There are a number of bloggers who have forever claimed that The Chaos Walking Trilogy was better than its more publicized colleagues (The Hunger Games, for example). Jill, Ana, Trisha, Raych...all friends whose opinions I trust. They spoke of love, of obsession, of tears. I was overwhelmed with it all and I ran away.
But then I picked up this first installment at the 2010 SIBA convention. So what was my problem? The size of the books (this one is nearly 500 pages long)? The three-book commitment? Laziness? Then I heard it was being made into a movie. Then I found the first and third installment on audio at the library. And I decided to go for it. Praise the Lord, Patrick Ness and talking dogs.
Synopsis: Prentisstown is a farming village occupied only by men, located in the New World. The women all died years ago, killed by a virus contracted from the native species that inhabited the planet before man colonized it. Likewise, this same virus made all men's private thoughts available to each other (called Noise), and have enabled animals to talk.
Todd Hewitt lives in Prentisstown, and will be the last boy in town to turn 13 and officially become a man. He is a simple sheltered boy, fairly uneducated because Mayor Prentiss burned all the books and declared schooling unnecessary. Todd has lived his life believing a number of truths, including the cause of his parents' deaths when he was young, that the natives, called Spackle, were the enemy but are now all gone, and that Prentisstown is the only settlement in the New World.
Until one day, when he meets a human that omits no Noise. Viola. A girl. He is suddenly urged by his adoptive father to run away from Prentisstown with Viola and his loyal dog Manchee, as fast as he can to a safe place, away from the villagers. It is a matter of life and death. And all the truths upon which Todd has always relied, are shattered.
My thoughts: I'm not sure where to begin with this one, except to tell you that all the hype for this book is very warranted. Jesus wept, people, and so did I.
There are so many intricately developed issues buzzing around your head, they overwhelm your senses. Invasion of a native population, hatred between species, communication (open, closed or managed for ill gain), death of all women, the hypocrisy of the religious, the kindness of strangers, the confusion of young love, and *gulp* the unconditional love of a dog.
But don't let all that scare you off. In fact, the world that Ness has built for you will make your mind buzz with possibilities and potential. And Todd and Viola and Manchee are precious and earnest and untainted, and you YEARN for their well-being. The plot is fast-paced and full of terror and anguish. (Unless you are dead, the anguish will level you. I'm telling you so you can plan ahead.)
And right when you get to the precipice of Something Bigger...Ness ends the book. A bit of a cheap trick if you ask me, and manipulative. If I'd have read this when it first published, I would have been pretty upset. I also was slightly irritated at a Michael Meyers-esque character that just WOULD NOT DIE. It was almost laughable. All lesser quibbles than the whole of the thing though.
The good news is that if you are reading these books now, you can plow through them one after the other. I'm warning you, for the sake of your sanity, have "The Ask and the Answer" at the ready, as soon as you finish this one.
A few words about the audio production: The narrator for this audio book (and for the entire series) is Nick Podehl, a new voice for me, but one that has made a positive first impression. He was able to convey Todd's innocence, his frustration and fear, as well as speak for Viola, a few evil guys, and best of all, the animals, especially Manchee. Not everyone can talk like a dog might sound if barking out words, but this guy does a superb Manchee and I love him for it.
4 out of 5 stars