My first encounter with Patrick Ness was from reading A Monster Calls, which I got on my Kindle and absolutely LOVED, but I had no idea that the printed version had illustrations, so then I had to get that, too. then I realised how extensive his bibliography is, and since I love dystopias, especially when they’re a part of a series, I thought I’d give Chaos Walking a go.
The Knife of Never Letting Go is a Dystopia set on an unspecified planet at an unspecified point in the future. It begins with Todd, a young boy living in a small village called Prentisstown, where there are no women, where everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts which they call ‘noise’. We quickly learn that Todd is the youngest boy in the village, and is about to go through the villages ritual of becoming a man. But before he has the opportunity, Todd and his dog Manchee (who also shares his thoughts with Todd, which is hilarious if you don’t mind constantly hearing about his toilet habits) discover a spot out in the swamp where there is no noise at all and before they know it Todd and Manchee are thrust out into the wider world beyond their village, pursued by an army who mean to bring them back, discovering a world filled with violence, tragedy and absolute wonder.
Patrick Ness knows how to write a story no matter what scale it’s being told on. He understands his audience, his characters, their voices and how to commit to them. He knows how to build worlds, and create monsters, and reveal secrets just slowly enough to keep you guessing and reading, but without boring his audience by dangling unattainable information over they heads for the whole series. And so much happens! Every time I planned to put the book down after one more chapter so that I could go and live my life, something would happen and I’d have to keep reading.
Todd’s character is so sympathetic, constantly torn between his head and his heart in the way that only a child can be, but in the face of incredibly adult decisions and situations. There are so many books about girls now, and what it means to be a woman, which is fantastic, but rarely do we get to see stories about what it means to grow up into a man in a way that’s realistic. Often male characters are confident to begin with, and assured in their identities and abilities, but Todd is growing up in a world that tells him that the only way to become a man is to commit violence, to go against every instinct that he has and we get to see him struggle with that. I thought Viola’s character made a wonderful contrast to this, as with many of the other female characters, she even as a young girl knows who she is and what she’s doing. She isn’t there only as someone for Todd to save or to seem strong by comparison to, they are both as capable as one another.
I do think the story was limited somewhat by being told strictly in Todd’s perspective, we can only know what he knows, can only understand what he understands, and for much of the novel he didn’t know very much at all and while this adds authenticity to Todd’s narrative it left me wanting a lot of the time as I wanted to know more about particular side stories and histories of the other villages and their inhabitants. As Todd passes by the various neighbouring towns he encounters so many interesting ways of life, creatures and people that are well thought out, but pass us by rather hurriedly and it is a shame because Ness has created a fascinating world, and I’d like to read about more of it.
Luckily those sequels mean that I can!