To continue on this ‘series’ of my favourite books and series, I have decided on a trilogy I only discovered in the last year, and is one of the few gems I discovered through university – Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy.
I have to admit that when I first picked up this book, I was dubious. The first book of the trilogy was listed in one of my final year of university’s unit modules reading lists. The module was Writing for Children and while I was interested in a new aspect of writing, I had my doubts over most, if not all, of the books I was told I needed to read.
Some of those doubts, I can say, were valid. This one, however, was not.
The Knife of Never Letting Go is the first of the three books but the only required by my reading list. It follows the story of Todd, a young man on the verge of becoming a man in a town filled only with men. We are introduced to one of the biggest aspects of the story straight away – no one’s thoughts are their own. You can read them whenever close to someone or those thoughts are strong enough to cross great distances, usually in a heightened emotional state. This already seems to remove the ability to lie as the truth will run in your mind even if not spoken out loud and the reader will be forced to confront some questions that will surface often throughout the trilogy.
While most certainly a fantasy novel, there are some elements of science-fiction that creep in, mostly through the second protagonist, Viola. Her story unfolds slowly and in later books we are able to witness events through her eyes as her path deviates from Todd’s. There is a third narrative element, from an indigenous life form encountered by Todd that brings the severity of the issues to light again by the time we reach the third and final book.
It took me some time to get used to the language throughout the first book. It runs in a first person narrative and there is a lot of slang and errors in spelling that are all deliberate (and as an English student and writer, they drove me insane) but they give you a strong sense of who Todd is and even though he has some very ugly sides to his personality that Ness seems to emphasise, we do bond with him quickly. He is full of potential and the overwhelming desire to support and nurture that potential is drawn out of the reader at every point we might be close to deciding we really don’t like the kid.
It didn’t take me long to find and read the following two books. They are just as gripping as the first, if not more so because of the multiple narratives. In The Knife of Never Letting Go we follow the story through the eyes of Todd only but Viola’s account of things begins in The Ask and the Answer while Monsters of Men brings the third and final narrative which completes the story. In many ways, this narrative could be ignored completely and we would still have a thrilling story full of twists and shocks and arguments but the one thing that a first person narrative could be lacking is the overall view of the situation. We are limited to the views, thoughts and understandings of the character(s) we can see through. The third element is Ness’ answer to that and gives an imminent sense of doom and destruction, of morality, justice and revenge. More than that, I won’t say so that it doesn’t spoil it for you!
Overall, these are great books. Originally aimed at a teenage audience, I think there is a lot older readers can take from this, even if it simply enjoying the narrative changes and the twist of having no secrets from anyone. There are frequent uses of strong language; nowhere near to the same extent or used in the same context as in Brent Weeks’ books, but worth keeping in mind. These are large books but don’t let that put you off, they are very gripping and you’ll never want to stop reading.
I have taken extra care to hide details of the plot, as it will spoil a lot of the shocks and surprises to come, so please forgive me if parts seem vague. Unlike Weeks’ books, the suspense is different here – more to do with the original mystery on your first reading than the tense, dark and gritty situations presented to us in The Night Angel Trilogy.