REVIEW: The Knife of Never Letting Go

Patrick Ness
The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking #1)
ISBN-10: 0425247562
ISBN-13: 978-0425247563
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.

Rating: Two Scoops

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  1. I struggled with the first book, but boy this series is AMAZING. I hope you keep going with it! The second book really takes the story to a higher level. Just keep reading!

    Manchee broke my heart!

    • I really appreciate the encouragement! I think I will. IT’s just taking me a while to get over Manchee. :(

  2. I love this series SO much. It’s seriously one of my favorites. Sorry it didn’t do as much for you, but that’s the way it goes sometimes — different strokes for different folks and all that. (But you really should keep reading. This is one of the best YA series I’ve ever read!)

  3. I really loved The Knife Of Never Letting Go, but honestly I don’t think I’ll get over Manchee anytime soon. I’m too afraid to even re-read it. I will say that you see and learn more about the Spackle in The Ask And The Answer, but I can’t say anything about Monsters And Men, because I haven’t read it yet. I am sorry this book did not live up to expectations for you.

    • Yeah, I seemed to have this conflicting love/hate type of deal with this book. In some ways I too loved it, but the aspects that depressed me trumped that. Poor Manchee! Every time I revisit how this book made me feel, I hear his character voice in my mind and it’s still rather hurtful. I taked with a book friend about this series recently though and am determined to give the other books a try soon. Thank you for the info on the Spackle! It’s a relief to know they’re not an easily dismissed aspect.

  4. Book review of “The Knife of Never Letting Go” 479 pages

    At first, this book was really confusing to me. The whole idea of “Noise” really threw me off. However, once I understood the world that the story was set in it was really interesting and I could not stop reading. The setting was unique. It is odd to think of a world without women; a world where you thoughts can be heard by anyone and everyone. Once I wrapped my head around it though, it seemed very interesting.
    Throughout the story, Matt and Viola are trying to get to Haven in order to cure Matt’s noise and contact Violas people. I liked the plot and all the different places they traveled to. The characters were unique and deep; even Manchee the dog was his own personality. Mayor Prentiss seemed like a intelligent, but diabolical character. Aaron was a vile man and he seemed like a nightmare. He would not die several times and seemed to be possessed by an evil force. The author gave very gruesome details about his wounds, but he was still bent on getting Matt to kill him. Viola and Matt were also very well rounded characters. I did not expect Viola to kill Aaron.
    At the end of the story, they arrive at Haven only to find out that they have surrendered to Mayor Prentiss. Although the ending was a bit of a cliffhanger, it was a great way to end the story. It definitely made me want to read the second book, and I actually read the whole series.

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