Todd Hewitt is the last boy in Prentisstown.
But Prentisstown isn't like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else's thoughts in a constant, overwhelming, never-ending Noise. There is no privacy. There are no secrets.
Or are there?
Just one month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd unexpectedly stumbles upon a spot of complete silence.
Which is impossible.
Prentisstown has been lying to him.
And now he's going to have to run...
This book got a lot of buzz on a number of blogs I read last year (well, I think it was last year) and it went into the back of mind as something I might give a try. I can't remember what tipped the scales and got me to put it on hold at the library, but I picked it up last weekend and started reading it once I finished The Compass Rose. Like many others had said in their reviews, once I'd started reading I couldn't stop. I didn't actually read it in one sitting, but it took me less than 36 hours to get from start to finish. Then today, realising I couldn't wait however long it would take for me to climb from #12 to the top of the hold list for the sequel, I went out and bought myself a copy of The Ask and the Answer. So yes, I'm joining in with the crowds and highly recommending you give this book at try.
Right, so now that I've gushed about it, what else can I say?
I was a little nervous about the prose style, since I'd heard it was first person present tense and with the grammar and spelling of a poorly-schooled 13 year old boy. I don't do well with with things that are deliberately misspelled as I tend to stop to correct it. The wrong spellings in this book (for example, creacher for creature or preparayshans for preparations) were very like those of my five year old son when he tries to spell phonetically a word he doesn't know, so I actually discovered that I already had plenty of practice. Also, when a book's voice is well written, I find that it soon doesn't matter if it's different from usual. My brain switches over to the right state of mind for it and I just get on with reading. I still noticed the misspellings, but they were now part of the story rather than an impediment to it.
Todd is a excellent protagonist. He might not be well schooled (such things as reading and writing having been outlawed in Prentisstown) but he's quick and intelligent and surprisingly resilient. As the book progresses he slowly comes to learn that just about everything he's ever been told about the world is a lie and he constantly has to readjust his worldview. He balks at this at the beginning, but in a "this can't be true" kind of way rather than as a petulant child might do. His growing interaction with Viola is always very well done.
I've seen reviews saying she isn't such a well developed character as Todd, but that works perfectly for me. We only see her through Todd's eyes and since he's been able to hear the Noise of everyone he's ever known before this, at first he finds someone who is Silent very, very difficult to comprehend. The moment, at the end of the book, when he realises he can get to know a person without hearing their Noise, was just lovely.
The plot rolls on at a roaring pace, never really pausing for breath until the cliff-hanger moment at the end. (Yes, there's a cliff-hanger, so if at all possible, have the sequel at hand before you start. Unfortunately, I understand that it too ends on a cliff-hanger and the third book, Monsters of Men, doesn't come out until later in the year.) But even as the action rushes along, Ness manages to paint a clear picture of New World and the way it has fragmented both socially and culturally in the years since the colony ships landed. Prentisstown might be the most extreme case of this, but it is clear some communities have found better ways the deal with the consequences of the Noise germ than others.
Like many a first book in a series, in many ways The Knife of Never Letting Go is a set-up book plot-wise. We learn about the planet, the communities and slowly, as Todd learns the truths behind the lies he has been told, the history that has shaped its people. The blurb for The Ask and the Answer seems to suggest that the larger aspects of the plot begin to emerge in that book, and everything has been so beautifully and dramatically set up that we readers are more than ready for it.
I really liked this book. I highly recommend it and I'm really looking forward to picking up the sequel very soon.
Can you hear the but?
I had one major issue with The Knife of Never Letting Go. It uses the plot device of letting the protagonist (ie Todd) in on the answers to certain mysteries fairly early on, but makes a point of keeping the reader in the dark. This is one of my pet peeves and I really hate it. (It's part of why I love Catherine Asaro's books so much, because she does the opposite and lets the reader in on more than the characters know.) Especially if a book it told through first person POV, I feel that as the narrator learns something, I should learn it too. But instead, on three particular occasions, I'm kept out of the loop. And it left me feeling like I'd been manipulated to serve the story.
The thing is that now, as I'm a little further away from the book, I can see that it worked. Sure, by the time the answers were revealed I'd pretty much figured them out. But the thing is that Todd had pretty much figured them out too, but they were such huge truths behind such huge lies, that even though he'd pretty much picked it up already from other men's Noise, his brain refused to accept it at first. Slowly, as he changed from the Prentisstown boy to the man he's becoming (and such a better one that the Prentisstown definition of a Man), he became a person who could accept the truth and learn better from it. So while it annoyed me, telling me the answers sooner would have ruined the story and keeping them completely from Todd until the revelation near the end would probably have broken him when he had to face the truth. He needed that time to let it percolate in his subconscious before he actually had to deal with it all.
So damn you, Patrick Ness, you are right and I am wrong.
If this is a plot device that annoys you too, here I am, warning you that's it's in there so you're prepared, but begging you to trust the author. (Oh, then he does it again right on the second to last page, dropping in a new mystery and not answering it. But this time, I'm going to go with it and trust.)
I really, really enjoyed this book. In fact, while I rated it 8/10 when I finished it, now that it's all sunk it, I'm going to be generous and up that to 9/10 because it really does deserve it.
The Knife of Never Letting Go
Chaos Walking, Book 1
Read: 6-1-10 to 7-1-10