The Knife of Never Letting Go
Front cover of first edition
|Genre||Young-adult science fiction novel|
|5 May 2008|
|Followed by||The Ask and the Answer|
The Knife of Never Letting Go is a young-adult novel by Patrick Ness, published by Walker Books in May 2008. It inaugurated the Chaos Walking series, was celebrated by critics, and won annual awards including the Booktrust Teenage Prize, the Guardian Award, and the James Tiptree, Jr. Award.
The Knife was Ness's first work for children or young adults. According to The Guardian's coverage of its award, "He turned to children's fiction after he had the idea for a world where it is impossible to escape information overload, and knew it was right for teenagers."
Todd Hewitt is the only boy left in Prentisstown, a small settlement on 'New World' where all boys become men at the age of 13 when on earth he is 14. He begins the novel oblivious to Prentisstown’s history, having been told that all women and half the men have been killed by a ‘germ’ released by the native species on his planet known as the Spackle. As a side effect of this germ, the remaining men in Prentisstown can hear each other's thoughts, described as an ever-present cascade of ‘Noise’.
Todd, however, is soon forced to learn the truth. Ben and Cillian, his adoptive parents, have been planning his escape for the past eleven years. When Manchee, Todd's dog (which was a present from Cillian on his 12th birthday), spills them out, Todd is forced to tell them of a spot of moving silence in the Noise; the two men immediately force him to leave Prentisstown. Todd unwillingly obeys, taking with him a rucksack Ben has prepared containing Todd’s deceased mother’s diary. Ben then proceeds to give him his hunting knife when they part ways. He follows a map through the swamp. Whilst Todd is escaping, they are attacked by the town preacher, Aaron, who has recently been provoking Todd in physical and mental fights. However, after Aaron is attacked by crocodiles and is subsequently disfigured. Todd and Manchee manage to escape him. Todd comes across the spot of silence and meets the girl who is causing the silence. She says nothing but leads him through the swamp to her scout ship, where her parents’ bodies are half buried. It is apparent that she has crash-landed on New World. They begin traveling together.
During their journey, Todd realizes that he, infected with the germ, might transmit the germ to the girl and kill her. She hears this in his Noise and flees, but he pursues her until they both encounter Aaron and men from Prentisstown who are tracking them at a bridge. The girl eventually saves them both by soaking part of the bridge in lighter fluid then setting it on fire with her campfire pack, and tells Todd her name, Viola.
After their escape, Todd and Viola are found by a woman. She tells Todd that the 'germ' is not fatal for women and in fact does not affect them at all. She then takes the two to her settlement. At nightfall, an army of men from Prentisstown arrives and burns down the town, killing all those who will not join them. Todd and Viola escape and flee for the most technologically advanced settlement on New World, Haven, where there maybe be a cure for Noise and a transmitter tower to contact Viola's people still in space.
After a few days, the Mayor’s son, Prentiss Jr., finds them. After a brief struggle that ends up with Viola electrocuting Prentiss Jr. (with a device that allows the people on her ship know where she is on the planet), Todd is going to finish him off with a knife. However Viola does not allow this and reminds Todd of his humanity, and how the army will get what they originally wanted if Todd becomes a killer. Instead, Todd ties up the Mayor’s son before heading off for Haven with Viola.
During this trip, they find a live Spackle. Todd is shocked, since he had believed that all Spackle had been killed in the war. Having grown up hearing terrible stories of the Spackle, Todd leaps at the Spackle and kills it. Viola promptly shouts at Todd for being stupid (she also swears at him for the first time -- the only time anyone swears in the book). Todd argues that the Spackles are what caused all of the women in his town to die, but Viola angrily reminds him that everything Todd has been taught is false and that all of the Spackles were originally supposed to be wiped out by the war. Todd, realizing his mistake and the fearful Noise of the Spackle moments before he died, realizes that he's a killer.
Aaron finds them. Aaron stabs Todd, and kidnaps Viola. Several hours later, Todd wakes up and hurriedly goes after Aaron, although his stab wound becomes infected and sickens him. Todd rescues Viola, by choosing to sacrifice his dog Manchee. The pair escape on a boat, where Todd collapses from his shock.
When he wakes up, Todd wakes up under a care of a doctor. Todd insists on a walk and surprisingly encounters Ben. However the town gets involved and labels Ben as a murderer because he is from Prentisstown (and Viola is not allowed to speak during this because of the town's misogynistic views towards women). This quarrel is broken up when they made an agreement that the three will help them fight the army. When the sounds of the approaching army became noticeable right after, the three use the confusion to escape. After gaining some distance, Ben explains the truth: the Noise germ was a natural part of the planet, not an attack by the Spackle. The men of Prentisstown, driven mad by Noise and resenting the women's ability to remain silent, killed the women and were subsequently banished from the rest of the world for this crime. The boys were supposed to learn a "version of the truth" on their thirteenth birthday. This is why Todd has been sent away - he could only be accepted by the rest of the world if his thoughts were wholly innocent.
Ben, Todd, and Viola continue toward Haven, but Prentiss Jr. finds them again. Ben distracts him to allow Todd and Viola to run, but then the two run into Aaron. Aaron corners them in a cavern near a waterfall.
Todd then realizes that the boys of Prentisstown become 'men' by killing someone upon turning thirteen. Aaron thinks of himself as a symbolic sacrifice for the 'last boy' in Prentisstown and tries to provoke Todd into killing him. Instead, Viola kills Aaron. She explains that this way, Todd does not let the Prentisstown ritual have power over him.
Prentiss Jr. again intercepts the pair on their way to Haven and shoots Viola through her stomach. Todd escapes him and carries a dying Viola to Haven to try to find help. However, Mayor Prentiss is already there to greet them; Haven having surrendered without a fight, the Mayor to declares himself President of New World. Through his despair, Todd realizes that he can not hear the Mayor's Noise. Todd also surrenders himself so that Viola can get the care that she needs.
The Knife of Never Letting Go is set on a planet that has been colonised by a small group of Christian settlers from "Old World", in a town nearby a swamp. It is disputed whether or not "Old World" refers to Earth, as Viola refers to soil as 'earth' in the sequel The Ask and the Answer. Although the settlers have some high technology, they are mostly subsistence farmers. The rural setting has been compared to the worlds of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Night of the Hunter.
The Knife of Never Letting Go has received greatly positive reviews. Ian Chipman from Booklist gave the novel a starred review, praising the “pure inventiveness and excitement” of Ness’ narrative, and supporting the book’s characters, adding that “the cliffhanger ending is as effective as a shot to the gut”.
Frank Cottrell-Boyce, writing for The Guardian, praised the novel's opening, and added that the rest of the book "lives up to the thrill of that first sentence". The Sunday Telegraph also praised the book, calling it “furiously paced, terrifying, exhilarating and heartbreaking”, labelling it as a book that “haunts your imagination”. The Times called it “a stunning debut” and “as compelling as it is original”.
Similarly, Nicholas Tucker of The Independent wrote that The Knife of Never Letting Go "sets a high standard”, while the Chicago Tribune labelled the novel as “a read-alone, stay-up-way-too-late book”.
- Runners up, etc.
In 2011, Lionsgate Entertainment bought the rights to adapt the Chaos Walking trilogy for film. The president of Lionsgate, Joe Drake, said the decision was made because "a sense of urgency and momentum permeates these stories- it makes the books ones you can't put down, and will make the movies ones you can't miss on the big screen."
- Guardian children's fiction prize 2008 (top page). theguardian. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- Flood, Alison (24 September 2008). "Knife story wins Guardian children's fiction prize". The Guardian. Retrieved 2011-06-07.
- "The Knife of Never Letting Go" (review). Frank Cottrell Boyce. The Guardian 13 June 2008. Retrieved 2009-06-02.
- "Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness". Booklist Online. 1 September 2008. Retrieved 2012-07-15.
- "The Knife of Never Letting Go: Book 1 in the Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness - Lovereading 4 Kids - book reviews and free opening extracts". Lovereading 4 Kids. 3 November 2008. Retrieved 2012-07-15.
- Tucker, Nicholas (4 April 2008). "Teenage fiction reviewed". The Independent. Retrieved 2011-06-07.
- "Booktrust Teenage Prize 2008". Retrieved 2011-06-07.
- "Patrick Ness beats established writers to Booktrust teenage prize". Alison Flood. guardian.co.uk 18 November 2008. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- Tiptree Winners Announced. . Retrieved 2009-04-27.
- 2009 Awards: Carnegie shortlisted books. CILIP.
- Manchester Book Award Longlist The runners-up (1448 books)
- "Lionsgate Acquires Chaos Walking". ComingSoon.net. 3 October 2011. Retrieved 2012-07-15.