Chaos Walking trilogy: ‘The Knife of Never Letting Go’, ‘The Ask and the Answer’, ‘Monsters of Men’

This young-adult trilogy is set on the planet New World, where settlers from Old World (presumably Earth) headed looking for a new start after ruining their original home. The initial landing went badly, resulting in a native species of intelligent beings (known as the Spackle) being slaughtered and then subdued as slaves, all the men being infected with a virus that makes every inner thought audible to everyone (the Noise), and all the women being killed in one of the original settlements, Prentisstown.

Out of Prentisstown comes Todd, a young teen who is forced to flee when the mayor, who is plotting a war to take over the planet, turns against him. He soon meets up with young Viola, a girl who crash-landed with a scout ship from an incoming group of new settlers. Todd and Viola travel across the planet to try to warn the incoming settlers before Mayor Prentiss can start his war. Along the way, they encounter other settlers from other towns, including a renowned woman healer who sets herself up as the leader of an armed resistance to now-President Prentiss.

I thought this trilogy (plus The New World, the very slight short story that showcases Viola’s life on the scout ship just before it lands) was really well done. The writing is certainly on a young-adult level (sensible since all three novels are narrated in turns by Todd and Viola), but the themes that it tackles are far from simplistic: What is war? Is it ever OK to kill someone? Do the ends ever justify the means? Is it possible to do the wrong thing for the right reasons? Is redemption ever really possible? Time and again I braced myself for a pat answer, and time and again I was pleasantly surprised. Ness takes pains to present the good and bad sides of both heroes and villains, to the point where readers will find themselves questioning which is which.

Partway through the series, I expressed the opinion that this is a better YA trilogy than The Hunger Games. After finishing the third book, I stand by that opinion. While I enjoyed both series quite a bit, I think Ness does a better job of presenting and exploring the larger themes that lie behind the narrative.