“The Noise is a man unfiltered, and without a filter, a man is just chaos walking.”
Written by Patrick Ness and originally published in 2008, The Knife of Never Letting Go is the first book in the Chaos Walking young adult trilogy. Set in the near future, the story follows 12-year-old Todd Hewitt, the only boy left in a town called Prentisstown. Todd has been brought up to believe that a pathogen has killed all women in a colony world and that the alien inhabitants unleashed a germ called The Noise, giving everybody the ability to hear everyone else’s thoughts. A month away from becoming a man, Todd comes upon a patch of silence and soon discovers the source: a girl. With hostile men from the town in pursuit, the two go on the run, along with Todd’s loyal dog, Manchee, and learn more about the true history of the New World a secret about Prentisstown’s past.
Just when you think that the hype of young adult dystopias has run out and the adaptations of franchises such as Divergent, The Hunger Games, and The Maze Runner have all come to end, suddenly you find a trilogy like Patrick Ness‘ Chaos Walking and realise that there’s still a lot more to look forward to.
The Knife of Never Letting Go is set in a world full of dark secrets. What really happened to the women? How did the virus begin? What lies on the other side of the swamp? And why is it so important that Todd reaches his birthday?
You may think that you know what you’re getting into with a story like this. Todd has to become a man so, obviously, his adventure through a world that he has been forbidden to explore will lead to some form of self-discovery. And then there’s a girl, the only girl Todd has ever met. She’s obviously going to get in the way of that. And there’s a virus which has taken the lives of all of the women on this planet. Why did that happen? And let’s not forget the antagonists who are going to slow Todd’s progress down.
It’s a basic premise we’ve seen explored in various different contexts many times before: something altering the world as we know it as a young adult protagonist finds the courage to become a hero and change the world for the better. Okay, so The Knife of Never Letting Go is similar on many of those levels, but it’s also much more than that.
If you’ve read anything by Ness before, you will know that his stories are always much richer and deeper, almost always with a nightmarish quality to them. With underlying themes of dehumanization, colonization, slavery, racism and sexism, this isn’t just about coming-of-age heroism, a first-time romance, and someone’s efforts to defeat the bad and make the world a better place. Todd has a talking dog for one thing, and if that isn’t enough to intrigue you then I don’t know what is.
Although I found the book difficult to get into for the first few chapters because of the use of a broken language, the concept of everything having its own noise really interested me. Manchee the dog doesn’t talk like a human, he communicates just as you would expect a dog to, and the bond between him and Todd is a really lovely one to read. Their adventures alone are worth picking this book up for.
I didn’t know what to expect with this book and there are certainly some shocking twists in store. There’s constantly something new being revealed, the new world setting is unique and interesting to explore, and the characters are all well developed with Todd and Viola’s relationship following a believable path. Their characters are equals which is a great move by Ness, as young adult books too often rely on a blossoming romance over more in-depth developments.
The cliff-hanger at the end is a big one, too. Even if you were unsure about the book beforehand, its ending will definitely encourage you to continue reading the rest of the franchise.
The Knife of Never Letting Go is currently being adapted into a film, which I will upload the trailer for as soon as one becomes available.