This book left me exhausted.
It’s pretty much one long chase for most of its 479 pages, but it’s also more than that. It’s original, clever, thought-provoking and disturbing, sitting somewhere on the YA shelf between science fiction and fantasy.
The story is set in the future, on a planet called New World, which has been settled by people wanting to start a fresh life (not dissimilar to the original settlers of another New World a few centuries back).
These church settlers fought a war against the indigenous inhabitants (known as the Spackle), and became infected by a germ that allowed men to hear each other’s thoughts, and those of all living creatures around them – except women.
But in Prentisstown, all the women have now died, and all the males have turned 13 – except Todd. He’s the last boy in the settler town and is counting down the days before he becomes a man.
Todd is used to hearing the thoughts of the men of Prentisstown – dark thoughts filled with anger, desperation and longing – and those of his lively dog Manchee (“Poo Todd!”)
But when he stumbles across a patch of silence down by the river, he knows something isn’t right. He doesn’t know what it means, but just hearing the silence is enough to put his life at risk, and before he understand why, Todd’s on the run with the ever-loyal Manchee.
He discovers the source of the silence and that answer – and the revelation Prentisstown is not the only settlement on New World – turn his life inside out.
For most of The Knife of Never Letting Go, Todd is on the run from the crazed men of Prentisstown, and the threat they pose only escalates as the chase continues.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a book as fast-paced as this. one Ness builds the tension quickly and sustains it to the point it’s almost unbearable – in fact, by the showdown at the end, it’s excruciating.
It’s hard not to devour this novel. Aside from the pace, Todd’s narrative voice is sweet and funny, and his journey from innocence to awakening is mesmerising. He makes mistakes that threaten to consume him, and has to make a heart-breaking sacrifice. But he makes good choices too, and it’s satisfying watching him start to come of age (even if he takes some pretty intense punishment along the way).
And then there is Ness’ exploration of themes of ignorance, fear and moral corruption, and how communities might react when half its population has no privacy for their thoughts.
For much of the book, I had no idea what was going on (because Todd doesn’t) – although I could take some good guesses. But by the end, there are enough answers to be make the nail-biting journey worth the effort.
By the end, I was exhausted, and, to be honest, a little deflated by the cliffhanger finale. But it perfectly sets up the second book of the trilogy. Having read some non-spoiler reviews of the rest of the series, I think I’ll take a breath before diving into the rest of the series though…