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A novel by Patrick Ness
(2003, Open Road Media)

Chaos Walking, book 1

A boy flees his hometown, not understanding the reason why, when he meets a strage girl whose thougts he can't read, and they are chased down the river by an army determined to get them back.


-- First reading (ebook)
August 20th to 30th, 2021


This is the story of a boy who grows into a man, through the risk of death and the love of a young woman. Warning signs sprang up from the first page, with the writing style that shows the uneducated boy’s thoughts directly as he would think them, using slang terms and slang or abbreviated spelling for common words. It was annoying, but I got mostly used to it. It degraded my enjoyment of the book somewhat, but not by much. I understand that he may think this way, and it’s first-person, but I don’t necessarily want to read it that way. The story itself is pretty simple, though it goes on for way too long with nothing really happening. Todd races from one community to another, and is either rejected or has to escape -repeat several times. Viola, victim of a spaceship crash, knows a lot about high technology, but in the uncertainty, doesn’t say much of anything to Todd. Everybody withholds information from Todd, and I had to agree with his frustration. The horror of the rite-of-passage of the boys to men of Prentisstown was less of a shock than I think it should have been, as some of the information is leaked throughout the book. I liked the way the planet had an unexplained effect on men that their thoughts could be heard by anyone, and they could communicate with animals (presumably only male animals?). I didn’t like the way Aaron kept coming back long after he should have been dead, even as Todd shouldn’t have survived a couple of times, too. Is it something else about the planet? In the end, there is something fundamental about light and dark that even killing in self-defense would potentially cause Todd to become part of Prentiss’ army, which I find really hard to believe. I’m interested in knowing why so many men believe the world would be better with Prentiss in charge, that they would overrun other communities, but it’ll have to wait, as I need something a little more interesting now.

Spoiler review:

I can often tell right from the first page whether it will be a struggle or not to read a book, and this one was no exception. I’ve seen other people praise the strange internal dialog of the main character. While this may be the way his uneducated brain thinks, it’s not something I want to hear, at least not this much of. I’m not a fan of uneducated characters to begin with, so this made it just that much less enjoyable for me.

Having said that, my level of enjoyment of this book was tempered more by the chase and slow revelation of the mystery of this planet. It took so long to get anywhere, and the characters didn’t learn much. Part of that was because of the way everybody hides information from Todd, citing that it’s not their place to do so, or that they're afraid that he’ll turn into a monster if they tell him anything. Why? I’ll be seriously disappointed with this series if it’s just a tale of Adam and Eve, with darkness engulfing the soul by one bad act. I hope the planet has something to do with the instability of the men, or maybe Prentiss has some sort of mind control because of the way the men can project thoughts. The men of the other villages were willing to fight Prentiss, but in the end, his army grew as he passed and defeated each of them. Why? I hope an answer is forthcoming in the next books.

I did enjoy the way the author dropped us into the middle of the situation, and we had to learn things little by little, such as why Todd could speak to his dog, then when he meets his first girl, why he can’t speak to her, but his thoughts are projected to her. That part is some sort of effect by the planet. Why are there no women in Prentisstown? Because Mayor Prentiss killed them all, because he couldn’t hear their thoughts? I can see jealousy getting the better of him, but to start a crusade against all women? The planet must have a destabilizing effect on the men.

Viola, for her part, is completely silent for the first part of the book, as she’s in trauma from the crash landing that killed her parents, scouts from a generational ship heading for this planet. When she does start talking, we learn that nobody has had contact with the first settlers, and so had no idea they were still alive. When confronted by Aaron, a priest from Prentisstown, she barely gets away. She’s a mystery to Todd, because he’s never seen a girl before. Forced to leave Prentisstown before he comes of age, Todd encounters Viola on the way out. They help each other from town to town, some abandoned, some crazy. All of them hate Prentisstown men, so they are all suspicious. Viola is a grounding force for Todd, allowing him to open his world beyond the town he grew up in, the only place he’s ever known. He didn’t even know the world extended beyond Prentisstown.

Todd, being still under the age of manhood, is taken in by a couple of people, but when Prentiss, Aaron and his men appear, they move on. The people from the other villages seem to know a lot about his heritage, though they aren’t sharing, which was very annoying. They’re afraid of him, because of what happened in the past.

Aaron’s intention in this book was unclear from the start, and I hated the way he could come back to life after being mauled by an alligator, being beaten in the head, and sustaining other injuries that should have killed him outright. Todd is also nearly killed, having been attacked by the only other alien race on the planet after he attacks it. I think this must be part of the disease the planet inflicts on the men. It turns out that Aaron was to be a willing sacrifice, making Todd angrier and angrier until he would be forced to kill the man, bringing him in to be part of the army and under Prentiss’ control. By the end of the book, Viola realizes this, and she kills Aaron instead.

When they finally make their way up the river to their destination, a city or metropolis, they find it empty. I’m not sure what happened here –it can’t be possible that Prentiss overwhelmed them, unless the city was dying to begin with. Prentiss arrived there before Todd and Viola, though, and has plans for Todd. I think humanity has already killed off most of the intelligent alien natives, so I’m not sure what Prentiss could be after now, especially if he’s killing all the women –his reign will be quite short.

My big problems with this story are the internalizations where Todd is so downcast, hating everything, angry at everything, and nobody wants to give him information. For a much better internalization of teen feelings, I recommend Lost and Found. I can give the character the benefit of the doubt for now, but it’s depressing to read, and very annoying.

And then there’s the yappy dog, which was probably the highlight of the book. Todd says he hates the dog, but actually loves it and likes having a companion. They can talk mind-to-mind, and the dog helps Todd and Viola get away several times. Eventually the dog sacrifices himself for Todd, so he can rescue Viola from Aaron. At first my thoughts went dark when Aaron captured Viola, but then realized that it was only to lure Todd to him angrily. The dog’s sacrifice when they get away was at least heartfelt, though by that time, I don’t think it had the impact the author intended.

I think there’s enough here to interest me in reading the next book in the series, but I’ll be waiting a bit before returning to this world.


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