The Knife of Never Letting Go
The Knife of Never Letting Go takes place in a world where everyone can hear the thoughts of those around them, where no thought is private, where the cluttered noise of people thoughts is a constant hum in the air.
The book is set twenty years after humanity (or at least we’re supposed to think it’s humanity) has left Earth (or at least we’re supposed to think it’s Earth) to start over on a distant planet, some seventy years travel by spaceship if you’re planning on visiting. Shortly after landing, the humans find themselves engaged in a war with the Spackle, the natives of the planet who unleash the “noise germ”, the germ which causes the men to be able to hear each others thoughts and kills all of the women.
The story follows Todd Hewitt, a twelve year old boy in the small settlement of Prentisstown, several days removed from his thirteenth birthday where he will become a man. While out exploring the swamp that surrounds his town he comes across something unusual, a break in the noise, one area of pure silence, the discovery of which leads him to uncover a web of lies and the dark secrets of Prentisstown.
It took me a while to get into this book. Ness takes his time explaining the setup and it’s almost a hundred pages in before we get an explanation of the noise germ and the history behind the war. This is perfectly fine, it lets the exposition feel natural instead of being forced down the readers throat for the sake of world building, but it means that the reader is left more than a little confused for some time while trying to work out for themselves what is going on.
When I finally did get into the book however I found it to be a dark, brutal, intriguing tale. Todd’s world is not a safe place at all and the more we learn of it, the more dangerous we discover it is. Ness does a great job of drip feeding the reveals about the true history of Prentisstown which only serve to build the mystery more and more as the reader progresses.
I will say however, that once the truth was revealed, I found it a little disappointing. While the truth behind Prentisstown is certainly dark, it’s also a little predictable. After so much building to the reveal, it kind of felt like the book had left me with an expectation that it couldn’t possibly live up to, leaving the climax a feeling a little damp.
One thing the novel gets absolutely spot on is it’s depiction of animals. Another side effect of the noise germ is that it gives the animals the ability to speak and their characters are just perfect. The crocodiles swim along, their noise constantly talking of ripping and killing, the birds’ noise is a constant chirp of fear.
The best example is Manchee, Todd’s faithful dog who’s dialogue is just a delight to read. He is constantly questioning, constantly happy, fairly simple minded in the way you’d expect a dog to be. It might soundlike an odd comparison but he constantly reminded me of Dug from the movie Up. Their depictions of what a talking dog might sound like are very similar and are both very loveable.
There’s a couple of plot holes throughout the novel, mostly to do with the noise itself. Once the truth is revealed it doesn’t really make any sense that Todd wouldn’t have already known about Mayor Prentiss’ plan. In his twelve years did nobody in Prentisstown ever think back to the events before the book? As Todd’s birthday approaches, the final part of the puzzle, did nobody ever think about the fact that it was almost time to put into action the plan they’d been hatching for years? It doesn’t really make sense.
Overall I’m not too sure about how I felt about this one, while I really enjoyed it in parts, the confusing opening ad disappointing finale left me a little deflated. Its part of a trilogy (which YA book isn’t?) so it’s maybe a story which reads better as a whole, but I’m not sure how desperate I am to continue on with the next two in the series.
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