Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Chaos Walking, No Waiting
The Knife of Never Letting Go, Part 1 of the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness, has been mentioned a few times on this site, when its sequels have been reviewed, but it's never gotten a complete treatment, and with the recent news that Charlie Kaufman (of Being John Malkovich fame) has begun work on the film adaptation, I thought it a good time to finally give the first book in the series a look.
Todd Hewitt is awaiting his thirteenth birthday, the day that he becomes a Prentisstown man. He will be the last Prentisstown boy to become a man. Prentisstown is a settlement town on an alien planet known only as New World which consists entirely of men. There will never be another Prentisstown boy because a virus released in a war with an alien species called the Spackle killed all the women. It affected the men too, but in a very strange way. All the men of New World have become unwilling telepaths unable to keep themselves from transmitting their thoughts and hearing the thoughts of others. The result is a world filled with Noise, a chaotic soup of male thought and feeling, every man's inner world on display, but muddled in the mess. To make matters even weirder, animals thoughts are projected into the soup too. Effectively, New World animals can talk. Todd has a dog, Manchee, who has plenty to say, though much of it is about poo and squirrels.
Todd and Manchee, out near the swamp gathering apples one day discover a "hole" in the noise. It terrifies both boy and dog and when Todd's adoptive parents hear of what he's found, they hand Todd a bag that they've had packed and tell him to run. Everything he knows is a lie, they say. He is in danger, especially from Aaron, the Prentisstown preacher. He needs to head back to the swamp where, he'll "know what to do." But Todd doesn't know what to do and most of his journey is spent with trying to figure out what that is. New World gets even stranger as he and Manchee race through it, pursued by an inhumanly persistent Aaron and the ugly past of Prentisstown.
The pace is high, and the book is liberally peppered with violence, though, not uncommon for a violent book, it is deeply critical of the use of even justified violence. The book is driven through Todd, a strong narrator who shares his triumphs and pain (mostly pain) as forcefully as if you were picking them up straight from his Noise.
A warning: as others have pointed out, the ending is wrenching, both for what Todd discovers and for the cliff it leaves you hanging on. One advantage of coming late to a series like this is that you don't have to wait around for sequels to be released. I'll be starting Part 2 of the Chaos Walking series tomorrow.