Written By Ciaran Dermott
“But a knife ain’t just a thing, is it? It’s a choice, it’s something you do. A knife says yes or no, cut or not, die or don’t. A knife takes a decision out of your hand and puts it in the world and it never goes back again. ”
This exhilaratingly dark thriller might be teen fiction, but its eye opening premise sets the tone for a distinctly literary adventure, even if it is one prone to the usual shortfalls of cheesiness, predictable plot twists and stereotypes.
Welcome to Prentiss town. A colony on New World, where Todd Hewitt is one month away from becoming a man. He is the last boy in his village. Something strange happens in this town to all of the boys when they become men. Their attitude changes. They become angrier, less sociable. They refuse to talk to boys.
There are two other strange things about Prentiss town. One, all the women are dead. Every single last one of them. And two, everyone can hear each other’s thoughts, all the time. As a result of some strange unknown germ, all of the men’s thoughts generate noise that hangs around in the air and can be observed by all.
“The Noise is a man unfiltered, and without a filter, a man is just chaos walking.”
It is this last feature which dominates the novel, and makes it so totally unlike anything you’ve ever read before. Todd narrates the entire adventure from the first person perspective, but of course as his thoughts can be heard by every other character, they will often interrupt his narration to reply as if he has spoken. Similarly, all of the other men produce ‘noise’, which appears to Todd. Here Ness employs a very visual mode of literature, often writing their thoughts in squiggly fonts that career off the page. Dark bold lettering makes menacing thoughts seem to march out of the page. Wispy lettering shows the dreams of the men that Todd comes across. It is an interesting idea that never really gets old, and has some very real implications for the incredible events that follow Todd’s return from the swamp outside town.
The plot, while it certainly has its exciting moments, is relatively cookie cutter, as we might expect from science fiction aimed primarily at a young adult audience. There are clichés, it is predictable in parts, yet the world itself is interesting enough, and the shadowy history is just shadowy enough to keep even mature readers engaged until the final page. Atrocious title aside, this isn’t a bad book to kill a little time with. The underlying themes, while only lightly touched upon, are a common one in literature. What it means to be a man, and how to become one. Todd’s narration, which adopts a colloquial quality reminiscent of Huckleberry Finn, breathes new life into the adventure bildungsroman.
“Hope may be the thing that pulls you forward, may be the thing that keeps you going, but that it’s dangerous, that it’s painful and risky, that it’s making a dare in the world and when has the world ever let us win a dare?”