Oh, read it read it read it! If you liked The Hunger Games, you must absolutely read this book. And that means that you should skip everything past the “spoilers” cut, because you really don’t want to be spoiled.
Basically, Prentisstown is a human settlement on an alien planet. There was a war with the natives, who were wiped out — but not before they released some nasty biological warfare in the form of Noise. Noise killed all the women in Prentisstown and left the men able to hear each others’ thoughts, all the time, whether they want to or not. (Noise also makes animals talk, so if talking dogs are your thing, well, here you go. Just remember that this came out before Up whenever Manchee barks, “Squirrel!”)
Todd is the last boy in Prentisstown, about to become a man when he turns thirteen in a month. But shit is going ill, and even though he doesn’t understand any of it, he and his dog need to run, now, into the rest of New World beyond the swamp. He’d always been taught there was nothing beyond Prentisstown, but it turns out that a lot of what he thought he knew is a lie…
“Everything he thought he knew was a lie” books are some of my favorites. I love tragic misunderstandings and deep secrets that slowly unfold. Books that take place on other planets are ideal for this (think Speaker for the Dead and The Sparrow), and I realized it had been way too long since any of my SF had been other-world rather than Earth’s-future.
Knife is an outstanding book. I gobbled it up in two days and will be reading the sequel as soon as I can get my grubby paws on it. My only gripes (because criticisms are more interesting to write about than kvells):
- It’s actually too fast-paced. Riding a roller-coaster for two days straight started to make me sick, rather than exhilarated.
- I figured out the secrets long before the book laid them out. Which was doubly annoying because the characters figured them out long before the book saw fit to share with the rest of the class. Ness seemed to think he needed to hold on to them for the bang-up conclusion, but there was enough interesting stuff going on that it would have been fine if he’d paid them out earlier, after he’d given enough clues that they were pretty obvious anyway. For a book that’s about what an overabundance of information does to people, Ness’s characters are infuriatingly stingy with theirs.
- I’ve never bought into the “Come to the Dark Side, Luke” school of boss battles. It strikes me as an artificial valorizing of innocence. Not that I know what I’m talking about — I’ve never killed anyone — but it seems to me that a nuanced, mature person ought to be able to make a moral distinction between Being a Killer and killing that one evil dude who has been chasing you without mercy for the whole damn book. (Sure, Todd’s thirteen, but the whole book is about his journey to manhood, so I think he counts as “mature” by the end.)
I get that in this case, it was more not wanting to give in to Prentisstown’s crazy worldview than real belief that Todd would be a horrible person if he killed Aaron. I felt much better about it all after Viola killed him herself. But there was far too much discussion of Todd’s Boy Who Wouldn’t Kill purity for my taste — like, when did he become Harry Potter? Why is he special? You know I hate destiny books anyway, and here the destiny felt tacked-on. He’s a more interesting character if he’s just a victim of circumstance.
Also reviewed at: Allow me to introduce you to Asking the Wrong Question, my new favorite blog about smart stories (books and TV). Her posts are long — really, really long — but worth it.