Monday, September 18, 2017

The Knife of Never Letting Go (and the Chaos Walking trilogy)


Earlier this year, I read Patrick Ness for the first time.  I made my dip into his writing via his latest novel, Release, and while his writing reminded me of Stiefvater (of whom I'm a serious fan), the content was more confronting, crass and cursey than I prefer.  I could tell he could write though.  So when I saw Walker email signatures blazing with banners promoting the film adaptation of another of his books (and one geared towards a slightly younger audience), I was resolved I needed to read something else by Ness.  I am so. glad. I did.  I began with the Chaos Walking trilogy and moved onto A Monster Calls (review follows tomorrow).  Guys, if Release was not for you, that does not mean Ness is not for you.

Overall: The Chaos Walking trilogy is a robust and rousing world-build which I felt deserved a chef kiss of bennisimo at its conclusion.  

Let's break this down a little more, book by book;

The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness
  • I was reminded of Stiefvater all over again in style and The Dream Thieves in particular.  In atmosphere, of The Wasp Factory and Lord of the Flies -- only The Knife is more compelling and...better (to my taste).  Either of those classics would serve well as a comparative class study, but holy crackers I would salivate at the prospect of studying this alongside Ender's Game.
  • There are multiple narrative perspectives, and I think the devices employed to distinguish between these two personalities make them impressively distinct from each other.
  • Strong language is used tastefully and very intentionally (two major curses in this one, by my count).
  • I devoured the varied sentence-lengths and paragraphs and found the story crazy-compelling.  At first I felt like I was picking my way through and deciding how I felt about it all, but from the inciting incident onwards I was in, and in deep.  I saw some things coming, but others I did not and it made for a thrilling ride.
  • There's a lot of violence --  both implied and graphically described.  The most insidious images are those I insinuated, however.  (Typical.)
  • No sex scenes; euphemisms and vague references to sex are brief and tasteful.
Overall: Book 1 is so well done, and one I'm quick to recommend to people I think would enjoy it;  but it's certainly not for everyone.  I saw Laini Taylor say in her GR review that it's good...but it's also a punch to the gut.  So true.

The Ask and the Answer, Patrick Ness
  • It is like a gift from the English Teacher gods; because Book 2 in this series is a perfect comparative study for Speaker for the Dead!  AH!  (I also would love to write and read essays drawing on links to Peter Pan.)
  • One sad thing about having a roaring, crazy-compelling first book built upon intrigue, is that it is one tough act to follow.  Book 2 is by no means a weak book, but after becoming accustomed to the pace set in Book 1 and after having so many questions answered, I didn't drive through the sequel with the same urgency; I could put it down (and even read another series in the middle of it -- I needed something lighter, and indulged myself accordingly).  BUT THEN -- chapter four introduces a new narrative voice that upped the investment anti-, and later, from the three-quarter mark, I was so obsessed all over again!  
  • Reveals are less for fun and less contrived than say The Maze Runner, and have greater relevance to the story.
  • I appreciate that as this story develops there is a greater emphasis on hope in spite of all of the loss and pain.  I needed that.  It made me feel a little fist-pumpy even.
  • Small beef:  The horses.  Oh Patrick, how you've short-changed these majestic creatures!  I'll say no more for those yet to read, but c'mon, they're so majestic and intelligent!
Overall:  Book 2 is slower (a very relative term!) than Book 1, but still essential and strong!

Monsters of Men, Patrick Ness
  • It was finally, in Book 3, that I put my finger on what exactly made it so difficult for me to rip through all three novels in immediate succession; it's the humour situation!  There is humour in these, no doubt, but it is served sparingly.  If I had read these as they were released -- with more space (and stories) between, I doubt I would have encountered the same stumbling block.  Back-to-back though, they're pretty dark and dry. 
  • It was because I didn't see enough warmth from characters, I think, that I didn't care as much in the battle scenes as I should have.  I think one of the greatest stories being told in Book 3 is how war changes people, but sadly war is so much the default mode in Book 3 that change is barely detectable; I was not charmed by endearing characters to be shaken by their gravitas on the battlefield, because things are mostly serious, most of the time.
  • In the third installment, I also sadly found the switching perspectives at times unnecessary and too frequent.
  • But there are so poetic beauties in the writing.
  • GOLLY did the protags make some annoying choices in this one.  
  • Good thing the chief villain had chops. (Yeah, there are multiple villains in this series.)
  • On a related note: I'm team Spackle.  Let it be known.  If you've read these, let me speak to this point.
  • I had so many rich, enjoyable moments in the trilogy's resolution; the final book is really gratifying, even profound.  The morals and allegory may be spelled out a little, but they're morals worth making clear.  I was so pleased hope continued to triumph.  
  • Disclaimer-wise, there's some blasphemy, allusions to sexual intimacy and plenty more violence.
Overall: Book 3 brings everything together in a way that makes the stuff I sniffed at better; even the elements I'd thought, "this isn't great" seem "all good" in retrospect.  That's quite a feat!  What a conclusion!  I closed Book 3 and thought, "Darn good!"  My rec: Ride this one to its end, it magnifies the overall memorability of the world and impact of its themes and characters.

I'm very fortunate to have enjoyed reviewing the clean-design new editions of this series.  I'm reluctant to lend them to anyone because their spines are so darn pretty...but I can't stop talking about them, so I'm guessing I'll suck it up.  Or you can all just buy them unread in good faith!  Go on.

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