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 begins the novel 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’, as well as the thoughts of animals.

Todd is soon forced to learn the truth. Ben and Cillian, his adoptive parents, have been planning his escape for the past eleven years. When the thoughts of Manchee, Todd's dog, reveals a secret that Todd had discovered: a spot of moving silence in the Noise in the swamp on the outskirts of the settlement. The two men immediately force him to leave Prentisstown. Todd unwillingly obeys. Ben gives Todd his own hunting knife and Todd’s deceased mother’s diary.

Whilst escaping, Todd is attacked by the town preacher, Aaron, who has recently been provoking Todd in physical and mental fights. After Aaron is attacked by crocodiles Todd and Manchee escape him. Todd comes across the spot of silence and meets the one who is causing it - a girl. She says nothing but leads him through the swamp to her scout ship, where her parents’ bodies lie half-decayed. 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 finally tells Todd her name: Viola.

Todd and Viola are found by a woman. 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 the most technologically advanced settlement on New World, Haven, where there may be a cure for Noise. They also hope to find a transmitter tower to contact the rest of Viola's people, who are still in space, to warn them.

After a few days, the Mayor’s son, Prentiss Jr., finds them. After Viola electrocutes Prentiss Jr., Todd moves to kill him, but Viola reminds Todd of his humanity, and how the army will get what they originally wanted if Todd becomes a killer. Instead, Todd ties Prentiss Jr. up before heading off for Haven with Viola.

During the 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 and Todd argue. Todd states that the Spackle 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 Spackle were originally supposed to have been wiped out by the war. Todd, realizing his mistake and the fearful Noise of the Spackle before he died, realizes that he's a killer.

Aaron finds them, stabs Todd, and kidnaps Viola. Todd wakes up and hurriedly goes after Aaron, but as his stab wound becomes infected he quickly weakens. Todd rescues Viola, but 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. Todd insists on a walk and surprisingly encounters Ben. However, the people of the town label Ben as a murderer because he is from Prentisstown. Viola is not allowed to speak because of the town's misogynistic views towards women. This quarrel is broken up when they agree with the townsfolk to help 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 was a natural part of the planet that the settlers landed on, 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 the world for their crime. The boys were supposed to learn a "version of the truth" 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 Prentiss Jr. 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. 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. Todd escapes, 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 surrenders to Prentiss in order to allow Viola to get help.


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]

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. 

External links[edit]

Patrick Ness at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database