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The International Writers Magazine: Young Adult Fiction

Title:                The Knife Of Never Letting Go
Author:            Patrick Ness
Publisher:        Walker Books
ISBN:              978-1-406-1025-2
A review by Mia Palmer

The Knife Of Never Letting Go is the first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy.  It is a tumultuous young adult novel sent on a dystopian world where, due to a horrific virus all the men can hear each others thoughts constantly and it is driving them mad. 

The evil villain Mr Prentiss is truly chilling in his relentlessness; in addition there is an insane violent madman of a preacher to deal with. Todd, with his faithful dog Manchee, have to go up against both of them to survive.  Then there's the life-altering town-wide secret that Todd will become privy to when he reaches thirteen in a month’s time and the amazing discovery he makes in the swamps and what this will mean to his life.

Starting out with a funny and innovative first sentence that captures the reader is really something every writer strives to do and Ness managed it for me.  I found the book to be a gripping and fresh story, with strong characters and gritty narrative.  The reader is literally thrown into a world of the familiar and completely unknown.  We are introduced to this world by Todd, our twelve year old hero who shows all the strengths and weaknesses of his age with an aching realism.  This is all set within a constantly twisting and often times terrifying story with its heart stopping climatic ending.  The differences of this world from Earth are never just dumped on you.  You could be forgiven for not even realising you are experiencing a different world as the differences are just there.  They are given as subtle subtexts allowing the reader to see them as part of the norm, from Todd’s perspective, such as hearing animals thoughts, the absence of women in his town and an alien presence.

At times I had an emotive, jagged and jolting response to the plot. I am happy to say that the inventive typeface and narrative voice of Todd both succeeded in allowing me to do this.  I say happy because without the unsettling reaction I could never have fully understood Todd’s world or state of mind.  Not once did I doubt that Todd’s anguish and pain were real.  Nor that the journeys he faced, both emotional and physical, were believable in every respect.  The other characters are equally compelling and downright nasty in their realism, especially in their larger than life normalities and personalities.   

Whilst Ness has lived in England for the past decade he is an American and I really got a sense of colonial America in the setting of the book.  This is particularly true with the sweeping and vivid descriptions of landscapes, canyons, towns and people.  I found the alien versus man part of the plot poignantly reflective of our own short-comings in relation to dealings with Native Americans and aborigines.  Yet this conflict does not in any way overshadow the rest of the story it only adds depth to it.

In the Knife Of Never Letting Go (and trust me the knife is important to the plot) I felt that the inventiveness of the author managed to stretch me in a manner that was perilously addictive and thought provoking.  This was both true of the narrative and shocking conclusion; both managed beautifully without too much specific political finger pointing.  I felt it genuinely addressed human nature in all its gory details with as much insight as I would ever want. 

© Mia Palmer November 2009
Knife is available in paperback and the sequel The Ask and the Answer is out now
The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
ISBN: 978-1-4063-1026-9
Walker Books Published May 2009 £12.99

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