I did not originally plan to review this series. Indeed, I didn’t originally plan to read the entire series – I didn’t realise it was one. I found The Knife of Never Letting Go in a WH Smith when I was meant to be doing something else, picked it up because I liked the title, read the blurb and the first couple of pages, liked the premise and added it to my ever-growing TBR list. That was that. I kept seeing the book in various bookshops, and I also had it on my Amazon and eBay lists, but still didn’t buy it. I was trying to be sensible and try and only read the books I already had (for once), and although I was intrigued by the premise, I had other books I would rather read first. Isn’t that always the way?
Then I found the complete trilogy in a book and stationery outlet shop, all three books in a box set for only eight quid, when they would all be around that much each at RRP. How could I resist? Yet still, I did not read them. Now I knew there was a trilogy I was even more daunted at the prospect of beginning it. What if I didn’t like it? I have a bad habit of not giving up on books even if I don’t like them, stubbornly needing to finish what I’ve started – that’s the perfectionist in me. I’m trying to break the habit, but the thought plagued me. The books grew steadily larger as the series went on – was I really ready to commit to that?
Three days ago, I decided to bite the bullet. I picked up The Knife of Never Letting Go. I was a few pages in and my initial excitement turned to hesitation – the narrative voice, the strangeness of the world, the story itself… why had I picked this up again? I needn’t have worried. Several pages more and I was hooked. I read the entire trilogy over the course of three days – finishing the first book over two days, reading over half of the second book on that second day too, then spent the following day (today) finishing the second book and reading the third. I read Monsters of Men in less than a day – I’m writing this maybe twenty minutes after putting the books back on my shelf. I am still reeling, so this review will probably be nowhere near as coherent as usual. But I had to write it now, while my memory of tearing up at the ending is still fresh, while I am still partly in the book’s world, while I probably should be going to bed rather than writing this. It’s been over ten years now since these books were first published, so I realise I’m very late in jumping on the bandwagon, and that my eagerness to recommend the series will probably fall on deaf ears. Young adult dystopian sci-fi trilogy… we’ve all had quite enough of that, thanks. That’s what I would have said before I started reading.
The first book in the series follows a twelve year old boy named Todd and is narrated solely by him. He lives in a place called Prentisstown on the planet New World. It’s assumed to be the only settlement and it’s only populated by men, the women assumed to have been killed by a biological warfare disease in a fight against the planet’s natives, the Spackle. Yes, this all sounds weird and confusing – hence why I was a bit put off at first. But what makes the story especially interesting was the fact that the men have Noise – they can all hear each other’s thoughts constantly, and it seems nothing can be done to stop it. One day, Todd finds a patch of silence, and not long afterwards he finds a surviving girl… I would say more about the plot and characters but I don’t want to, I want you to find out for yourselves!
Todd and Viola face so many hardships, and the narrative is incredibly fast-paced, action-packed, and deals with lots of dark and difficult topics with deftness and gritty realism – the meaning of war, the cost of peace, gender politics, slavery, redemption, friendship, tyranny, colonisation, genocide, appeasement, complicity, the distinction between good and evil – freedom fighter or terrorist, charismatic leader or cruel tyrant… As the series continues the narrative is told from multiple perspectives, and the way the voices are in different fonts, and the way the text is laid out on the page, the explosions of bombs in huge bold font, whispers in small font… The whole series is creative, original, and utterly compelling.
There’s a reason this series has won awards. Read it. Re-read it. Re-read it again. I know I will.