The Chaos Walking Trilogy:
25. The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness – 496 pages
26. The Ask and the Answer – Patrick Ness – 536 pages
27. Monsters of Men – Patrick Ness – 601 pages
Overall rating for the trilogy: 5 stars
"The Noise is a man unfiltered, and without a filter, a man is just chaos walking." – The Knife of Never Letting Go
I’m trying to leave the synopsis as spoiler-free as possible.
Ever wish you could know what men were thinking? Todd is the last boy of Prentisstown, raised by his adoptive parents Ben and Cillian. He will become a man in one month’s time. He’s always, deep down, known that something was wrong in Prentisstown. There are no women in the town, and the men’s thoughts are broadcasted, tangled and confusing and overall, Noisy. One day, Todd and his dog, Manchee, are exploring in the woods and Todd comes across a patch of silence, something he’s never heard before.
Generations ago, settlers came to New World for a New Start, though they ended up bringing their troubles with them, fighting a war with the indigenous aliens, the Spackle, and with the women. Todd believes the world to be totally free of Spackle and women.
When he finds out that the patch of silence is a young woman who crashed from a scout ship from a ship carrying 5,000 new settlers to New World, he realizes his entire town has lied to him, and he has to run.
The first book follows the story of Todd and Viola. Todd and Viola flee Prentisstown and realize that there are other civilizations on New World, all of which are very different from where they came from. In the second novel, Todd and Viola are caught between the two leaders of New Prentisstown who are vying for power, and they continue to grow up into a man and a woman who have to make very difficult decisions when faced with impossible choices.
The narration is very clever. It is first person, and Todd’s narrative is fractured, badly-spelled and as open an honest as his Noise. It’s natural and very easy to fall into. In the second nook, Viola’s narration is added, and a third narration is added to the conclusion of the trilogy, and it would be a total spoiler to say who it is.
There is also some innovations with the typography. The Noise, when it overwhelms a character, will fill the page with scrawling words. The noise and different narrations are in various fonts that capture the tone of the person or expression. It would be fun to have this translated into a full-cast audiobook.
The characterization is very natural and sweet. I’ve grown to love Todd and Viola, even though both of them have made true and horrible mistakes in their quest to do the right thing. The secondary characters are fleshed-out and sympathetic. The villains still have sympathetic sides and you pity them as much as you hate them, or you understand their reasoning.
The world is well-developed and I liked the rough country feel of the world. It’s a bit like Firefly in that respect—a sci-fi western. They have some advanced technology left over from when they first arrived on the world, but most has been forgotten and they travel by horseback and use regular rifles.
Sometimes the narration is redundant. Todd will have a stream of consciousness where he will interrupt himself mid-thought or say the same word over and over again (like “Viola” for example). It works for his character but it can be annoying at times.
As the books continue and new narrations are added, sometimes the scenes blend and you have the same scene from everyone’s point of view, which can also be a bit annoying. However, considering I could read half of one of these volumes in a day, it didn’t put me off too much.
This trilogy has won the James Tiptree Junior Award, the Costa Childrens’ Fiction Prize, the Guardian Award, and others. I can see why. It’s original and sheer fun to read. I haven’t been glued to a page or stayed up past midnight furiously reading a book for some time.
Patrick Ness is an American who now lives in London. He said that inspiration from the Noise came from the internet, where information is spread nonstop. From an interview at YA Reads, he states:
“It was two ideas really, as I like to say, one serious, one stupid. The serious one was that the world is a noisy place already, with mobiles and the internet and networking sites and on and on. You can’t really turn anywhere without someone telling you their opinion. So I thought the next logical step was, what if you couldn’t get away? What if you and everyone else was completely robbed of privacy? Especially if you were a young person.
The other idea was that I’ve never liked books about talking dogs, and I thought it would be funny to have a dog character talk like an actual dog would, instead of just being a miniature person. And I think dogs would talk about things important to a dog, like eating and going to the bathroom and how excited they were to see you.”
And in light of that, the first book starts with Manchee saying “Poo, Todd.”
It does have some deep themes about how difficult it is to grow up and to find your own voice among the multitudes, how difficult it can be for the different genders to understand each other, how stupid and power-hungry adults can be, and the utter ridiculousness of most violence and war. The trilogy has a little in common with Avatar, with a clear message that the earth has a voice and the Spackle are in harmony with nature whereas man causes chaos wherever he goes.
This is technically young adult, but it has themes that adults would benefit from reading as well. This trilogy is glued to my list of favourite young adult trilogies and it’s one I think I’ll re-read again and again. They’re an excellent read.
(P.S. My journal enjoys getting new friends. I write about books, television and film (occasionally), and life as an ex-pat American in Scotland. Warning: occasional whinging about how freaking difficult it is to find employment these days. Add if you like!)