The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking #1)
Young Adult science fiction
May 5, 2008
Blurb via Goodreads:
Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee – whose thoughts Todd can hear, too, whether he wants to or not – stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden – a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives.
But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought?
Warning – spoilers. Some.
I got this entire series through a spectacular Kindle Daily Deal over at Amazon. And while book 1 didn’t tempt me in the least to move right on to book two, this is definitely a book that leaves you pondering it. Now, whether that’s a good ponder or not is the question. The book is great in its concept, but lacks somewhat in its execution. There’s way too much foreshadowing, and while the book takes all that time to foreshadow and dwell much too long on explaining certain things, like Noise for example, I had no trouble guessing what the book’s big secret is. It’s a complete and utter shame, because with perhaps several chapters less and a tighter pace, this could have been a truly excellent read whereby I was surprised through beautifully built tension as opposed to presented with a lesser milk toast substitute.
That’s not to say there aren’t good things about The Knife of Never Letting Go. The writer’s style is very engaging and the main characters, from how they meet to how they develop further as a result are certainly some of the better parts of the book. The idea of a town full of nothing but men who hear every thought leaked from each others minds in a riotous stream of Noise, and the resulting sinister undertone that threatens to choke everything, is very well done. It paves the tone for the entire book, so in a way the setup for the story is one of the best parts. It is rich in suspense and mystery, just the right amount, too, to engage a reader and give them that relentless feeling of needing to know more. Right now.
There’s also the insatiable need to know more about the alien race that’s alluded to fairly often in the beginning, the Spackle, as they’re referred to by the human element of the story. But, and this might be a tad spoilery, so look away thou purists of knowledge and surprise! There’s no fulfilling story in that particular subplot/plot riddle. Maybe there is in later books, but I was disappointed that it came across more like, “Oh, we wiped out the natives and, you know, blah blah blah whatevs.” I’ll allow that maybe there’s more to find out about these natives in later books, but the dismissive way in which their part is treated didn’t thrill me. It is blatantly parallel to our own treatment of Native American people. If the subject must be inserted into a story, fictional or otherwise, maybe it’s not the best idea to make them such an underdeveloped aspect.
Todd and Manchee are impressive characters, which makes the story’s lacking elements all the more frustrating. Manchee is utterly adorable in his meek yet excitable dog way, and he reminded me of Dug, the dog from Disney’s movie Up. It was a little heartbreaking at first how Todd is cruel to Dug in a way, but compared to the men of Prentisstown, with the exception of Todd’s guardians, Todd definitely seems like the lesser evil. Through their relationship, Todd grows in interesting ways as he struggles and fights for his life. Thanks to Manchee, Todd seems to care more, to fight more and they eventually go from a grudging acceptance on Todd’s part to a genuine boy/dog friendship. And that makes the end result of this book incredibly heartbreaking. I won’t all-out say what happened at the end, but I will say that I was genuinely angry at what happens and felt like Manchee had never been a true character of the book, but rather a tool only to draw me in emotionally and therefore become emotionally devastated. It was a rather cheap way to accomplish engaging a reader emotionally, hence my disgust and lack of any interest in moving on with the series.
Todd also develops in interesting ways thanks to another main character, but mentioning them would be an all-out, all-cards-on-the-table spoiler, so it’s difficult to comment on them in a review. I don’t want to quite reveal it all, after all. It’s one of the better plot points that the reader is rewarded with after patiently sifting through a little too much explanation of Noise, but also for getting through some of the better-built tension in the book. Their relationship is a perfect vessel to discover why things went wrong in Prentisstown and show how the town’s insidious and hateful ways have influenced so many things and people. I will say too that what they go through together – dayum. They never, ever catch a break in this book. Their journey is harrowing as they are pursued by a particular madman from Prentisstown, who seems more cyborg than human. It is literally, at times, exhausting to read their adventure. I didn’t feel like the author wanted the reader to feel rewarded in any way with this story because nothing good at all happens to them.
I’m all for books that put a reader through an emotional wringer. I have a box of tissues by my favorite reading spot in part because of persistent sinus issues, but also because I anticipate that some books will make me cry. I’m okay with crying. I actually love to get that into a book. But it’s because I’m also enjoying the book. I cried while reading this one but afterward there was absolutely no vindication or reward or hope in sight. I’m afraid when that’s the kind of tears I’m left with, I don’t feel any urge to continue to see if things get better in the next book. This one made me feel like a used tissue of a reader because of some terrible things that happen, because the good guys getting nothing but trod upon and that just…made me depressed.