Posted by: Natalie | March 22, 2012

Chaos Walking

Yes, I am aware that this is probably a good description of me at times; my flat does often look as though a whirlwind has visited for a brew, but no. This is the Patrick Ness trilogy which was given as a Christmas present. The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and The Answer, and Monsters of Men is a set of books which, as a whole I (am preparing for some argument here) think I prefer to The Hunger Games. It could simply be because I read these first, or because I knew very little about them. It could also be because these books were a surprise gift and therefore had the glow of thoughtfulness about them. Or, it could simply be a more compelling story, richly written.The series follows a reasonably simple format; a runaway story, a terrorist story, and a war. Happy, I know! But rather addictive. Another futuristic dystopia, in a land not dissimilar to what we know as, I suppose, middle America, mixed with both tales of science fiction and love. I think we might see already why I liked these stories. There is also something new and unfamiliar about the trilogy, a difference which is so refreshing after the penchant for teen fiction to dwell in dark fantastical corners. There are no fangs of heaving chests, thankfully, for the love born in this story is of a more naive manner so as not to detract from the themes of broken society. No, the first especially, has a new take on unnerving.

Todd Hewitt is a month from becoming a real man, from becoming thirteen years old in a town full of men and noise. For there are oddly no women in Prentisstown and as far as Todd’s ever known, no other humans on New World. Some years previous, their ships descended having run from a world tortured by war and destruction, and a new life begun on the strange planet fill with Spackle – a mysterious and quiet breed of humanoid, but not of any world we know of. Wars had supposedly eradicated the Spackle along with the women when Todd was nought but a baby, leaving him orphaned in this odd world filled with the rattling thoughts of men. For New World makes men’s thoughts loud, real and clear. Every thought, pure or otherwise, blasts loud and clear from every man at ALL times. Waking, sleeping, wandering. You cannot escape the others and they cannot escape you. It is all Todd has ever known, but it still drives him to distraction.

When enough is enough, Todd seeks the relative quiet of the swamp with his little dog Manchee – as an aside, the inclusion of the little poocher is some of the most entertaining narrative I have read in teen fiction, so cleverly done and perfectly placed, this is a book written by a man who knows dogs and their ultimate dedication to a master who loves them. Brilliant. Anyway, Yes, the relative quiet of the swamp as there is no escape, ever from the noise and nowhere else to go. Only Prentisstown exists, run by the terrible Mayor Prentiss; no school, no friends, no girls, no quiet. An awful, broken place filled with hate. But one day, while escaping the town, Todd stumbles on a moment of pure, undisturbed, heart-wrenching silence. He has never experienced such a cooling sensation, but has no idea how it is created. A moving bubble of pure quiet. But as soon as it’s sensed, it’s in his noise, it’s out in the town. All of a sudden Todd is in the greatest danger he could ever imagine. He has to run. He has to leave the only place in existence. He has to challenge everything he believes, everything he’s ever been told to unearth the truth of New World.

And so the premise of book one. It is really hard to discuss these books without giving much away, which I am desperate not to do as part of the wonder of these books are the juicy twists and turns. They are told in first person narrative which in the first instance is a little unsettling itself as Todd has poor literacy skills. Ness writes Todd’s narrative phonetically in places, with strange explanations for things he doesn’t clearly understand. What I think is truly beautiful though, this almost ‘yokel’ way of talking and naive manner in which Todd narrates, matures gradually through the trilogy. The feel of others and their influence on his journey, clearly rubs off on him and as his education develops (in one sense or another) so to does his eloquence. It is not instantly noticeable, only when you start to compare sections and flip between the three. In this, I think Ness is quite brave because a stumbling voice is not an easy thing to get used to at the very beginning. However, it works perfectly and I think is rather inventive.

Another brave thing about Ness, is something which often makes me a fan of an author – he is not afraid to kill off key characters, or what you perceive to be key. I understand when authors get precious about their characters, they have created them from nothing. Loved them, nurtured, breathed life and flesh and air into them. So why would an author want to cast asunder such an arduous, loved creation? I get this. But it keeps a book safe. A willingness to murder and slit throats and execute these beloved beings makes those twists and turns all the better – for who would ever see them coming?! Very clever. On more than one occasion I sat with popping eyes, a sulking bottom lip and distress written all over my face; unable to turn a page nor put the book down. There was one section towards the end of The Knife of Never Letting Go where I honestly thought I couldn’t start the next chapter, I was in fear for what was going to happen. There are very few books which have me almost quaking in my shoes. I also actually shouted out loud on the last page of both book one and two as it left me on such an unbearable cliff edge. Had I not already had the next book waiting on the shelf, someone would have got hurt in my frustration! Patrick Ness really knows how to leave you not just wanting more but actively baying for blood to get it.

A remarkable series, brilliantly written. A complete escape into another world which tugs on every emotion you have – and some you didn’t feel capable of. I really struggled to put them down and was a little sad that there was no more to come. However, if you have a kindle, there is a prequel focussing on Todd’s counterpart and their journey to New World, New World is FREE to download from Amazon now. This is genuinely the only time I have questioned my stubborn belief to not own one!!

Go. Read. Enjoy. Then let me know what you think.



  1. […] through similarly dystopic teen books such as those I have read recently; The Hunger Games or Chaos Walking, before I lead them into the broken adult […]

  2. […] In The Knife of Never Letting Go, he broke me good and proper through a medium I usually . . . hate. Yes, that would be the word. I have no time for animal based antics in stories written or otherwise; I refused to watch Lassie, I loathed Flipper and don’t even get me started on Gentle Ben. Needless to say, Black Beauty is not on my shelves. Granted, the first instalment of Chaos Walking is definitely not an animal story, but it does have the humanistic incarnation of a Jack Russell which I just fell head over heels in love with. This in itself was totally unexpected for me and I can only attribute this to Ness’ wonderful writing and skilful toying with feelings like in some slightly sadistic emotional playground. I had to stop reading. I physically had to put the book down to pull myself together. I would actually force people into reading this book in front of me just to see them crumble as I did (now who’s sadistic?!). […]

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