The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness

knifeI read The Knife of Never Letting Go in one evening so there’s clearly a lot of good here but let me start with the bad.

Knife does two things that I really dislike in books. First it has some dumb protagonists. The main characters (Todd and Viola) are kids, so some idiocy is to be expected, but boy. They spend most of this book running away from a murderous gang composed of Todd’s former townsfolk and they just cannot get the running away right. They take long breaks. They dally. They spend twenty minutes sawing through a rope. They decide to have nervous breakdowns out in the open instead of, I dunno, hiding. They think oh the murderous townsfolk have given up (they haven’t). They even go backward at one point! I seriously wanted to sit them down and tell them, the first rule of running away is you RUN…AWAY!

Second the book tries to generate a lot of tension by withholding information that is readily accessible. For example Todd carries around this big book written by his mother. Relevant? WHAT DO YOU THINK?! True, Todd is functionally illiterate but it still takes ages before somebody says, want me to tell you what’s in the book? And Todd says no! I nearly stopped right there.

Relatedly there’s a big mystery about the town where Todd grew up. There are good reasons for the townsfolk (before they become murderous) to not say anything to Todd, but at some point he meets other people who know a lot more — and they don’t say anything either! I mean come on! I’d even accept an awkward “interlude” through another POV over this annoying coyness.

Ok. I feel better now.

Let me start at the beginning. Knife is a young adult science fiction novel about an alien world that’s been settled by humans, but not happily. The problem is that something in the world (it’s not clear what) makes people’s thoughts transparent to each other. It’s also killed all the women.

Todd has grown up as the youngest child in the last human settlement on the planet. There are 146 men in the settlement, and many of them are basically half crazy with lack of female companionship and the inability to hide their thoughts. Patrick Ness should be credited with going straight to where this situation would lead a group of men, which Todd explains by saying that the men are constantly thinking about big-breasted blonde women doing physically unusual things.

Oh, besides people it also turns out animals’ thoughts are readable though of course animals are a lot dumber. This is especially true of Todd’s dog Manchee who is hilariously obsessed with poo and who is also I’d wager the fan favorite character in this book. Seriously I loved that mutt so much.

Oh Manchee.

Anyway it turns out a lot of what I’ve just said is a lie (except for the mind-reading and the awesome dog) and Todd goes on the run from the angry townsfolk who have turned from fantasies about unrealistic women into thoughts of murder, just like that.

The plot revelations are neat but raise a whole lot of questions that I don’t believe are ever fully answered like: Why didn’t the townsfolk turn murderous earlier? Why didn’t other people deal with them earlier? What’s so special about Todd? What’s so special about the town — and the men in it? Good luck finding real answers. (There are some fig leaf responses in the text but they’re so lame they don’t count.)

Now I kid a lot but being serious for one moment the beginning of this book is a rocking roller coaster of excitement. Even as you’re screaming at Todd to get his ass moving you are growing tense watching him run. And so much crazy interesting new stuff pops up in the beginning that the fleeing never gets stale.

After the beginning things settle a bit but all in all this is one great chase narrative. There is this annoying bit about a Terminator-like preacher who I expected at any moment to be revealed as a cyborg but no, he’s just really resistant to pain and infection and massive crocodiles I guess? But other than that I say kudos to Ness for the adrenaline-packed narrative.

Also applause for the relationship between Todd and his new buddy Viola, who is very annoying while mute but quite endearing when she regains her voice. Both of these characters wear their hearts on their sleeves and emote like crazy which I like.

And the ending — yikes. I feel bad for the kids who didn’t have access to the sequel crying about the lack of fairness in the world.

So this book was really fun and really annoying but spent just enough time on the fun side to be a readable blast.

★★★☆☆