on 21 August 2009
Todd Hewitt is twelve, the last boy in Prentisstown, a town of only men. He lives in a world full of "noise" in which the private thoughts of every man and animal are audible. In one month he will be thirteen and a man. But the town is keeping secrets from him, secrets that will force him to go on the run from the mayor and the men of Prentisstown along with his dog and the first girl he has ever met.
This is quite frankly an astounding novel, quite deserving of the awards Ness has won. It is furiously paced with terrifying, exhilarating and heartbreaking moments, with fantastic cliff-hangers interspersed with philosophical pauses. It is one of those gems that are sometimes found in children's literature; a genuinely original novel that is also well written, grabs hold of the imagination and will not allow you to put it down. You will find yourself growing more and more attached to Todd and Viola as the story and their friendship progresses, and feel genuine affection for Todd's dog and sidekick, Manchee, whose behaviour is both hilarious and heart-warming. At its core it is a story about a boy forced to grow up fast in a world crumbling into madness and armed only with his conviction to do right to help him take on the desperate fight to survive.
The book is aimed at young teenagers, and we would recommend it for readers aged 13 and upwards, but it will also appeal very strongly to adults. I can not rate this highly enough. If the well thought out plot line, characters that lift from the page and the genuinely original idea at the core of the book wasn't enough, Ness's dialogue and style of writing would be enough to recommend this book. If you want to read a truly great piece of children's fiction then this is the one for you.
Nominally this is a book for teenagers but it has such panache and a truly riveting plot that - you know what? Forget how old you are and just read it. It weighs in at 479 pages but it races on by to fiendishly excellent effect. We are on a planet - not earth (there are two moons), in a farming community where Todd, a young man approaching his majority (thirteen is the magic age of manhood and Todd is rapidly approaching his initiation), suddenly becomes aware of a creature he has never come across before. There is, instead of the Noise, which emanates from everyone (thoughts, images, their most secret imaginings), nothing, silence.
This is a hostile world for Todd and his dog Manchee. His parents are dead and he lives with Cillian and Ben, brothers who took him in as a child. The swamp-lands are close by and aside from the crocs and other creatures (including an alien race) there is a preacher, Aaron who seems to have a particular hatred for Todd. Then one day Ben tells him he must leave and the journey he must undertake is one that only he can travel.
The book has some wonderful textual tricks throughout and the story is thrilling, edgy, and ultimately devastating. I have already ordered the sequel, The Ask and the Answer, and I would recommend this book to any age group, that enjoys a quest-type story and a remorselessly engaging plot.
I won't spoil the story but it will be enough to say that it is an adventure story about a boy coming of age on New World, a planet on which humans settled before he was born and where things have gone seriously wrong. The book contains a lot of violence, much of it graphically described which some will consider unsuitable for children under about fourteen.
The narrator is, in my view extremely good. For the narration alone I would give 5 stars. The story itself is interesting and touches on some interesting moral questions. Unfortunately there are several very annoying things about the book and I would not have finished it except I had a few long car journeys with nothing better to listen to.
The biggest problem for me is the writing style. It is over-dramatic with many exclamations repeated to ridiculous effect. It is probably suitable for the 9 - 11 age range, though the story itself, and the violence, points to an older readership. I gave it to a 15 year old who likes this type of story but he was quickly turned off by the style.
Most of the book is based on suspense. The town has an awful secret and we don't know what it is. They want the boy and we don't know why. Suspense is an acceptable device but here it is grossly overdone. We nearly find the answers so many times, only to have them withheld, that the result is absurd. Also the answer to the second of those questions is not convincing. I won't spoil it by going into the detail though I am happy to debate it with fans of the book in the comments.
I give the book 2 stars, increased to 3 because of the narration.
on 7 September 2011
It's often irritating to jump into a dystopian story and not be told why the apocalyptic event happened, almost as if the novelist doesn't know or cares little, so it's heartening to read an author who is unafraid of revealing how his particular apocalypse happened, and I was thrilled to see that Ness is one such writer. But that's not why I continued reading. I had put off perusing this trilogy for fear of being disappointed, as often happens when I contemplate reading popular novels. Once I started though, I read them one after the other.
The concept of the work is well known; Ness has created a world where thoughts are heard, but only those of men. But it's really within the scope of the story where his gifts are fully given. The exposition feels like a long and twisted vine, so pleasurable to read for a stretch, and then suddenly shocking, leading you away and astray and inward into the mind of a young adult. I won't reveal the shocks or surprises here, but I can say that nothing is quite what it seems. The first descriptions of the small village of Prentistown are utterly claustrophobic. I was physically relieved to see Todd test the boundaries. I can only imagine that Ness has recalled his own teen years, because in his exploring the thoughts and feelings of his hero, he may have dug deeply into his own memories, either real or wished for - that, or he talks in depth to children about all and everything. It's startling, and unnerving, to see how much understanding Ness has for his characters. And for children, most especially. The adults, in the main, don't fare so well, but why should they? I could go deep and philosophical here, and say how these novels are a commentary on to what extent the poor decisions made by adults affect, forever, the life of the world to come.... but I won't. This is a wonderful trilogy for your dreamy, aspirational teen. The kind of child who knows that one day, they'll grow up and change the world.
on 15 July 2012
I read this trilogy after reading The Hunger Games trilogy. I wasn't sure that I liked it at first as it is written in dialect of the the locals, but it is very slight, and after a while you don't notice the strange spellings of a few words. The story is really well written and has you on the edge of your seat. It has a good pace and suspense, I found myself not wanting to put the book down. I really felt for Todd and love Manchee his dog!
It is great that there is such good teenage fiction - and even if I am 42 I really recommend these stories.
This has to be one of the best books I have read in a long time even if it is billed as childrens literature.
What a concept..........settlers land on a new plant and become infected with a virus called Noise. Can you imagine being able to hear everyones thoughts and they yours and how do you cope with animals that also speak? However this 'Noise' does not affect the women folk so they die or at least this is what Todd who is our hero is told. The virus is blamed on the Spackles or aliens who are indigenous to the planet but it is not they who are contagious but of course they are blamed, hunted down and killed. Shades of Xenophobia here!
At the age of 13, Todd will become a man but before that happens he wanders into the swamp and suddenly hears nothing........no Noise.....what is happening? Viola is what is happening. She is also a settler whose ship crashed leaving her the sole survivor.
So when the army of Prentisstown start to hunt Todd his dog Manchee and Viola down we start to wonder why and why does the so called Preacher Aaron so want to kill Todd?
This story rips along keeping the reader enthralled at all times and I was very sad when it ended so abruptly. I can hardly wait for the sequel now.
To summise then, this is a story of mans inhumanity to man and other species, downright cruelty, madness, deep sadness and a boy and a girls sheer determination to try and do what is right.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough as an adult and I think older children will also find it enjoyable. Well done Mr. Ness.
on 23 August 2012
If you're a reader: prepare to have your heartstrings torn apart. This is a fast-paced story, with a vivid dystopian world, plenty of action and dangling plot reveals galore to keep you reading even when you want to give Todd a good kick in the shins.
If you're a writer: prepare to have your heartstrings torn apart, and your writer-brain given a good education. Want to know how to make a difficult-to-like (ignorant, bull-headed prejudiced, angry) character loveable? Want to know how to write a convincing male character, from teenage mood swings to some words being misspelled cuz he ain't had much of an educayshun? Want to know how to reveal information slowly without frustrating your readers? Step right up and get reading.
There are so many secrets in this story that you want to find out the answer to. You know the secrets are there because Todd is constantly doubting and second-guessing his info and other characters are fighting not to spill the beans.
So Ness keeps feeding you important information, big shocking reveals, while putting obstacles in the way to stop you finding out the whole picture all at once. For instance: in a world where everyone can hear your thoughts, knowing too much is a liability so a lot of info is kept from Todd so that it can't be overheard. And a lot of the important info is in a book Todd carries everywhere, but he's illiterate and too proud and defensive to admit he can't read it.
Patrick has an impressively strong grasp of how to withhold information without it feeling forced or unrealistic, and how to 'drip-feed' important information to the readers without overwhelming them.
Either way: This is an interesting and dark dystopian that breaks out of the genre box and takes a lot of risks. While these risks (the misspelled narration, the constant dangling of plot info in front of your face) might lose it a few fans, it'll earn Patrick Ness many, many more.
I'll definitely be picking up the sequel, though after the emotional throat-punch that was this book I might have to take a break in-between.
on 24 May 2012
the knife of never letting go was brillaint! one of the best books ever. im 13 and i have read all the books in this series and could not put any of them down!!
on 14 June 2012
After I noticed that 'Monsters of Men' (the third book in this Chaos Walking trilogy) had won the Carnegie Prize, I set out to discover what all the fuss was about and started from the beginning. I knew nothing about the book beforehand, and that made the narrative from the clueless and illiterate male protagonist all the richer.
The story is told with the voice of a young lad named Todd, who believes he knows all the facts of his world, but it is quickly evident, that everything he has ever been told has been part of an elaborate conspiracy... one that he, unfortunately, is at the very centre of.
Todd's character is well drawn out - he has a good heart, is heroic but is flawed like any real person and makes terrible mistakes and impossible choices. The twists and turns just keep on coming as you turn the pages (food and sleep are forgotten) and your heart rate rarely has time to slow down as the story puts you through its relentlessly fast pace.
This story has suspense, intrigue, social commentry and good role models for younger readers. The characters are superb and Todd's dog makes an amusing sidekick! I laughed often, I was shocked often and at one point, I was down right devastated - this book has all the right ingredients one could want from an exciting and fulfilling read.
on 24 August 2012
For about the first 30 pages of this title, I struggled. I couldn't get into the story - I found Todd's style of speech and thought processes uneven and hard to follow and couldn't get my head around the concept of Noise (which is how the constant rage of men's thoughts is referred to). I was seriously considering giving up. Then, I suddenly just got it. The story literally swept me away and I couldn't put it down.
Todd is an interesting character. He is certainly flawed, lacks confidence and is more than a little sullen when we first meet him. Through the course of the book he undergoes some of the best character development I have come across in recent fiction (YA or adult). He doesn't suddenly become a hero and he isn't always likeable, yet I couldn't help but really cheer for him all the way through the book. I don't think I have ever want things to work out for a character so much - the more that happens to him, the more you desperately want him to succeed. He doesn't always make the right choices and he doesn't always understand the implications of the choices that he does make, yet picks himself up and just keeps going be it on his literal journey to safety or the metaphorical journey towards manhood (the two of which collide stunningly towards the end of the book).
Viola is quite a different character. She reminded me more of the kind of character I am used to in fiction. Quite, determined and loyal she remains stoic and committed during some really awful encounters and also keeps Todd going when his belief system is constantly being contested. Their relationship is interesting, going from distrust to a tentative friendship to complete reliance on each other. At no point does this feel forced and it gives the story great credence that they don't fall into a romance that would, in all honesty, be completely unbelievable considering everything that they have to deal with.
Then there is Prentisstown - the place, and the people from whom Todd is running. It really is a place of pure evil, reflecting all the hate, rage, grief and bitterness of its inhabitants. It is the product of men who no longer have anything to lose having already lost more than they can possibly bear, and it is terrifying. It is a place that will stay with me for some time to come - Patrick Ness has gone incredibly close to the bone and created a place where there is no hope, joy or love and characters who made my skin crawl and kept me awake at night.
The actually writing style is pretty incredible. I've not come across anything quite like it but it conveys Todd's inner thoughts and turmoil incredibly effectively and there are also some very beautiful moments. I honestly think that, as an expression of his first glimpse of true friendship and hope for the future, the line, "Now that I've seen her, I can't stop seeing her" is stunning in its sheer simplicity.
The Knife of Never Letting Go is literally some of the best writing out there for all readers, young adult or otherwise. I cannot recommend it highly enough.