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The Knife of Never Letting Go (2008)

by Patrick Ness

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Chaos Walking (1)

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6,5823981,380 (4)1 / 452
Pursued by power-hungry Prentiss and mad minister Aaron, young Todd and Viola set out across New World searching for answers about his colony's true past and seeking a way to warn the ship bringing hopeful settlers from Old World.

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Showing 1-5 of 386 (next | show all)
Like most books, this is a mixture of good and bad, though I think it will tend to polarise readers. I enjoyed some aspects, but for me, the negative elements balanced those out.

Todd is a 12-year-old boy fast approaching his 13th birthday when boys become men where he lives: Prentisstown. He is the youngest member of the community, and the last to be classified as a boy, so his only friend now is a dog, Manchee. It is clear from the start that his world is a strange one because it both tells us that dogs can talk, and it is in Todd's very individual first-person, present-tense narration:
The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don't got nothing much to say.

Prenticetown is a nightmare place because everyone in it - and all are male - broadcasts their thoughts constantly, so that the nearer to town Todd approaches, the more overwhelming it becomes. This phenomena is known as Noise. Todd lives on a farm with his parents, two men named Ben and Cillian, who raised him after his mother and father died, supposedly from a disease unleashed by the Spackle, the original natives, as part of a war which the humans eventually won. For this is New World, and the settlers arrived from Old World (probably Earth) which humans had despoiled, to found a simple rural existence based on a god-fearing religion. But things have gone desperately wrong in Prentisstown, named after its mayor, as the only religion preached is one of hellfire and damnation by the crazy preacher Aaron, and the mayor has his own private army and runs a protection racket. The community is dying, as its members perish or disappear, and the absence of women means Todd was the last child to have been born.

Todd has been sent to gather apples in the swamp - presumably a native fruit the colonists call by that name - where he encounters a strange silence: a gap in the everpresent Noise which also encompasses the native wildlife, though the simple thoughts of birds and animals are far less grating, as they lack the despair, desperation and self-deceit of the men. When he returns through town, he can't help letting a trace of this silence show in his own Noise, and it is picked up by Aaron, with terrible consequences. For the local deputy, the mayor's son, arrives to arrest Todd, and after Cillian hits him and makes him leave, Ben and Cillian tell Todd he must escape. He must cross the swamp with the help of a map Ben has pre-prepared, to another community, taking a rucksack of supplies which includes his own mother's journal. The answers to all his questions are in that journal, but unfortunately Todd reads poorly: the mayor has outlawed books and education, and it isn't possible to teach boys in secret because they can't conceal the fact in the Noise they broadcast. Todd is bewildered because, until now, he has been taught the mayor's propaganda, that Prentisstown is the only surviving settlement, the others having been wiped out in the war with the Spackle.

In the swamp, Todd encounters the silence again, who turns out to be a human girl from the crash of a scout ship which preceded a new convoy of colonists, still enroute to the planet. At first she appears to be mute, possibly due to the trauma of losing her parents in the crash. Because she does not broadcast her thoughts, she is an enigma to Todd, but soon he has to protect her from Aaron's murderous assault. And so the non-stop running begins, as they first travel to the community on Ben's map, pursued by a posse of Prentisstown men and Aaron, and uncover the first of the lies Todd has been told: there are several other settlements, and all the others still have women and children, with all the girls and women lacking the Noise, and the men having theirs much more under control and with less violence in it.

As the story continues, it becomes clear that the men of Prentisstown are looked on as criminals by the other communities, but those communities are unable to stand against the army which the mayor of Prentisstown eventually sends after Todd.

The plus points in the story are the originality of the premise of Noise and the mystery of what really happened in the past. The character building is good on the whole, with different dialects developed for the communities which Todd and Viola encounter. Todd's dog Manchee is very well developed as a convincing talking dog. The native lifeforms on the planet are interesting also. Violence is described realistically, and the effects of sickness/fever are well depicted. There is a hint at a possible future romance between the two young people, but it is developed very gradually and is very understated, which is a plus point given their dissimilar backgrounds and the various traumas they encounter.

However, I had several problems with the book. First was the constant use of misspellings in Todd's narrative. Granted that he speaks differently, so I could accept the ungrammatical usage and the made-up words, but I didn't think words had to be spelled phonetically - he is illiterate so it's not as if he would have written them down that way and it seemed illogical. Maybe it's because in his Noise they would be seen that way by others?

Second, was the convenience of certain plot elements. A man at the first settlement attacks Todd because of what the Prentisstown men have done, yet we don't see what images his Noise is showing Todd - even though the narrative is in present tense. That doesn't make sense. In past tense, Todd could choose to hold back that info, but here he is being shown it at the moment he describes the attack, so to hide it from the reader is dishonest, frankly. Secondly, why does Viola refuse to speak until they reach the first community: her sudden fluent utterance makes it clear she has chosen to keep quiet. This doesn't make sense: they have escaped from an attack by Aaron, who it later transpires had been chasing her through the swamp and tormenting her for days; surely she would warn Todd that he might be a continuing threat?

It is normal in adventure stories to pile on the conflict and the difficulties which the characters have to overcome, but here it is almost like a Hanna Barbera cartoon. Aaron, in particular, is a pantomime villain who can never be killed: assault by crocs, having his nose bitten off, clubbed with rocks - he's almost like a zombie or some other horror film character who keeps popping up.

A lot of the story consists in the characters running and running and running, from one place to another, trying to reach Haven, the original settlement on the planet, which they hope will be better defended than the other communities, and which might still have a working communicator so that Viola can warn her people that they will land in the middle of a war. For most of the time, they journey alongside a river so it's odd that they quite often have to climb hills, and I didn't find the layout of the terrain and the way the river formed falls a couple of times either clear or convincing.

As part of the piling on of misery for Todd throughout the story, my favourite character is killed off: Manchee. I had tried not to become too fond of this character as I had the feeling it was inevitable: it's a bit of a cliche these days in YA books that the protagonist has to suffer a devastating loss through death of someone close to them. The main theme of the story is Todd's conflict between his wanting to become a man, which in Prentisstown terms means being a tough guy who won't hesitate to kill someone, and his reluctance when he has the opportunity to kill either Aaron or the mayor's son, both of whom go on to inflict devastating losses because he didn't kill them earlier. This conflict is centred on the knife which Ben gave him as he sent him off, and possibly the knife is meant to symbolise the baggage of Prentisstown as well its role as essential tool and weapon.

The book ends on a cliffhanger which seems to make all the preceding sacrifice null and void. So it will be interesting to see if the writer follows through or throws the reader a line. Because of the weight of negative aspects, I can only rate this volume as 3 stars. ( )
  kitsune_reader | Nov 23, 2023 |
Picked this up at the suggestion of a friend. Really cool premise. A bit slow in the middle, really picks up at the end, and then leaves off on the worst cliffhanger. You pretty much have to get the second book right away.

Unfortunately I had recently bought the Hunger Games trilogy and wasn't looking to get sucked into another dystopian series, so I didn't, and now I've lost interest. Still a pretty good book, though. ( )
  nilaffle | Nov 6, 2023 |
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness has been on my TBR since around the time I read and loved my first book of Ness’s— A Monster Calls...but so have a ton of other books, and many for much longer than that. It was really when I began hearing talk of a movie based on the book that I finally decided to make it my next read. While it did turn out to be a lot different than A Monster Calls I am still glad that I gave this one a try because I really enjoyed it!

The Knife of Never Letting Go is the first of a trilogy surrounding our main character Todd Hewitt. In this first book, Todd is living with two guardians in a place called Prentisstown. This town is strange for many reasons, but probably the biggest two reasons are that:

1. There are no women of any age
2. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts

The constant stream of thought that fills the air just like voices is referred to as “noise” and is caused by a germ that killed the women and brought this “noise” from the men and animals into the open for all to hear.

Todd knows that in the midst of all this noise, it’s not difficult to hide something if you really want to and have learned certain techniques. He has no idea, however, just how many secrets are actually being hidden from him until the day he finds something strange in the swamp on the edge of town. When he comes back through town and home that day, his thoughts begin to give away his new knowledge and his guardians have prepared for him to leave town and off into unknown territory, alone. Todd is scared, confused, and ill prepared for such a trip but he does have his trusty and endearingly loyal sidekick Manchee— his talking dog— and a pack of scant supplies. Among these supplies are:

- a knife
- a book he can’t even read
- a rudimentary map
- a bit of food
- a few other random resources like
first aid supplies

From this point, Todd comes across many allies and enemies on his road to answers. He is forced to take on responsibilities and make decisions all while not having a clue what is going on most of the time. I feel like Todd’s character went through a lot of development as this journey mirrored an inner journey of self discovery for him. The supporting characters were also very unique and interesting, particularly Manchee and Viola. Manchee was seriously the best and I wanted to like hug Todd for every time he told him “good dog” because he really was and that’s all Manchee wanted was to be good for Todd.

At first it was a bit annoying that Todd kept repeating things to himself like “idiot” and “stupid” and otherwise demeaning himself or saying “whatever” to completely dismiss ideas on a consistent basis. But after a while it began to make sense that when your noise is so loud and thoughts become even harder to ignore than they normally would, having things to say to dismiss them and try to block them out might work as a sort of coping mechanism. These words become a tool that can be used to manipulate the constant stream of noise, keeping certain thoughts or ideas at bay.

Still, the book was definitely hard for me to get into at first due to things like this and just the characters’ overall dialect. But after getting past how weird it seems to begin with, it started to feel necessary. Like how can you make the topic of your book about this never ending stream of thought, words, and images called “noise” without addressing what it would actually sound like and how thoughts become their own sort of language at that point.

And as you can imagine, a book about hearing all the thoughts of living things also has a lot to say about how different mind sets reap very different results. There are some ideas presented in particular about living in the moment vs. living out the past vs. living in hope of a better future somewhere.

I overall enjoyed this portrayal of the concept of “mind-reading” or hearing others thoughts. I also liked the characters and especially appreciated Todd’s journey of having to come to terms with his past, how he fits into the world now, and what future might await him and Viola, if any at all. I give The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness 4/5 stars.

★★★★☆ ( )
  rianainthestacks | Nov 5, 2023 |
I loved this book. Seriously, one of my favorite books of the year. It would constantly take twist and turns which kept me briskly reading. Nice concept, excellently executed. I wish I had written it. I will immediately start reading the sequel. ( )
  cdaley | Nov 2, 2023 |
A great YA trilogy - worth reading. ( )
  JennyPocknall | Oct 19, 2023 |
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Podehl, NickNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.
George Eliot, Middlemarch
For Michelle Kass
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The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don't got nothing much to say.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Pursued by power-hungry Prentiss and mad minister Aaron, young Todd and Viola set out across New World searching for answers about his colony's true past and seeking a way to warn the ship bringing hopeful settlers from Old World.

No library descriptions found.

Book description
Haiku summary
Silence in the noise,
questing and learning to trust,
dangerous New World.
Todd Hewitt is the
last boy in Prentisstown. What
will make him a man?

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Candlewick Press

2 editions of this book were published by Candlewick Press.

Editions: 0763639311, 0763645761


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