The Knife of Never Letting Go

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The Knife of Never Letting Go
Knife of Never letting Go cover.jpg
Front cover of first edition
Author Patrick Ness
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series Chaos Walking
Genre Young-adult science fiction novel
Publisher Walker Books
Publication date
5 May 2008
Pages 496 pp
ISBN 978-1-4063-1025-2
OCLC 233261939
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."[1][2]

Plot summary[edit]

Todd Hewitt is the only boy left in Prentisstown, a small settlement on 'New World' where all boys become men after thirteen cycles of thirteen months. He has been told that all women and half the men were killed by a germ released by the native species, known as the Spackle, as part of a war during the early stages of settlement on New World. As a side effect of this germ, the remaining men in Prentisstown can hear each other's (and animal's) thoughts, described as an ever-present cascade of ‘Noise’.

At the beginning of the book, Todd and his dog, Manchee, discover a lone patch of silence (a 'hole in the Noise') in a local swamp. Bewildered, Todd and Manchee make their way back into the town.

When Todd explains the silence to Ben and Cillian, his adoptive parents, his Noise accidentally projects the discovery to the entire town. Ben and Cillian mysteriously reveal they have been planning Todd's escape for the past eleven years. The two men immediately force him to leave Prentisstown. Todd unwillingly obeys. Cillian fights off Davy Prentiss, the Mayor's son, and other men from the town, while Ben gives Todd his own hunting knife and Todd’s deceased mother’s diary.

Todd escapes into the swamp with Manchee, and discovers the source of the silence - a girl, who lacks Noise. Todd, Manchee and the girl are suddenly attacked by the town preacher, Aaron, who has recently been provoking Todd in physical and mental fights. Todd and Manchee force him into the swamp lake, where he is attacked by crocodiles. The girl says nothing but leads Todd through the swamp to her scout ship, where her parents’ bodies lie half-decayed. She has crash-landed on New World. With aid from a map inside Todd's mother's diary, the two begin traveling together towards Haven, a larger settlement which can protect them from Prentisstown.

Todd realises 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 Prentisstown men 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 finally tells Todd her name: Viola.

Todd and Viola are found by a woman, Hildy, at the nearest town, Farbranch. She tells Todd that the 'germ' is in fact not fatal for women and does not affect them at all - none of the women have Noise. She 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 Haven, where it is rumoured there may be a cure for Noise. They also hope to find a transmitter tower to contact Viola's people, who are a second wave of planetary settlers, to warn them.

After a few days travelling, Davy finds them. Viola manages to electrocutes Davy, and Todd moves to kill him, but Todd finds himself unable to kill. Instead, Todd ties Davy up before heading off for Haven with Viola. During the trip, Todd, Viola and Manchee find a live Spackle. Todd is shocked, believing that all Spackle had been killed in the war. Worried at an attack, Todd leaps at the Spackle and kills it, but faces instant regret.

Aaron appears, stabbing Todd, and kidnaps Viola. Todd wakes and hurriedly goes after Aaron, but as his stab wound becomes infected he quickly weakens. Todd finds Viola and Aaron, using Manchee as a distraction while he rescues Viola. However, Manchee sacrifices himself to allow them to escape. The pair flee on a boat, and Todd passes out from his wounds.

Todd wakes up under a care of a doctor in another settlement. Insisting on a walk, he encounters Ben hiding in the outskirts of town. He reveals that Cillian died in Todd's escape from Prentisstown. However, the people of the town label Ben as a murderer due to his Prentisstown origins. However, Ben and Todd convince the townsfolk to help them fight the approaching Prentisstown army. As the army approaches, Ben, Todd and Viola use the confusion to escape.

After gaining some distance, Ben explains the truth: the Noise germ is a natural contagion 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 all the women and were subsequently banished from the rest of New World for their crime. The boys were supposed to learn a "version of the truth" from the Mayor on their thirteenth birthday. This is why Todd has been sent away prior to his 'becoming a man' - 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 Davy finds them again. Ben distracts him to allow Todd and Viola to run, but then the two are cornered by Aaron in a cavern near a waterfall by Haven. Todd then realises 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. Attempting to stop Aaron from succeeding, Viola grabs the knife and stabs Aaron in the neck. He falls into the waterfall and dies.

Davy again intercepts the pair on their way to Haven, shooting Viola. Todd subdues Davy, escapes, and carries a dying Viola to Haven to get 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. With no other choice, Todd surrenders to the Mayor to save Viola.


The Knife of Never Letting Go is set on a planet that has been colonized 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.[3]


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”.[4]

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".[3] 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”.[5]

Similarly, Nicholas Tucker of The Independent wrote that The Knife of Never Letting Go "sets a high standard”,[6] while the Chicago Tribune labelled the novel as “a read-alone, stay-up-way-too-late book”.[citation needed]


Runners up, etc.

Film adaptation[edit]

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."[12]

Chaos Walking: The Knife of Never Letting Go will be produced by Doug Davison[13] while Jamie Linden will be writing and Doug Liman is in negotiations to direct the film.[14][15] On August 5, 2016 it was announced Daisy Ridley will star in the adaptation.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Guardian children's fiction prize 2008 (top page). theguardian. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
  2. ^ a b Flood, Alison (24 September 2008). "Knife story wins Guardian children's fiction prize". The Guardian. Retrieved 2011-06-07. 
  3. ^ a b "The Knife of Never Letting Go" (review). Frank Cottrell Boyce. The Guardian 13 June 2008. Retrieved 2009-06-02.
  4. ^ "Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness". Booklist Online. 1 September 2008. Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  5. ^ "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. 
  6. ^ Tucker, Nicholas (4 April 2008). "Teenage fiction reviewed". The Independent. Retrieved 2011-06-07. 
  7. ^ "Booktrust Teenage Prize 2008". Retrieved 2011-06-07. 
  8. ^ "Patrick Ness beats established writers to Booktrust teenage prize". Alison Flood. 18 November 2008. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
  9. ^ Tiptree Winners Announced. [1]. Retrieved 2009-04-27.
  10. ^ 2009 Awards: Carnegie shortlisted books. CILIP.
  11. ^ Manchester Book Award Longlist The runners-up (1448 books)
  12. ^ "Lionsgate Acquires Chaos Walking". 3 October 2011. Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  13. ^ Tim Molloy (3 October 2011). "Next 'Twilight'? Lionsgate Nabs Movie Rights to 'Chaos Walking' Young Adult Trilogy". Reuters. Retrieved 30 December 2011. 
  14. ^ "Jamie Linden to Write Lionsgate's 'Chaos Walking'". 
  15. ^ "Doug Liman in Talks to Direct Adaptation of YA Novel 'Chaos Walking'". 
  16. ^

External links[edit]

Patrick Ness at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database