir.”
“More fool him.” The general’s solitary eye rolled down in its socket, scrutinizing the lump on the ground. “Well,” he said, and shrugged, “better get rid of it before it starts to rot.”
“Yes, sir.”
And with that the general launched himself into the tree canopy and was gone.
Part of Mico wanted to run too, but his feet didn’t move. He peered into the gloom and watched as two of the footsoldiers scrambled up the perimeter wall and perched on top.
“Come on then, let’s have it.”
The others picked up the lump they’d been dragging and Mico’s blood suddenly ran cold as he saw the flailing limbs, the limp tail, the head lolling lifelessly. They were carrying a dead monkey.
Mico dropped onto his haunches, unable to tear his eyes away from the gruesome sight, his stomach knotting. As the soldiers hauled the corpse up the wall, Mico saw that it had suffered horrendous injuries--there was a gaping wound in its chest, one of its ears had been bitten off, the limbs were slashed--blood still dripped from the torn flesh.
Trying to recognize the scent of the victim, Mico drew a deep breath and realized the corpse wasn’t a langur at all. He blinked, looked again--brown fur, short tail . . . it was a rhesus.
Indifferent to the horror, the footsoldiers on top of the wall started swinging the corpse by its feet.
“And here’s what we think of peace,” one of the others sneered, and he threw a stone at the corpse, hitting a white pomegranate smear that had been made on its forehead.
The others laughed, then with one great heave tossed the dead monkey over the wall as casually as if they were disposing of an unwanted tree branch.
Suddenly Mico lost all his curiosity.
With pounding heart he darted back across the tombs, swerving past mossy statues and sliding between headstones, until he reached the main path. He scrambled across the cobbles and snuggled into the safety of the crowd, worming his way through a tangle of legs until he found his mother standing near the front, listening with rapt attention to Lord Gospodar.
Mico clambered up onto her back, gripped her fur and tried to blot the ghastly images from his mind. Perhaps if he listened to the speech, joined in with the cheering, everything would be all right.
“. . . because we, the langur, are the only troop that has the courage to fight for peace. . . .” Gospodar was still in full flow, and his grand words were stirring langur hearts.
All hearts except Mico’s. Didn’t Gospodar know what was happening just a short swing away?
Then Mico’s confusion turned to fear as he saw General Pogo drop down from the tree canopy and silently take his place on the roof of the Great Vault. Lord Gospodar threw a questioning look at the general, who gave a reassuring nod.
They were both in on it.
Which was when the guilt gripped Mico. He had witnessed a disturbing secret, and even though he was clinging to his mother, surrounded by all the members of the langur troop, suddenly Mico felt very alone.

As they staggered, bewildered, through the streets, the rhesus survivors realized with shame that they were strangers in their own city.
Food gathering had always been the responsibility of the rhesus males, and as the generations passed, the females had become increasingly detached from the hurly-burly of city life; many of them had never even ventured outside the cemetery walls. But the males had been the first to die in the slaughter, all their knowledge dying with them, leaving the females to rue their seclusion.
Out here everything was chaos: crumbling buildings jostled for space, piles of rotting garbage lay in the streets as if deposited by some monstrous tidal wave, and the noise was everywhere--hawkers haranguing passers-by, couples arguing in shabby apartments, cars blasting their horns.
The rhesus wandered, dazed, through street after confusing street, searching for somewhere to shelter, until finally, wretched and exhausted, they arrived at the banks of the Hooghly River.
Papina had never seen such a large body of water. “Look how it ripples!” she exclaimed, mesmerized by the river’s dark, quivering energy.
None of the other monkeys shared her fascination.
Cappa, one of the mothers, gave a resigned shrug. “Well, this is the end. It’s every monkey for herself now.”
“You can’t break the troop up!” said Fig, alarmed. Fig was younger than the others, still with two small infants clinging to her back.
“What troop?” scoffed Cappa. “We’ve no leaders, no males. Just infants. We’re nothing.”
“Then let’s choose a new leader,” said Rowna, the oldest of the females. Although neither the quickest nor the sharpest, she had a confidence that most of the others responded to.

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