If there was a book I wished I had discovered or would have been available to me when I was a child it would have been this book.
It’s such a wonderful piece of fiction that doesn’t treat its intended audience as a child, in fact I found it quite inspiring. No matter how small you feel in the world, or how small others may make you feel; you can make a difference in the world and stand up for what you believe in, you can be a game changer.
I also feel that ‘The Knife of Never Letting Go‘ although a large book, could be a book that reluctant readers would enjoy, its themes are far reaching and everyone can connect to it in some way. It is a book about coming of age, adventure, friendship, suspense and is a roller-coaster of a ride!
Have you ever thought to yourself how great it would be if you could read minds, be able to tell what people were thinking, be able to find out secrets some people try so well to hide; it would be a phenomenal gift, wouldn’t it? But as the people of Prentisstown have discovered this gift is a curse!
From the fabulous mind of Patrick Ness; the author of A Monster Calls, The Rest of Us Just Live here, Release and More than This to name a few; comes the first book of his Chaos Walking Trilogy ‘The Knife of Never Letting Go‘ which has recently been re-released in a 10th Anniversary edition from Walker Books.
The Knife of Never Letting Go follows the story of a boy called Todd Hewitt who is the last boy living in Prentisstown a place where everyone can hear everyone’s thoughts. We follow Todd as he struggles with what is expected of him on his birthday when he becomes a man (the last boy in the town to do so). There is something hidden within the noise of the town; but what is it? Prentisstown is a strange place and cloaked under the bubbling noise are some rather dark secrets, stuffed deep down and buried within the cacophony of sound that could drive a person crazy. But what is it? Why can they all hear each others inner voices? What happens when Todd eventually becomes a man? Why are there only men in the town? And where and what happened to all the women?
I will try and keep this review as spoiler free as possible, as I believe the true beauty of this book is discovering the impact of it as a reader. We discover early on that things are not what they seem in Prentisstown as Todd flees with his dog (his only friend) Manchee as they set off on a journey to a far away place called Haven – but the people of Prentisstown are not happy with his disappearance and his fleeing sets off a chain reaction that leads to the town raising an army to chase him down and bring him back to where he belongs. All he has with him is a bag full of rations, his dog and a book that was left to him by his mother, her journals, now all he needs to do is survive his perilous journey, avoid the army, save a girl, learn to read and get to Haven. Simple.
‘Aaron stands over me, his Noise coming at me in fragments of scripture and of his next sermon and Language, young Todd and the finding of a sacrifice and the saint chooses his Path and God hears and the wash of pictures that’s in everyone’s Noise, of things familiar and glancing flashes of -‘
On his journey he stumbles across a girl called Viola, who joins him and Manchee on their quest to Haven. His discovery of Viola is brilliantly balanced, fear, terror, horror and suspense all rolled into a ball of moving energy, that rolls on throughout the novel. But Viola, who Todd ends up saving is a very strange specimen indeed. Todd cant here her noise, he cant read her thoughts the way he has been reading people his entire life, the birds, the cows, the noise of the river, his stupid dog, all of these have a noise, but she doesn’t, how can he trust someone he cant read? And the journey of adventure and discovery continues.
Patrick Ness in my opinion is a master storyteller, his works are something quite remarkable, and with The Knife of Never Letting Go, he once again delivers a fabulous tale that is so rich in its storytelling that one cant help but be swept away in the words and world that he creates, almost becoming a modern day fable along the way, something that young people (and adults) will talk about for a good many years to come.
The world created is so detailed and epic that it reminded me of the worlds that JRR Tolkien created in Lord of the Rings. The characters within the book are as equally well rounded; there is no room for any dead weight and it is a testament to his abilities as a writer that on such an grand scale of book, he ensures that these characters remain fresh in your mind, and fleshed out, even when they haven’t been integral to the story. Ness is creating a world that will be explored further down the line; the groundwork he lays within The Knife of Never Letting Go ensure that the story is based on a solid foundation, giving structure to the continuing adventure, he is in a way the master architect, and we are just his tenants – borrowing from his rich tapestry.
Ness’ character development of Todd, Viola, Manchee and Aaron are handled with a deft touch and in grappling with these characters and their interwoven histories and circumstances, has created some unforgettable characters and set pieces that leave their mark long after you finish the book (I now can’t wait to start the next book). Aaron’s transformation within the book is something I couldn’t help but enjoy, like a car crash you can’t help staring at, going from town preacher to a abhorrent menace and in my opinion the books stand out terror! Manchee is a brilliant addition to the cast of characters; due to the consequences of Prentisstown we are able to hear all that this silly canine says, through his noise and offers a welcome comedic relief to the story as it unfolds, and transforms from a mutt Todd didn’t really want to a loyal and valiant steed! Viola is another character that adds to the drama of this story, and it’s terrific to see such a strong female character in a story of this magnitude, she too has to prove herself in a world devoid of women, of where women are seen as second class citizens, sent out to tend fields and not to meddle in the discussions and way of life of the men. I really loved how she sticks up for herself and her transformation from the quiet damsel in distress to the fierce no nonsense girl we have standing before us at the stories conclusion. Todd’s transformation is also something quite remarkable to witness, as he transforms from the last boy in Prentisstown to man; his coming of age. I also loved the language he uses, as an unschooled child, Ness delicately weaves in words that are phonetically correct but are (of course) spelt incorrectly – he does this enough to make it a clear character trait, that the reader gets used to, but not enough to make it annoying or confusing for the reader.
‘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.”
“Shut up Manchee.”
“Poo. Poo. Todd.”
“I said shut it.”‘
The ‘noise‘ itself also becomes a character in its own right – often displayed in a chaotic scrawl of rambling fonts, scrawled over pages, appearing overlaid in various handwriting’s, showing the cacophony of noise that Todd and those of Prentisstown are constantly barraged by. It’s a terrific idea that is brilliantly wielded by Ness and adds a different dimension to this book for the reader. It also makes the reader think about what it would be like to live in a world where even your darkest fears, secrets and desires are there for the world to hear, what a strange world it would be – it would be like ‘Chaos Walking’ as Ness deftly details it.
The only issue one may have with the book is the detail of his quest, for me I loved it; but I could see this getting a little repetitive for the young adult that the book is aimed at. But for me I can see the need for it, like an oil painter, adding layer upon layer to create his epic landscape; the details of various settlements, communities and the environments explored add to the overall masterpiece and the journey that Ness is creating. Which I am sure will come more to the fore in the subsequent books, building a world that is immersive and unforgettable. But I can also see that some readers may find this aspect a little bogged down…as it sometimes seems quite repetitive.
If you are after something to sink your teeth into, an epic tale of discovery and coming of age; then I’d highly recommend getting on at the ground floor and purchasing a copy now. The new 10th Anniversary Edition is beautiful and you can get the whole collection from the link below. The book may be called The Knife of Never Letting Go, but the book itself and the storytelling of Patrick Ness never let me go – as it’s an absorbing and unrelenting must read!
It is no coincidence that Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking Trilogy is getting the Hollywood makeover, the first book is brilliant and it was only a matter of time before the powers that be, would turn this into a film / franchise. The film is set to star Daisy Ridley (Viola), Tom Holland (Todd), Mads Mikkelsen (Mayor Prentiss) and David Oyelowo (Aaron) and is set for a 2019 release.
Trust me you will want to read it before the film comes out, before Hollywood adds it’s own slant on the story, sinking it’s claws into you and changing the experience you would have had…if you’d just read the book first!
The Knife of Never Letting Go is published by Walker Books and is available to purchase here.
I’m Patrick Ness. I claim three states in America as my home (as Americans are wont to do): I was born in Virginia, my first memories are Hawaiian, and I went to junior high and high school in Washington. Then I lived in California for college (at USC) and moved to the United Kingdom in 1999, where I’ve lived (mostly in London) ever since.
I’ve written nine books: 2 novels for adults (The Crash of Hennington and The Crane Wife), 1 short story collection for adults (Topics About Which I Know Nothing) and 6 novels for young adults (The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, Monsters of Men, A Monster Calls, More Than This and The Rest of Us Just Live Here).
For these books, I’ve won the Carnegie Medal twice, the Costa Children’s Book Award, the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, the Red House Book Award, the Jugendliteratur Preis, the UKLA Award, the Booktrust Teenage Prize and the fabulous, fabulous, fabulous Jim Kay also won the Greenaway for his illustrations in A Monster Calls (so buy that version, would you?).
I write screenplays as well, including for the movie version of A Monster Calls starring Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver and Felicity Jones, out January 2017.
I love the Decemberists, Peter Carey and A&W Cream Soda. I dislike onions. Intensely.
(From Patrick Ness Website – view here)
Reviewed by Ross Jeffery
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