Read a full summary of The Knife of Never Letting Go, book #1 in Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking series, right here! This page is full of spoilers, so beware. If you are wondering what happened in The Knife of Never Letting Go, then you are in the right place!
Special thanks to Lindsey Stirling, a new BSR contributor, who wrote this great recap! Visit her website to check out the books she’s written and to keep up with news about her new releases. See the end of the recap for links to her Goodreads, Instagram, and Facebook accounts as well as links to the books she’s published.
***** Everything below is a SPOILER *****
What happened in The Knife of Never Letting Go?
Todd Hewitt lives in Prentisstown on New World, a planet recently colonized by humanity. Todd is the youngest in the town, though he is only one month away from his 13th birthday, when he will officially become a man. (A year on New World is 13 months long.) There are no women in Prentisstown, and Todd has been told they were all killed by the Germ, a weapon released by the Spackle (the native species) during a war not long after Todd was born. Humanity won the war, killing all the Spackle, but the side effects of the Germ remained: All the men and animals could hear each other’s thoughts in a phenomenon called Noise.
One day when Todd is out with his dog, Manchee, he discovers a place in the swamp where there is a hole in the Noise: silence. He rushes home and tells his adoptive parents, Ben and Cillian, about the hole. Ben and Cillian are instantly worried because the other men of the town will hear about it from Todd’s Noise. They announce Todd must leave Prentisstown immediately. In fact, they had already been secretly planning for this eventuality. While Cillian remains at the farm to stall Davy Prentiss (the Mayor’s son), Ben takes Todd and Manchee away, giving them a bag of supplies, a map, Todd’s mother’s journal, and a hunting knife.
In the swamp, Todd comes across the priest Aaron and discovers it was actually Aaron’s Noise, not his own, who alerted the town to the hole in the Noise. Todd is about to stab Aaron with the hunting knife, but Aaron is attacked by a crocodile. Todd and Manchee escape, only to come face to face with the hole in the Noise. It is a girl.
Todd has never seen a girl before. She doesn’t speak, so he’s not sure if she understands him. They manage to communicate enough to patch up the girl’s small injuries. Not long after, Aaron finds them again and attacks. Todd and Aaron fight hand to hand, but Todd gains the upper hand. He has the choice to kill Aaron with his knife, but he doesn’t go through with it. Todd, Manchee, and the girl escape further through the swamp.
The girl takes Todd to the wreckage of her spaceship, and Todd realizes she must have crash-landed on New World. The girl’s dead parents are still in the ship. Todd and the girl take what supplies they need and leave. They attempt to follow Ben’s map to another settlement nearby. Todd struggles to know what to do because he can’t read well and only understands some of Ben’s written instructions. The girl still hasn’t said a word, and Todd is worried she might catch the Germ from him and die.
It’s not long before they realize an army of Prentisstown men, lead by Mayor Prentiss, is following them. Todd, Manchee, and the girl race along the road to the bridge and manage to cross before they are caught. The girl uses her campfire box to explode the bridge behind them. In the aftermath, she gets the courage to speak and tells Todd her name is Viola.
Todd and Viola continue traveling until they are found by an old woman named Hildy, who heard the explosion at the bridge. Hildy takes them back to her house, where they meet her husband Tam. The old couple reassure them the Germ is not contagious, rather women are immune so Viola is safe. Todd is left reeling from the revelation and wonders if it wasn’t the Germ that killed the women in Prentisstown, then what did?
Viola and Hildy start talking about settler ships, and Todd learns Viola was born in space on a scout ship. There are thousands more settlers following her ship from Old World. Viola is looking for a way to contact them and warn them against coming to New World.
Viola presses Todd about the instructions on the map, but he won’t admit he can’t read. The next day, Hildy takes them into the town of Farbranch, where Todd is amazed to see so many women and children. He is also amazed to learn of other settlements, including the city Haven, where there’s rumored to be a cure for Noise. Todd is met with hostility because he’s from Prentisstown, but Mayor Francia gives Todd and Viola a chance to stay.
That night, Todd is confronted by a townsman called Matthew Lyle. Matthew is angry because he once lived in Prentisstown, but his mother was killed. He tries to kill Todd, and Manchee’s tail is cut off during the fight. Todd and Manchee escape, but before they can reach safety, Francia warns them the Prentisstown army is attacking. The Farbranch townsfolk resist but are overwhelmed, and the town is burned down.
Todd and Viola spy on the army from afar. Todd sees Ben and Cillian are not there, which means they’ve probably been killed. Unfortunately, they also see Aaron has survived. Todd, Viola, and Manchee flee before they are caught.
Viola helps Todd read the message from Ben. It explains Mayor Prentiss is building an army and means to overtake the other settlements. They travel onward, deciding to avoid other people so they won’t endanger them. Not long after, Davy Prentiss catches up with them. Todd and Davy fight, and Davy taunts Todd about having killed Ben and Cillian. Todd almost uses his knife to kill Davy but hesitates at the last second, giving Davy a chance to fight back again. Viola comes to help, shocking Davy with an electric current. Again, Todd has the chance to kill Davy. He wants to do it to prove he is a man. Viola talks him down, saying the only way to win is to not become like them.
As they leave Davy unconscious but alive, Todd and Viola encounter a Spackle, one of the planet’s natives thought to be extinct. Todd, still reeling from the fight with Davy, attacks the Spackle. Viola tries to stop him, but Todd realizes he’s stronger than the alien. He stabs it with his knife, killing it but instantly regretting it. Then amidst his angry, panicked, and confused emotions, he fails to notice Aaron appearing until it’s too late. Aaron stabs Todd and leaves him for dead.
Todd wakes to find Aaron has kidnapped Viola. He chases after them, but his wound gets progressively worse. When he eventually finds them, he is feverish but determined to rescue Viola. He comes up with a plan which involves Manchee distracting Aaron while Todd sneaks into Aaron’s camp via the river to get Viola. Manchee manages to lure Aaron away, but the priest realizes what’s happening before Todd and Viola can get safely into the boat.
Todd is caught by Aaron and only manages to break free when Manchee attacks. Todd and Viola get into the boat, but now Aaron catches Manchee and tries to make Todd choose between his dog and the girl. Helpless, Todd must watch as Aaron kills Manchee.
Todd passes out from his wounds and wakes up in the town of Carbonel Downs, being cared for by Doctor Snow. Todd is pleased to learn they are only two days away from Haven. Down by the river, they come across Ben. Todd is overjoyed he’s not dead but sad to learn Cillian was killed. Ben is about to tell Todd the truth about Prentisstown when they are interrupted by the arrival of Doctor Snow.
Doctor Snow and the other men of Carbonel Downs are suspicious of Ben and think Todd and Viola might be spies. Ben eventually persuades them Todd is innocent, however the men plan to punish Ben for being a Prentisstown man. Before they can take Ben away, scouts from the Prentisstown army arrive. The men rush away to protect their own homes and families, giving Todd, Viola, and Ben a chance to flee.
As they travel, Ben finally tells Todd the truth. The Germ wasn’t a weapon the Spackle released but a naturally occurring phenomenon that was on the planet before they arrived. The war with the Spackle began after a group of preachers started blaming the aliens for all the hardships humanity were facing. The Spackle barely stood a chance against human guns. In Prentisstown, the war didn’t end with the Spackle. Some of the men couldn’t stand the silence of the women, so they killed them all, too.
They spy Davy Prentiss on the road again, and Ben chooses this moment to leave them and draw Davy away. Todd and Viola continue on to Haven, deciding to take the road since the army will be following them anyway. They stop for some breakfast, and Todd finally gets the courage to ask Viola to read his mother’s journal for him. His mother started writing the journal the day he was born and writes about life before the war and her hopes for Todd’s future.
Todd and Viola continue traveling along the road, which brings them to a huge waterfall. Haven is at the base of the falls, and they should be able to reach it before the army. However, Aaron catches up with them again and starts shooting at them. They hide from him in a cave behind the waterfall, but it’s not long before he finds them.
Todd and Viola agree to face Aaron together. Todd finally realizes what the Prentisstown boys must do to become a man: They must kill another man. Aaron reveals he was supposed to be a sacrifice and now wants Todd to murder him. He says it’s not enough for Todd to kill; he must also hate. A fight ensues, during which Aaron tries to manipulate Todd into killing him. Todd finally decides he will kill him, but Viola has the knife and does the deed instead.
How did The Knife of Never Letting Go end?
Todd and Viola leave the cave, both shaken by the fight. Before they can make the final journey to Haven, Davy Prentiss arrives and shoots Viola. Todd faces Davy, knocking him down and sending the horse galloping away with Davy still caught in the stirrups. Then Todd rushes Viola down the road to Haven, only to find the city is empty.
Mayor Prentiss greets Todd in the deserted streets of Haven, revealing he’d come by a different road and Haven has already surrendered. Todd then realizes he can no longer hear anyone’s Noise. Devastated, he begs the Mayor to help Viola, saying he will do anything as long as she is saved.
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