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{18/02/2012}   Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness – a truly amazing trilogy

     It’s not very often a book, in fact three in this case, makes we want to shout from the rooftops that everyone must read it.  But this trilogy has totally blown me away … and made me have some unusual dreams!  I’m not a book review type person but if just one person reading this gets inspiration and goes out and gets these three books, my rooftop shouting will not have been in vain!    I don’t see these as three separate books.  If you read the first it’d be like stopping at a major cliffhanger point to not read books two and three.  Make sure you have two and three to hand!

The opening lines come from a dog, Manchee.  Interesting start.  (I should point out now that this is a “young adult” trilogy, with Philip Pullman His Dark Materials adult appeal.)  You are then kind of introduced to the world where it’s set.  I never quite got my head around where it is.  There are two moons but geography like ours so I’m happy to accept it’s another world that is laid out a bit like ours, with seasons, night and day.  The main character is a boy called Todd, who is oblivious to what the adults in his village know about how they came to be the only people living there, just men.  Todd was the last child to be born before the women disappeared.  He is about a month away from being when everyone goes from boy to man and learns a whole lot of things you just know you wouldn’t want to know.  Early on in the first book, The Knife of Never Letting Go, Todd is told in no uncertain terms that he needs to run away, with just Manchee for company.  He is given a map and, as it’s obvious there is huge unrest in part triggered by Todd’s Noise alerting people to the fact he has “heard” silence and also to his impending adulthood initiation, Todd’s beloved family (two friends of his parents who are dead) send him running to the swamp.  He’s not a heroic boy.  He’s just confused and lonely and only just sure about the running away bit.  He trusts Ben, his father figure, so he goes, with just a backpack of supplies and a book his mother left for him but which he’d never seen due to all books being confiscated and Ben having hidden it.  Todd can’t read.

What I haven’t mentioned is that all men have Noise, which is their thoughts.  Which everyone can hear.  So they can’t keep secrets.  In the book you can easily identify the Noise talking because it’s in a totally different font.  Only men have Noise.

Todd, having had his first vicious fight with the evil preacher from the town, runs to where he can feel the presence of silence, something he’s never experienced.  There he finds a girl, Viola, who is the only survivor of the scout “ship” she landed in.  It is her silence, Noise-free, that he senses.

Todd and Viola slowly but surely become an inseparable force.  As they run, through other populated areas, all of whom mistrust Todd because of where his Noise tells them he’s from, they discover the true extent of the hideous army behind them, that is being led by the tyrannous Mayor of Prentisstown, where Todd until then had lived, oblivious to anything outside that small man-filled town.

All this happens in the first half of the first book.  Up until the point where they realise there is an army following them and that the army wants Todd in particular, it’s a bit … well, not slow but not that engaging.  But it’s well written and the idea of Noise is interesting and really, really well developed.

What has really struck me about this epic story is that Patrick Ness comes out with twist after twist, and all of them completely feasible, yet none of them I’d seen coming.  And they smack you in the face when they do happen.  Near the end of The Knife of Never Letting Go and of Monsters of Men, I sobbed.  I mean, proper full-on sobbing.  By the middle of Monsters of Men, you know it is going to end horribly, but by book three, there is no stopping.  It’s absolutely fantastic.  Exciting, thrilling, shocking and so, so well written.

Thinking about it in its whole, I feel a real sense of the months passing as they do in the story.  Just writing about the beginning of the story here made me realise how much the characters grow, the world around them develops and how immersed you become in their world, in their quest.

I loved it, really loved it, but I was quite shocked at how disturbing it is for children.  But I appreciate there would have been books like that when I was a teenager, I was just more interested in Sweet Valley High and other such mush/trash!  There is genocide, betrayal, love, hate, evil, solidarity, murder, war, terror … and the twists right the way through to the end are just staggering and not even over the top.  Read it.  Don’t give up unless you get to the end of The Knife of Never Letting Go and have absolutely no interest in what happens.  It’s a slow starter but a very fast ender!  And please, please let me know if you do read or have read it and what you thought.

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Thank you for not including any spoilers as I am a little more than half way through book one! I see it as being a different planet / different universe (?) and the original settlers as being very similar to the Plymouth Brethren US settlers, wanting to get back to the simple life, start again etc – possibly escape persecution….



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