Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him — something so awful Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears too. With hostile men from the town in pursuit, the two stumble upon a strange and eerily silent creature: a girl.
I considered reviewing each book in this trilogy individually, but since I sped through them all so quickly, I felt a comprehensive review of the entire series may be more beneficial for readers. I never like to start a series until I know all of the books are out so that I don’t have to spend a year or more in the torturous realm of waiting for the next book to come out, if it ever does. It is, however, hard to discuss a series without letting a few mild spoilers slip, so proceed with caution. I will try to limit the number of spoilers to just the synopsis for each book.
The Knife of Never Letting Go is the first book in the 3-book Chaos Walking trilogy. Todd Hewitt is the youngest boy in Prentisstown at 12 years old in New World years. On his 13th birthday, Todd will become a man, according to what the other men of the town have told him. There are no women in Prentisstown. Todd has never met a woman, but he has seen pictures of them in the Noise of the other men. Prentisstown is a settlement on a new planet after settlers left Earth, called Old World, to begin new lives. When they landed, they were infected with a germ that caused all of the men’s Noise–aka, their natural thoughts–to be displayed for everyone around them to hear. The Noise, however, did not affect the women. Todd is out in the woods on the edge of town one day when he comes across an absence of Noise, something he’s never experienced. It’s a girl, and her scout ship has crash landed. When the Mayor of Prentisstown discovers there’s a woman nearby, Todd and the girl are forced to run.
The Ask and the Answer is the second book in the trilogy, and it deals with the expansion of what happens in the first book. Todd and the girl, Viola, have made it Haven, only to find the Mayor there to greet them. What happens next is a battle of wills between the men and the women of Haven, now called New Prentisstown, with the Mayor leading the men and a healing woman named Mistress Coyle leading the women in a fight for what each party feels is the right course, the right way of living.
Monsters of Men, the final book, is the inevitable final war between all the factions: the Mayor and his Prentisstown army, Mistress Coyle and her group called the Answer, the Spackle (the native species of New World) army, and then Todd and Voila and the two occupants of the newest scout ship. The Mayor and the Mistress fight it out, the Answer and the Mayor’s army fight the Spackle, and Viola fights for peace with the help of Simone and Bradley, who arrived in the second scout ship.
The Knife of Never Letting Go is an iconic first novel in the series. It’s a complete page turner that will have you rivetted from the beginning. It would also almost work as a stand-alone novel; however, the cliff-hanger ending will leave you desperate for the second book, and if you were to read these as they were first being published, you would likely have been infuriated about being forced to wait for the second book. Luckily, the second book does not end as dramatically as the first. The Ask and the Answer, in contrast to the first book, was a slow build. It was just as good as the first, but the pacing was much slower, and Ness needed to devote a lot of time to setting the stage for the final book in the series, which means the second book seemed a little dull in comparison.
There were a few moments as I was reading the second book where I questioned whether I wanted to continue reading. It was clear the book was building to a dramatic final battle or all-out war montage that I just wasn’t feeling. Because it was predictable. For most YA dystopian trilogy novels, the first book is the initial incident that sparks the change, the second book is coping with the aftermath of the first and regrouping, and the third is almost always the final insurgence and toppling of the patriarchy or current power system. This is clear in the Hunger Games books, in the Divergent books, and in plenty of other series.
However, I am glad that I finished out the series. While Monster of Men does have the predictable war, Ness handles it intellectually, and the war is less about depictions of slaughter and carnage and more about the politics and the military maneuvers, the delicate process of outsmarting your opponent in order to send a message of power or show you have the upper hand. Ness also did not fill the 600+ pages of the final book with all-out, endless war. Rather, there were plenty of moments of calm, and the trajectory of the war felt natural rather than forced for the sake of generating a climactic conclusion to the series.
All in all, while the trilogy did have some of the typical YA tropes, the characters were incredibly vivid and lovable. I even found myself liking, or at the very least understanding the actions of, the villains. The Mayor and Mistress Coyle, while devious power players, are three-dimensional humans with layered motives, values, and character flaws. There are also plenty of endearing characters that I loved getting to know, such as Hildy and Wilf and Lee and Bradley and Ben, who ooze such love and compassion that it’s impossible not to fall for them. I loved getting to know all these characters and the world, even though I don’t usually like books set in space. It’s a 4.5 star read, with the half star deducted for the typical tropes, but aside from that, these books are golden and well worth your time.
PUBLICATION DEETS: The Knife of Never Letting Go, May 5, 2008, Candlewick Press, 512 pages; The Ask and the Answer, July 22, 2014, Candlewick, 553 pages; Monsters of Men, July 22, 2014, Candlewick, 643 pages
CATEGORY: YA, sci-fi, dystopian