The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. Book One in the Chaos Walking Trilogy.
Opening sentence: “The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say.”
Published in 2008, quite a few people have recommended this book (the whole trilogy in fact) to me over the years with, as I now know, good reason. I have dipped my toe into the Patrick Ness water before with A Monster Calls and The Rest of Us Just Live Here and I’m just hooked on his wonderful writing style (as well as brilliantly innovative stories), so knew I was in for a treat. The Knife of Never Letting Go sits in the dystopian young adult genre and follows Todd Hewitt as he finds himself running for his life. The thing is, he’s not exactly sure why…
Todd lives in Prentisstown, a settlement in the New World that’s now populated only by men after a virus killed all the women. The virus also causes ‘Noise’ – men hear each other’s thoughts as a constant, droning, mish-mash of words, ideas and feelings – it all merges to create, well, a big chaotic noise. Add in the fact that animals can also talk and, as you can imagine, this is not conducive to the most relaxing of living conditions.
One day Todd is out in the swamp and hears – or rather doesn’t hear – something significant. A patch of silence. Coming from a girl. Girls and women have no noise. But he thought there were no women or girls left in the New World? Running home to tell his guardians, Cillian and Ben, what he has found, he unwittingly stumbles upon a secret that triggers a life-changing series of events for him. He needs to leave Prentisstown – and run for his life.
He’s not alone in his journey, he has his adorable dog Manchee (who, of course, can talk to a certain extent) and the aforementioned girl, Viola, who also finds herself in a perilous situation and teams up with Todd out of necessity. Their friendship, of course, develops and becomes a wonderful addition to the story.
There is also a heartwarming parable-quality to the narrative, the town Todd and Viola are aiming for is even called Haven, so it’s not exactly a cryptic sub-text:
‘We keep going until we get to Haven.’ ‘And then what?’ She don’t say nothing to that.
‘That’s a lotta faith we’re putting in a word,’ I say. ‘There’s got to be something, Todd,’ she says, her face kinda grim. ‘There has to be something there.’
This message of the importance of hope just glows from the pages and gives a positive twist to what is a very dystopian plot. Hope is the only thing keeping Todd and Viola going on their journey and they really need to have that faith, as the level of catastrophe and danger never lets up. As a page turner, it is superb.
I enjoy an intelligent, action-packed young adult saga (Harry Potter and The Hunger Games both spring to mind as favourites), but I guess the most important question to ask when you finish book one of a trilogy is: Do I really want to use my valuable reading time on the next one and therefore dedicate myself to the entire trilogy? The answer is a resounding yes, yes I do. To say The Knife of Never Letting Go was left on a cliffhanger is an understatement, I cannot wait for the next installment, which, yes, I know was published in 2009, but I have The Ask and the Answer (book two) reserved in the library, so have to wait my turn. Fingers crossed it’s in my hands soon!