The riveting Chaos Walking trilogy by two-time Carnegie Medalist Patrick Ness, reissued with compelling new covers — and a bonus short story in each book.
“Narrated with crack dramatic and comic timing. . . . The cliffhanger ending is as effective as a shot to the gut.” — Booklist (starred review)
Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him — something so awful Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears too. With hostile men from the town in pursuit, the two stumble upon a strange and eerily silent creature: a girl. Who is she? Why wasn’t she killed by the germ like all the females on New World? Propelled by Todd’s gritty narration, readers are in for a white-knuckle journey in which a boy on the cusp of manhood must unlearn everything he knows in order to figure out who he truly is.
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
If you’re like me, you likely discovered Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go by watching the movie trailer for Chaos Walking, the film based on this book. The premise seemed quite interesting to me. All thoughts appear above everyone’s head for the world to hear and see. That’s a chilling idea. Isn’t it?
** Some spoilers below **
This young adult dystopian novel (aren’t all dystopian novels YA lately?) had so much potential. Then again, maybe after seeing the movie preview, I placed the book on too high of a pedestal.
The story even started strong, with young Todd Hewitt’s life taking an unexpected turn for the worse. After all, isn’t that how dystopian novels should go?
The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say. About anything.
“Need a poo, Todd.”
-Opening line from The Knife of Never Letting Go
If you tell me that’s not the best opening line to a YA dystopian novel, then I’ll call you a liar. Ness shows his writing skills in that first sentence alone:
- Todd talks like a hillbilly, so he likely lives a simple life.
- He can speak to his dog.
- His dog is simple-minded.
- This book contains humor.
I’m a 40-year-old man with the sense of humor of a teenager, so you’ll have to excuse my immaturity when I tell you: the opening of Chapter 1 dug its hooks into me.
Then the drama picked up. Todd finds a girl in the wild fields near his town. Since all the women in his village died long ago, this comes as a shock to Todd.
Ok, that’s interesting. I’m still diggin’ it.
Next, Todd gets chased out of his town because he can’t keep his thoughts about the girl inside his head. Thanks to the Noise germ, everyone he walks by learns of her. His uncles, who raised him, make him flee the town with no explanation. He argues but ultimately complies.
Hmm, this is getting more interesting by the page. Fantastic!
Todd runs into the girl, Viola, who recently landed with her folks on the planet. They’re settlers, too, except they didn’t survive the landing.
I’m still ‘all in’ at this point.
The Death Spiral
Around this point, the book starts a death spiral. I can’t recall the last time I was this disappointed in a book. Yes, I understand it’s a YA novel, but so isn’t The Hunger Games. And Divergent. And Wool, The Maze Runner, and Ready Player One.
What is the most significant difference between those books and The Knife of Never Letting Go?
A damn good plot, including believable yet surprising twists.
The plot conflictingly tried to come across as a hopeless, violent endeavor for our protagonist. Yet, each time he risked injury, capture, or death, he and Viola escaped. Even when Todd did get injured, I never felt he would die. The same goes for Viola.
Even the ‘big reveal’ moment confused me. I’m no expert on cult culture, but it seemed to me the plot revolved around Todd becoming a killer. Only then would the rest of his town take to war and capture every other settlement on the planet.
Why the heck would they need Todd to set their plan in motion? After Todd ran away, they started their attack, regardless.
Other things that made no sense to me include:
- Killing Todd’s dog
- The crazed man pursuing him and Viola stayed alive after each episode where he received severe injuries (including an alligator attack) and had enough energy to catch up with Todd.
Despite the book’s length (512 pages, according to Amazon), every moment after Todd meets Viola seems rushed.
I won’t be reading the rest of this trilogy.