Tuesday, 29 November 2016

'Chaos Walking' by Patrick Ness (2008-10)

Synopsis: Chaos Walking is a YA dystopian sci-fi series that consists of three novels (The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men) and three short stories (The New World, Wide Wide Sea and Snowscape). The series is set in the far-future on a distant planet that has been colonised by a small group of human settlers from Earth. In The Knife of Never Letting Go, Todd Hewitt is a boy just a month away from his 13th birthday (which would make him a man in the eyes of his community) and is the youngest person in the tiny village of Prentisstown. Todd has been raised by two men called Ben and Cillian - and has been brought up to believe that all of the planet's females and half the men were killed in an act of germ warfare by the native alien species of the planet (the Spackle) during the early years of the humans' settlement. A side-effect of this germ was that all of the remaining males of the town were left with the ability to see and hear each other's thoughts in a constant, cacophonous stream of Noise. Even their animals were affected by this germ. But when Todd and his dog Manchee then go through a walk in the nearby swamp one day they're left both shocked and overwhelmed when they manage to find a small patch of silence in it. And when Todd then goes home to his guardians and lets them know what he's found, the pair of them then mysteriously insist that Todd must now leave Prentisstown immediately. They then force Todd to flee their home and go on the run - whilst fighting off men from the town - and give him nothing but a hunting knife, a map of the planet, a small pack of food, and the diary that once belonged to Todd's mother. Todd and Manchee then escape back into the swamp and are able to discover the source of the silence - a teenage girl called Viola who has crash-landed on their planet. The three of them then embark on a dangerous quest across the planet towards the city of Haven, a larger settlement that should be able to protect them from the men of Prentisstown...

This review is going to be rather atypical for me as I don't think that I've ever attempted to review an entire series in one post before! It hadn't been my intention to review the entire Chaos Walking series in one post at the start of the Sci-Fi Month but I've just been so unexpectedly busy this November that I simply haven't had the time and the energy to write any individual reviews for its stories. I'm actually really glad that this has happened though because this series seriously grew on me as I was going through it and my overall thoughts on it are now far more positive than they were just a few weeks ago! :)

There were two main reasons why I chose to read the Chaos Walking books for the Sci-Fi Month. One reason for my wanting to read the series is because there are film adaptations of it that are now in the works (with Doug Liman directing and Daisy Ridley and possibly Tom Holland starring) and the other reason because I really loved Patrick Ness's brilliant middle-grade fantasy novel A Monster Calls when I read that book earlier this year. However, my experience of reading Chaos Walking was actually very different to my experience with A Monster Calls! The major difference I suppose was that I loved A Monster Calls pretty much instantly whereas with the Chaos Walking series it took me a very long time to decide how I actually felt about it, lol.

This book series really took me by surprise! I knew when I went into it that it had been primarily aimed at an older audience than A Monster Calls and that it would be sci-fi rather than fantasy, and I have read a few dystopian novels before so I was obviously aware that these books were hardly going to be feel-good comfort reads. But even so I was completely unprepared for how emotionally draining this series would be! This series is very dark and violent at times and I found it very difficult to get through in places. In fact there was this one particularly graphic scene of violence in The Ask and the Answer that I found so upsetting to read (my hands were shaking and I genuinely felt dizzy) that I had to put the book down for a few days. For that reason, even though Chaos Walking has been marketed for teenagers, I wouldn't say that this series is for everyone and I'd be very reluctant to recommend it to kids in their early teens.

BUT although Chaos Walking was a very challenging and hard read for me at times I was still very much left with the feeling that this series had all been worthwhile! The concept of the series is so unique, its world is so intriguing, atmospheric and well-developed, and its themes are incredibly rich. This series touches on colonisation, racism, genocide, war, misogyny, slavery, terrorism, religious bigotry and hypocrisy, and the loss of privacy! The prose and pacing in these books is also outstanding. Patrick Ness's descriptions and insights are so beautiful and powerful and there's so much action and suspense in this series!

I was never really able to picture Todd and Viola's characters as 13/14 year olds in this series (in my mind they were always at least 16 so the decision to age them up in the films like the Stark siblings in Game of Thrones makes perfect sense to me) but nevertheless I felt that they were both brilliantly-written. Viola was definitely my favourite character in the series as she's an extremely bright, determined, brave, resourceful and compassionate heroine. Having said that Manchee is the most adorable dog that I've encountered in fiction since Dug from Up and I really liked the characters Lee and Bradley who appear in the later books. As for Todd, it did take me a while to truly warm to him as I honestly thought that he was a whiny, stubborn brat at the start of The Knife of Never Letting Go and that he made some really stupid decisions at times. However Todd really does have a good heart, he grows tremendously throughout the series, and his relationship with Viola is very sweet.

In the end I found Chaos Walking to be extremely rewarding as it was deeply powerful, thought-provoking and haunting. The series is hard to read at times but looking back I don't think that the story was ever without hope and optimism and, ultimately, I felt that it was a tale about love winning out over war :)

Overall Rating: 5/5

P.S. Recently I've actually seen a few sarcastic and negative comments about the Chaos Walking books online. When the film adaptations were announced I saw quite a few comments along the lines of "Oh great, yet another YA dystopian adaptation" and "Oh yeah whatever, this series is clearly just a rip-off of The Hunger Games". This is sooo frustrating to me now that I've actually finished this series! Firstly, because The Knife of Never Letting Go was actually published a few months before the first Hunger Games novel and, secondly, because I now think that Chaos Walking is the best dystopian series that I've yet read. Although I have a great fondness for The Hunger Games, I found Chaos Walking to be the far more visceral and thought-provoking of the two, and for me it actually got better with each book whereas the sequels to the first Hunger Games novel stayed the same and then got worse. Erm, yeah... I couldn't finish this review on too positive a note, I had to get a rant in there somewhere, lol!


Sarah said...

Great review Hannah! I've never heard of this before, but it sounds really interesting, and like something I might enjoy, so thanks for sharing!

Hannah said...

Sarah - Oh thank you, if you ever get around to this series then I hope you'll like it! It made for very stressful reading at times (I'm not gonna lie!) but overall I found it to be so original, though-provoking and powerful.