Y’all….this trilogy was a ride. From start to finish I struggled to put them down and the final book in the series had me sitting in my kitchen, perched on the edge of my seat. That kitchen seat is miserable! I just couldn’t take the three seconds to walk into another room and get comfortable. This trilogy grabbed me and didn’t let go.
BOOK ONE: THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO
Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him — something so awful Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears too. With hostile men from the town in pursuit, the two stumble upon a strange and eerily silent creature: a girl. Who is she? Why wasn’t she killed by the germ like all the females on New World? Propelled by Todd’s gritty narration, readers are in for a white-knuckle journey in which a boy on the cusp of manhood must unlearn everything he knows in order to figure out who he truly is. From Goodreads.
I originally bought this book at the beginning of 2021 when I decided to try the Book to Movie challenge. My reading got away from me for a big block of 2021 but, oddly, it was this book and a Dewey’s Readathon that brought it back. This book grabbed me right from the beginning with the thoughts of Todd’s dog Manchee.
“The first thing you find out when yer dog leans to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say. About anything. ‘Need a poo, Todd'”The Knife of Never Letting Go, Chaos Walking Book One by Patrick Ness
What a ludicrous and wonderful way to start a science fiction trilogy where, unless you are a female human, all of your thoughts are laid bare.
Or perhaps, not all of your thoughts. Fairly quickly, the reader learns that the Noise that Todd can hear can be a nuanced thing and that some men have the ability to bury thoughts and memories under heaps of Noise. This is a skills Todd better learn quickly if he is to escape Prentisstown and the miserable plans of the Major with a girl he finds in the swamp.
The Knife of Never Letting Go was a relentless adventure that kept my heart pounding as Todd and the girl, Viola, try to flee from Prentisstown and the nightmare men and make their way to the city of Haven where they hope to find safety.
It is difficult for me to emphasis that while this book was a fast paced and adventurous, it had deeply moving moments and dark themes – note that this is a YA novel. Dehuminization and colonization are clear themes and, as we read more and more, there is something dark and sinister that has happened to all the women.
The author employs misspellings of words to make it clear that Todd has an accent that, to me, comes across as universally rural. This short cut allowed me to hear Todd’s voice clearly from his first thoughts and wasn’t overplayed. This and the free form type setting brought the story depth and added to the speed of Todd and Viola’s escape.
The ending of this book had me frantically searching for the second in the series. A cliffhanger is the most unwelcome thing….unless your library hands you the second copy!
It is impossible to discuss a series without spoilers. Sometimes I inadvertently spoil a book for myself by reading the book jacket blurb. Subsequent books always have a line like, “now that she knows she a witch,” or, “having vanquished the evil emperor,” and you just know that it was the penultimate moment from the prior book. I don’t intentionally give spoilers below but read on at your own risk!
BOOK TWO: THE ASK AND THE ANSWER
We were in the square, in the square where I’d run, holding her, carrying her, telling her to stay alive, stay alive till we got safe, till we got to Haven so I could save her – But there weren’t no safety, no safety at all, there was just him and his men…
Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd has carried a desperately wounded Viola right into the hands of their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss. Immediately separated from Viola and imprisoned, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor’s new order. But what secrets are hiding just outside of town? And where is Viola? Is she even still alive? And who are the mysterious Answer? And then, one day, the bombs begin to explode…
“The Ask and the Answer” is a tense, shocking and deeply moving novel of resistance under the most extreme pressure. This is the second title in the “Chaos Walking” trilogy. from Goodreads.
Oof. This book was dark. In the first book, The Knife of Never Letting Go, it was more clear who were the heroes and who were the villains. But, here, I am lost. Which is up and which is down??
I held onto Viola in this book. As she and Todd were frequently separated there were more moments of her own growth and evolution as a character instead of as a foil to Todd. Similarly, as Todd is shuffled from one horrible situation to the next, he is forced to evaluated what is right, what is wrong, and what he is willing to do to survive and get Viola back.
As with a lot of YA books the feelings are in full force in this story. The trick to YA is to approach it ready to bask in the glow of overwhelming feelings even when they seem improbable and outrageous. But, seriously, Todd and Viola are teenagers – somewhere between 14 and 16 depending on the calendar used and they feel for each other in a way most people only experience at summer camp or on vacation – all of a sudden and deeply. If this seems improbable to you that is okay – but it happens and you need to be ready for this motivation to guide Todd and Viola in a way that logic just wouldn’t.
And I’m not judging. Again, these are teenagers, young ones, in the middle of an all-out war. They cannot tell whom to follow or whom to trust. Their entire support system is lost to them with the exception of each other. They do trust each other. Right? Right?!?
The hard part about this book is that you wanted to throttle them a bit. I could see the danger lurking just outside of their vision and there was no way to warn them. It.was.tense but in a much slower way that in the first book.
BOOK THREE: MONSTERS OF MEN
As a world-ending war surges to life around them, Todd and Viola face monstrous decisions. The indigenous Spackle, thinking and acting as one, have mobilized to avenge their murdered people. Ruthless human leaders prepare to defend their factions at all costs, even as a convoy of new settlers approaches. And as the ceaseless Noise lays all thoughts bare, the projected will of the few threatens to overwhelm the desperate desire of the many. The consequences of each action, each word, are unspeakably vast: To follow a tyrant or a terrorist? To save the life of the one you love most or thousands of strangers? To believe in redemption or assume it is lost? Becoming adults amid the turmoil, Todd and Viola question all they have known, racing through horror and outrage toward a shocking finale. from Goodreads.
This book stressed me out.
I sat down in my kitchen for the final 1/3 perched on the edge of my seat, knees bopping up and down and gulping down sips and nibbles. I gasped, I shouted – it was probably good that I wasn’t in public.
After the excitement and intensity of the first book, the second book felt like watching someone fold a fitted sheet. I just kept thinking, “Is this going to work or is this going to be a mess?” and it worked. Any struggle from the second book was worth it. However, the first chapters of this book made me wonder if the struggle was just going to continue. And then the Spackle show up.
Perhaps my reading of The Indigenous People’s History of the United States had some impact on my experience because I was all about the Spackle and their fight in this book. Patrick Ness had placed Viola and Todd in differing positions in this war and you could really how reasonable people because drunk with power and unreasonable people become the stable force of good. And I couldn’t help but think, who would I be? Would I become power hungry? A healer? Or the rational force of good in a chaotic world?
My biggest criticism of the trilogy comes in this book where there is no reason Todd and Viola can’t be side-by-side and yet they stay apart. I waited all of The Ask and the Answer for the roadblocks keeping them apart to be cleared and when they were, they still weren’t together. The character development because of this was tremendous but, c’mon, you told us they would die for each other and now they are a short horse ride apart and they choose to stay that way? Nope. And this is coming from a reader who is happy to go along with the only-female-humans-are-immune-to-the-Noise premise.
If you can get past this little bit, and obviously I did, Monsters of Men is the culmination we all deserve. It had things in it I did not see coming and moments that shockingly good. It stressed me out but it was worth it all.
Monsters of Men has a map in the front so this is my first book for Orilium! If you aren’t already on the Novice path there is still plenty of time to join – especially since the whole readathon really only requires the first two prompts to be fulfilled. Check out my original post here where you can get more details!
Tell me please! When is the last time a book physically stressed you out?