TylerDFC #CBR4 Review#11 The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Chaos Walking: Book 1)
Todd Hewett is about to become a man on a planet where other men can hear what you are thinking. It is called Noise, and is a side effect of a war with the original inhabitants of New World, called the Spackle. In the last days of the war the Spackle released a virus that killed all the women, gave all the animals the ability to speak, and unleashed Noise on the men. Todd lives in the only town left on New World, called Prentisstown, and he is the last of the town to turn 13 and – as is the custom of the town – become a man. While out in the swamp that surrounds the town, Todd and his dog, Manchee, comes across a strange pocket of silence. He runs home to tell his guardians, Ben and Cillian, what he found but the discovery slips out of his Noise while passing through the town to his farm. In order to protect him from the secret of the town, Ben and Cillian send Todd and Manchee away with a map and his mother’s journal to a town beyond the swamp that Todd never knew existed. What becomes quickly apparent is that just about everything Todd has ever been told is a lie. The first major revelation is when he comes across the source of the silence in the swamp, a young girl named Viola.
The Knife of Never Letting Go is the first book in the trilogy series Chaos Walking. It is a JA book, but continuing in the footsteps of the JA series The Hunger Games, it is an incredibly bleak and harsh book. Todd makes for a difficult protagonist to like. Because he is nearly 13 he can be incredibly stubborn and strong willed when he really should just think things through. Over and over again he finds out he is wrong about something yet at the next opportunity he reacts without thinking.
Todd narrates the story in his own voice, so occasionally there are passages meant to show what it is like to live with Noise. These pages are just filled with words all jumbled together. Some descriptive, some half formed thoughts, but all disorienting and difficult to parse meaning from. The book is essentially one long chase. Todd, Manchee, and Viola race across the land trying to reach the city of Haven while the Mayor of Prentisstown chases them with an ever growing army.
At times this book reminded me of the tv show LOST. There are multiple times where someone is about to reveal a piece of the mystery to Todd, only to be interrupted by an outside event which forces more running. Todd travels with his mother’s diary that she kept when Todd was born, but Todd is ashamed he can’t read it. Even though he knows Viola can read he doesn’t give it to her to read it to him until the book is almost over. If you are looking for answers you won’t find many, and the ones you do get don’t come until the book reaches its finale. There are times where the events unfold much like a video game, with brief lulls in the action for exposition until Todd and Viola are off and running again only to stop a few pages letter for another set piece scene.
I knew this was a trilogy going in to it, but the abrupt ending was unexpected. Also it is an incredibly mean book. For a JA, the only thing saving it from being classified as an adult book is that Todd likes to say the word “effing” rather than “fucking”. Although Viola does say “fucking” at one point which I think was just missed in the edit to tell the truth. The book is loaded with mature situations, including implied rape, stabbings, shootings, and terror. It is not a happy book by any stretch of the imagination so if you are interested because of the JA label, be advised this is much more along the lines of The Hunger Games series or The Book Thief, than Harry Potter.
As frustrating as the book can be at times, Ness is a compelling writer and puts you in to Todd’s head well. He can be frustrating, but by the end of it (as happens in most coming of age series) you understand his actions and can grant him some respect. Just don’t expect all the answers. To be honest, I don’t even know if they are from Earth, on a future/past Earth, or what. I’m just guessing based on the context, but at no point does the word “Earth” come in to play. There is much of the story left to infer on your own. With the cliffhanger ending I’m hoping the second book starts to fill in the blanks because I have a few hundred questions and unlike Todd I don’t mind asking them.
The Chaos Walking trilogy:
1) The Knife of Never Letting Go
2) The Ask and the Answer
3) Monsters of Men