This series of books by Patrick Ness delves into a world of conspiracy, power, and hidden thoughts. A world where the minds of men are open, leading to a constant conflict of honesty and secrecy. Thrust into this mix are two young people. Children, forced to engage with adults in ways they could never have imagined, and try desperately to save the world from itself.
The first in the series, The Knife of Never Letting Go, introduces us to Todd Hewitt, a boy just one month away from the birthday that’ll make him a man, living in a town without women, the youngest male left. The first thing that strikes you is the odd vernacular with which Ness writes – part phonetic, part illiterate, it sends the reader right into the mind of Todd, feeling every emotion in the raw, open manner of an innocent child. We also discover The Noise – an infliction that only affects men and leaves towns loud, malicious, and violent. There are discoveries to be made, and secrets that the Mayor of Prentisstown has kept hidden for far too long. Secrets that will see Todd lose everything he’s ever known, and uncover more than he could have imagined. Throw into the mix a mysterious young girl, the first Todd’s seen, and what follows is a journey fraught with danger, frustration, and adventure, but not necessarily the good kind.
There is a war building, a conflict between Todd, Viola, and the powers that be. And that war spills through everyone they meet in the second book, The Ask and The Answer. Finding more questions in response to the ones they’ve already had, Todd and Viola are continually tested. This second book did feel a bit long. At every turn, they came to yet another obstacle, which started to feel repetitive. Every iota of hope was dashed before it could become fully formed. Of course, that is the way life goes. It is not fair and it does not always reward the good. I suppose this is a trial we all know too well, and perhaps that is why it felt a bit dry at times. I longed for the innocents to succeed. For the triumph over evil. For the underdogs to find their paradise. But by the end of The Ask, you can’t help but root for them more due to the trials of the past 400 pages. Their bond, their lives, and their consciences made better by this continual struggle. Knowing that it would lead them to something better.
Reading a series back to back has its pros and cons. On the one hand, you stay with the story so it becomes a seamless narrative. On the other, you can get fed up with the same characters in the same situations – that might have been what happened to me with The Ask. The final instalment, Monsters of Men, started with a bang and didn’t let up until the very last word. A constant rollercoaster of action, heartache, and desperation filled the pages, and you were thrust into every battle. You no longer longed for Todd and Viola to succeed, you pushed through the lines with every fibre of your being straining to ensure they would come out alright. The confusion they felt bled into your own mind, their thoughts became yours with every new problem. Their Noise seeped out to encapsulate your own fears and worries. Ness has proved himself a writer of great talent. A story-teller who doesn’t just make you feel like you’re there – he forces you to engage your mind and soul, to delve deep into your consciousness and ask yourself the very same questions.
This is one of the darkest series I’ve read for the younger audience. My go-to has always been the Uglies trilogy by Scott Westerfeld, but Ness takes it to another level. A similar, post-apocalyptic neo-futuristic land, but with an incredibly different outlook. Chaos Walking is brutal, honest, and gives the young heroes not an ounce of slack. Male, female, young, old – this is a series that will grab you and shake you until you either fall down or rise up. Its end is just the beginning.