The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 1, 2011

Cari Rerat, book review: Heart-rending trilogy written really well

By Cari Rerat
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — Chaos Walking Trilogy

Book 1: The Knife of Never Letting Go

Book 2: The Ask and the Answer

Book 3: Monsters of Men

By Patrick Ness

Teen Fiction

Patrick Ness may be the most gifted author I’ve read since Neil Gaiman. He may also be the most evil author on the planet.

When I read my first Neil Gaiman novel, “Neverwhere,” I found myself so swept away and in love with the characters that about 3/4 of the way through I realized that if Gaiman didn’t do right by these characters and end the book properly (because I’m narcissistic enough to think I know what that means), it would be unforgivable.

In the height of this distrust, I confess, I read the last chapter. Needless to say, “Neverwhere” ended satisfactorily and was the first book I wanted to turn over and reread immediately after closing the back cover.

The three books in the “Chaos Walking” trilogy had a similar effect on me. I suffered through the turmoil in the first two books and loved the characters as if I knew them personally, but I didn’t trust Ness to do right by them. Before I could begin the last book, “Monsters of Men,” I had to read the end. I know this is sacrilege to some, but let me explain.

Todd Hewitt was the last baby born on New World before war broke out with the Spackle, the native sentient species, and all women died from a virus that caused all men’s thoughts to become audible (these audible thoughts are called “Noise”) and gave all animals the ability to talk.

Todd lives with Ben and Cillian on the outskirts of Prentisstown raising sheep while waiting for his 13th birthday -- the day he becomes a man.

When the first book opens, Todd and his loveable dog Manchee are on their way to the swamp to pick swamp apples. Everything changes for Todd that day when he discovers a “hole in the Noise.”

After Todd tells Ben and Cillian about the hole in the Noise, they make him run away from Prentisstown and from everyone he knew. He must run for his life.

As he goes through the swamp again, he discovers that the hole in the Noise is a girl named Viola Eade, who came to New World on a scout ship in preparation for a new batch of settlers. Now, she and Todd are being hunted by Prentisstown’s power hungry Mayor Prentiss with an army of men behind him.

As the books progress, things get more ominous and Todd begins to realize that everything he thought he knew about New World is a lie. The army that wanted to find the last boy in Prentisstown and the girl from the great black beyond becomes an army set on taking over New World and all its settlements. Mayor Prentiss appoints himself President Prentiss and begins his evil reign over New World.

President Prentiss’ actions spawn the formation of a woman-led guerilla movement called The Answer. Todd and Viola, each controlled by a powerful adult on opposite sides of the conflict, must find each other and find a way to bring peace to New World before the new settlers land. It’s no easy task, but by the end of The Ask and The Answer, it gets exponentially harder when a huge Spackle army decides to enter the fray.

There is a lot going on with these three books, but they are extremely fast paced with characters who are developed to the point of being real--even the animals are real. Bad things happen to Todd and Viola and the other characters in the book that made me angry and tearful and curse Patrick Ness for his evil ways, but these books are so good that I couldn’t stop reading them.

It’s a difficult journey to take (and if you have to skip to the last chapter, no judgment here), but it’s worth every tear. Now that I know how it all works out, I have a strong desire to read them all again.