Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Chaos Walking

Go To

"The Noise is a man unfiltered, and without a filter, man is just chaos walking."

Chaos Walking is the collective term for Patrick Ness's books The Knife of Never Letting Go (2008), The Ask and the Answer (2009), and Monsters of Men (2010). It is a series set on a dystopian Earth-like planet called New World, which human settlers from "Old World" colonized in the hope of starting a new life.

Todd Hewitt knows all too well the history of this plantation. Humanity quickly became engaged in a war with the local sentient species, the Spackle, who released germs that killed all of the women, half the men, and left every living, breathing thing that survived with a condition that causes their thoughts, fantasies, hopes and dreams to be broadcasted in a flood of information known as Noise. This Noise is an inescapable rush of pictures and words that you can't get away from, and it is ever-present and everywhere. Men, without comfort and with this newfound insanity, picked up a gun and ended the war.

Todd is the last boy in Prentisstown, the last settlement on the New World and sole surviving town of the war, largely because of its militaristic mayor. Though the war is over, humanity is far from saved — indeed, with no women to repopulate, humanity is going to die a slow death here, in this small place with a population of "146 men and one almost-man", Todd Hewitt is the only one who has yet to become a man. Men don't associate with boys, and so Todd is alone for the final month leading up to the important occasion, with only Manchee, the dog he never wanted, for company.

One day, while avoiding the Noise in the outskirts of town, he makes a discovery. An important discovery, something world-changing, something that simply cannot be: silence—a hole in the Noise. In minutes, everything changes. The world he trusted is turned upside down, and he is forced out of his home to flee from Prentisstown with an army at his heels.

Three short stories are available online for free: "The New World" (a prequel, meant to be read after book 1), "The Wide, Wide Sea" (another prequel, meant to be read after book 2), and "Snowscape" (set after book 3).

All three books were shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, with Monsters of Men winning it in 2011. It was also the second Young Adult novel ever to be shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke science fiction award. In late 2011, Lionsgate bought the rights to bring the trilogy to the big screen; the film adaptation was released in 2021.

This series provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Mayor Prentiss is a genuinely nice guy to Todd, whom he considers a son, but he treats his real son like garbage, and kills him the instant he starts to wriggle out of his father's control. The Mayor also does a great job justifying most of the horrible things he does, one notable exception is killing all the women in Prentisstown, which he never adequately explains. The Mayor seems to be a deconstruction of this, because of the way the final book actually ends, which has him killing himself for Todd and the good of the world, having realized what a terrible person he is.
  • Always Save the Girl: Viola and Todd are like this concerning each other. It leads to the question of whether saving the person you love is more important than the lives of thousands of other people.
  • Animal Assassin:
    • Manchee. He protects Todd every chance he gets, even going after a guy with a machete in Farbranch. And Aaron at least three times, but this ends in Aaron snapping his neck.
    • Also Angharrad, Todd's horse in Monsters of Men, who he will not leave to die because he cannot face losing her as he lost Manchee. Angharrad saves Viola when the half-crazed Return, bent on revenge, attacks her with a knife.
  • Anyone Can Die: And HOW.
    • For the record, those who do not make it to the end of the series are Cillian, Hildy, Manchee, Aaron, Maddie, Mr. Hammar, Ivan Farrow, Simone, Davy, Mayor Prentiss and Mistress Coyle to name a few.
  • Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: A fairly creepy version crops up at the end of The Ask and the Answer. Todd has the Mayor tied up and at his mercy, but does nothing to him. To be fair, the Mayor is a bit distracted. But that doesn't make it any less creepy.
  • Baddie Flattery: Mayor Prentiss constantly praises Todd for being "humble" and "a good son" and all that. He calls Todd the "truer son" right before he shoots Davy.
  • Beast of Battle: The Spackle ride what are called "battlemores". Which are basically alien rhinos.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Viola and Todd both have this when the other is in trouble, to the point that Viola fires a huge missile towards the Spackle and involves a fourth party in the war to save Todd's life.
    • The Mayor seems to lack one until Ben arrives towards the very end of Monsters of Men and Todd is reminded that he already has a father. It doesn't help that Todd tells him there was never a choice to be made.
    • Todd will instantly flare up if you even mention the fact that he never learned to read.
  • Birthday Beginning: Though it doesn't start on his actual birthday, the catalyst for the series is Todd's approaching 13th birthday, at which time he'll be considered a man. Though as Viola points out, it's sort of an arbitrary thing...since New World years are slightly longer than Old World years, he's already 13. In fact, he's 14.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Mayor is dead, the convoy is landing, and peace has been reached with the Spackle. But most of Haven's been destroyed, thousands are dead, and Todd's in a coma.
  • Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism: Humans. On New World, men broadcast their thoughts to everyone around them, women emit silence. Humans are the only species to do so.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: Todd has the Mayor tied up right there and doesn't do a thing about it. Instead, he bargains with the guy! Justified as Todd's actions reflect the moral gray area the author has been trying to get at. Do desperate times really call for desperate measures, or are they when we most need to uphold our morals?
  • Book Dumb: Todd is almost completely illiterate. This acts as a Berserk Button for him; every time anyone offers to read something for him, he gets unreasonably angry.
  • Boom Stick: The Spackle wielded simple, primitive weaponry when humanity first fought them. These days, they've got rifles (described repeatedly as 'white sticks') that fire acid.
  • Break the Cutie:
    • Todd gets his first taste of killing when he attacks a Spackle on the basis that its species "killed all the women" and consequently freaks out and pukes. Viola gets this twice: once when her scout ship crashes, killing her parents and when she stabs Aaron to death in the waterfall church and throws up.
    • Every main character gets a moment of this. Even minor characters display this trope at points, especially in the last two books.
    • for Manchee this trope is very literal.
    • At the end of Monsters of Men Todd is nearly killed by 1017 just as the Mayor finally dies. Poor, poor, Viola...
  • Bling of War: The Office of the Ask requires pretty shiny uniforms that have an 'A' pinned to the chest. It, too, is shiny. Toward the beginning of Monsters of Men, one of the Mayor's officers brings him his general's uniform from the Spackle War and he gloats over it.
  • Can't Kill You, Still Need You: In The Ask and The Answer, the protagonists finally have the Big Bad at their mercy. Then, the native species of the planet launch a war against all humans, and they realize that they need him to command his army in order to survive.
  • Chastity Couple: Todd and Viola. There is one kiss in the entire trilogy. Slightly justified by the fact that it's a book aimed at young adults and they're both about 14.
  • A Chat with Satan: Happens when the Mayor tells Todd that he has the capability to be as cruel as he is.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The knife. All Todd says is that he wants it, and it ends up being the entire first book. Also, in the prequel The New World, Viola's friend Bradley gives her a campfire box which she uses to blow up a bridge.
  • Childless Dystopia: New World. Because all the women in Prentisstown are dead, there hasn't been a child there in 13 years—not since the main character Todd was born.
  • Creepy Cleanliness: The Mayor is nearly always in pristine white clothing because he's never on the front lines himself. He's also pretty Straight Edge Evil.
  • Dark Messiah: Aaron. He says he's a saint right before Todd punches him a lot and Viola stabs him through the neck.
  • Declaration of Protection: Todd to Viola. He spends a good deal of time threatening to kill anyone who dares look at her wrong. Also, works in reverse.
  • Definitely Just a Cold: After the band on her arm makes her ill, Viola hides her illness from Todd even though she's been told the infection is fatal. She tells him its sleep deprivation and when he asks her specifically about it, she admits that she's not feeling well but that she's fine.
  • Disney Acid Sequence: This happens to Todd after he contracts an infection from his knife, which is coated in Spackle blood. The world is all wavy and orange and yellow for a bit. He also hallucinates Aaron and Viola and the Spackle he killed.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Manchee, who takes Aaron's nose off. He doesn't just bite it, he bites it o-f-f, bites it off!
  • Do I Really Sound Like That?: Todd asks Viola to do a Prentisstown accent and says that he doesn't sound like that.
  • Easily Conquered World: The citizens of New World hardly put up a fight once the Mayor's army starts marching. Those who do get steamrolled, those who don't join the army.
  • Emotion Suppression: The more time Todd spends around the Mayor, the more time he learns to "quiet" his Noise. In reality, what he's quieting is his own emotions. Even Viola notices at one point that she feels a flicker of emotion in his Noise and then nothing as he "quiets" it.
  • Enemy Mine: The Mayor's forces and the Answer join together to promote peace among them and the Spackle. Too bad it doesn't go well.
  • Everyone Can See It: Everyone has commented on Todd and Viola's relationship at least once, though they don't resolve much of anything until Monsters of Men.
  • Eye Scream: Lee's eyes get burned out in Monsters of Men.
  • Fatal Flaw: Todd and Viola's love for each other. Todd is unable to kill, much less do anything that would cause him to "lose her". By the end of the second book, that same flaw turns into their greatest strength.
    Viola: The Mayor’s wrong-
    He’s wrong forever and ever-
    It’s not that you should never love something so much it can control you.
    It’s that you need to love something that much so you can never be controlled.
    • Except now it just means that they're both willing to do terrible things in the name of the other. Example: Viola admits that she would have been willing to commit genocide against the Spackle if it meant saving Todd.
  • First-Name Basis:
    • Todd and Davy. At first, Todd is taken aback when Davy calls him "Todd" instead of "pigpiss", but gets used to it.
    • The Mayor ("Call me David") attempts to be on this with Todd. Never sticks.
    • Ditto the Mayor and Viola. The Mayor calls Viola by her first name, which upsets Todd, but Viola refuses to ever call him by his.
  • Forced to Watch: In The Ask and the Answer, Mayor-turned-President Prentiss tortures Viola while a horrified Todd watches on behind a soundproof one-way mirror. Todd breaks first and gives Prentiss information about the upcoming invasion by the Answer.
  • Funetik Aksent: The books are told in the first person point of view. Chapters with Todd's viewpoint reflect his drawl (and possibly his illiteracy).
  • Gendercide: In The Knife of Never Letting Go, the protagonist Todd Hewitt grew up on an alien planet, in a town where there are no women. For his whole life, he believed that the reason was a Depopulation Bomb, which killed off all the women and had the side effect of allowing everyone to hear the men's thoughts. The truth is much more sinister. The thought-hearing is a natural effect of living on the planet, and the men in Todd's town couldn't stand that the women could hear their thoughts but not the other way around, and killed them all. There are women in other towns, but Todd has never met one.
  • A God Am I: In the scene in the waterfall church, Aaron comes out and says that he is a saint. However, we know that Aaron is, in fact, delusional and is Drunk with Power.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Ivan always goes to the side that has more power.
  • Heroic BSoD: After Ben gets shot, Todd realizes he has nothing left; he is then snapped out of it by Viola.
  • Hive Mind: While capable of independent thought, action, and emotion, The Land consider themselves to be part of a greater whole with shared access to the knowledge, memories, and sight of each other. Because of this, any given individual is simply referred to as "The Land", with a few exceptions (e.g. The Sky, The Return).
  • Hive Queen: The Sky is the leader of The Land, and as such is considered a separate individual. S/he's charged with making decisions for The Land, and can go so far as to force them into action against their better judgment. Naturally, this can cause problems.
  • I'll Kill You!: For a guy who can't stomach death very well, Todd sure does spend an awful lot of time threatening to kill someone or other. To be fair, he usually only threatens death (and slow, painful death at that) when someone threatens Viola.
  • Implacable Man: In The Knife of Never Letting Go, by the time of Todd and Viola's final confrontation with him, Aaron has pulled through being mauled by a crocodile, almost drowning, getting his nose torn off, and more through the power of his own twisted faith. Horrifying disfigurement is a small price to pay for the fulfilment of his mission. He only dies for good when Viola puts a knife through his neck and he goes over a waterfall.
    Aaron: I am a saint!
  • Improbable Age: The entire premise of the book fits into this, but it's explicitly stated at one point that the adults expect Viola and Todd to run the New World once the war is over. They're 14.
    • It is partially justified in-universe that the threshold for adulthood is much lower, which may have been the result of the original settlers needing more workers. Viola and Todd meet a four-year-old boy whose father asks him to milk the goats. Viola thinks this is odd...he's too young to be milking goats by himself. Todd points out that it's not that unusual in the New World. But to readers, the extreme responsibility shoved onto two young teenagers is a little weird.
    • Also, the years are longer there, so Todd, at least, is older than 14, though not by much.
  • Innocent Aliens: The Spackle aren't out to kill anyone until the events of The Ask and the Answer take place. The Noise germ was just out in the air.
  • Jerkass: The Mayor, Mistress Coyle and Davy come to mind as well as Viola and Todd at times.
  • Kick the Dog: Aaron and the Mayor, and to an extent, Davy; he later does an almost complete Heel–Face Turn when he realizes that he and Todd are Vitriolic Best Buds. Also both Aaron and Davy kick Manchee in the face.
  • Left Hanging: How Monsters of Men ends. We have no idea if Todd ever comes out of his coma. Snowscape answers this question. He does.
  • Love Is a Weakness: The Mayor, after figuring out Viola is Todd's weakness, tells him never to love something so much it can be used to control you.
  • A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read: The trilogy has this in the form of the Noise germ, which basically means that any thought (in the form of words, fragments of sentences, or even pictures) flows from the mind of the thinker, and is out there for anyone to hear/read/see. Todd, the main character, even comments that Noise can have 'texture' and 'colour', reflecting the emotional state of the thinker. This is where the series gets its title, and the constant flow of Noise is understandably difficult to cope with. Also, in an even darker twist, the fact that only men produce Noise led to much paranoia and hatred between the sexes in the early years of settlement on the new world, to the point that the men of Prentisstown slaughtered all of the women unlucky enough to stay.
  • The Mutiny: First starts in New Elizabeth, which is now Prentisstown, when the women tried to escape. Happens again in New Prentisstown, but no one knows what to do. Except Todd, who organizes a team to go after the Mayor.
  • My Parents Are Dead: Viola's parents died in the crash that landed her in the swamp. And Todd, to a degree; his mom is dead, and Cillian dies protecting the farm. Ben is MIA, supposedly dead. Until the end of Monsters of Men; he's alive and a Berserk Button for the Mayor.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: Todd does this a lot. Most notably, whenever he wants to narrate that someone said "fuck", he replaces it with "eff - except they didn't say 'eff'".
  • Never Learned to Read: A touchy subject for Todd. He never learned to read beyond a few words, and he can't even read his own mother's journal. Leads to a heartwarming moment in The Knife of Letting Go wherein Viola reads out her journal for him.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In The Ask and The Answer, Todd thinks he's saved an alien from death. Technically true. He's also allowed it to go raise an army so that said army can come back and kick everyone's ass. This was President Prentiss's plan.
  • Normally, I Would Be Dead Now: Aaron. It takes a knife through the neck and a drop from a waterfall that's God knows how high up to kill him.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: The Mayor explains at the end of Monsters of Men that Todd has the potential to be as powerful and as cruel as he is, but he knows that Todd will make a different choice.
  • Not Quite Human: The Spackle look like distorted men and grow lichen on their bodies in place of clothes.
  • The Only One I Trust: Viola and Todd trust each other completely without question, but do not trust anyone else.
  • Poison and Cure Gambit: It's revealed that the Mayor poisoned the bands used to identify the Spackle and the women of New Prentisstown. Unfortunately, these bands start an infection that cannot be stopped and the bands are designed to grow into the skin, meaning they cannot be removed without the patient bleeding to death. Miraculously, he "finds a cure" just after he wins popularity as president. He doesn't charge for it, but it's implied that he's using it as a publicity stunt.
  • The Power of Love: Whenever Todd wants to hurt the crazed Mayor with his noise, he winds up his emotions and hits him with Viola's name.
  • Precision F-Strike: From Viola to Todd, towards the end of Book 1. Particularly unexpected because of how many times the phrase 'effing' has been used up until then.
  • Pursued Protagonist: Todd. Often pursued by the Mayor on Morpeth, along with a whole army in the first book.
  • Rasputinian Death: Aaron only dies after being mauled by a crocodile and having half his face torn out, punched repeatedly by Todd, stabbed through the throat by Viola, and pushed off a waterfall.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Used horribly in The Knife of Never Letting Go, where the evil Mayor of the main character's hometown killed all the women thirteen years ago, just after the main character's birth. He also instituted a tradition that, on their fourteenth birthday, boys have to kill another man, in order to be accepted into adulthood. They aren't told about this beforehand, and this is preferably somebody they have known their whole life. The main character, Todd, finds out and chooses not to go along with it. But then, a local priest, Aaron, wants to become a sacrificial target for Todd, who is the last boy born to their village. Aaron comes after him and to provoke him into murder him by killing or kidnapping several people he cares about.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: In The Ask and the Answer, Plucky Girl Maddy is introduced and killed off early on. She was one of the few cheerful and optimistic characters, and her death demonstrated the senseless brutality of the Mayor's men.
  • Saying Too Much: Todd can't help it in the beginning, nor when Viola is being Asked. He gives a piece of vital information to try and save her. Never mind that Viola told him that in the first place... And Manchee, too; he burbles on and on, and sometimes things come out.
  • Secret Weapon: Todd thinks that the Mayor is making one of these in The Knife of Never Letting Go. He'd be right. The Mayor is able to control his Noise and that of others. Oh, and he's been making bombs as well.
  • Sense Loss Sadness: With a twist. When Todd learns to quiet his Noise, it's not him who is upset. It's Viola. She's worried because she can't read him like she used to. This is made even more worrisome for her because the more time Todd spends around the Mayor, the more his personality changes. She worries at one point that "her Todd" is gone.
  • Space Amish: The first settlers try this - they left Earth for a simpler, more religious life, which explains their primitive technology level for a sci-fi set on another planet. And then they get into a few wars. But the intention was there.
  • Still the Leader: Todd. He picks up the slack where Davy leaves it, and ends up heading a bounty-hunting party for the Mayor on his own time.
  • Someone Has to Die: Manchee, when Aaron rips him in half. Followed almost immediately by Todd's Big "NO!". Well, he was extraordinarily loyal to Todd, even though he didn't want Manchee. Also a Right-Hand Attack Dog and the requisite Talking Animal.
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Viola. At the outset, she seems to have no feelings whatsoever. However, when Todd thinks she isn't able to hear him, she gives him the silent treatment.
  • Suicidal Cosmic Temper Tantrum: The Mayor, having gone completely insane from being able to hear EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL THE TIME, decides that he'd rather not have to hear anything anymore... but makes sure to set everything on fire and order his army to destroy what remains of the Answer and set what remains of his army up to be destroyed by the Spackle before he goes.
  • Taking Over the Town: Mayor Prentiss, bent on taking over the world, loves to do this. Prentisstown used to be called New Elizabeth before he took over. When he takes over Haven, he renames it New Prentisstown (which, not surprisingly, is not an improvement on the old Prentisstown).
  • Telepathic Spacemen: The Spackle, who evolved alongside the Noise and use it to propagate their Hive Mind.
  • They Have the Scent!: Right before Todd goes to find Viola again, Manchee claims to know where she is. Todd is skeptical at first, but Manchee is sure.
  • Thinking Out Loud: The omnipresent Noise, which is emitted by every living, non-plant thing on the plant, with the strange exception of human women, who emit silence instead. It can be suppressed though, either through medicine or mental discipline. And if you're sufficiently disciplined, you can use it in all sorts of ways: attack people with it, control minds, even broadcast knowledge, like the ability to read.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Viola. Once when she blows up the bridge, again when she zaps Davy, and several more times besides. For the explosion and electricity, she pulled apart her fire box and her ship signal.
  • The Tower: It's where Todd and Con Ledger end up living. And it smells; not exactly a bastion of strength. Considering it gets blown all to hell, really not an icon of strength.
  • Trigger-Happy: Davy in the battle for Farbranch. Todd sees him firing his gun into the air "when there's nothing else for him to shoot". If you look at who his father is, it's not a big surprise.
  • Unbroken Vigil: Todd and Viola with each other at various points in the series.
  • Verbal Tic: Mistress Coyle ends almost all her sentences the same way, my girl.
  • We Come in Peace — Shoot to Kill: The settlers, upon discovering the Spackle and just generally being asshats, slaughter them and almost completely annihilate the species. They start fighting back in The Ask and the Answer, 1017 especially.
  • We Have Ways of Making You Talk: The point of the Mayor's Ask organization. They torture people suspected of helping the "terrorists." Viola is tortured at one point and comes away with two broken ankles and more.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Davy just wants his dad to like him. Oh well, at least he expresses pride in his son several times before shooting him.
  • Why Are You Not My Son?: In The Ask and the Answer, Mayor Prentiss makes it clear multiple times that he prefers the protagonist, Todd, over his own son Davy. He even goes as far as saying so right after he shoots Davy to stop Todd using him as leverage in a stand-off.
    Mayor Prentiss: You were always the truer son, Todd. The one with the potential, the one with the power, the one I'd be proud to have serve by my side.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds:
    • Todd, every time he loses Viola, who has the same Berserk Button.
    • The Mayor, once you find out just what exactly his problem is. He does a pretty good job of that world-destroying part, too— especially when he thinks he's lost Todd to Ben.
  • Yandere:
    • Todd seems to be really threatening whenever Mayor Prentiss or anyone tries to question Viola. His face went blank when Viola "left" him. He also refers to Viola as "Good girl" or "That's my girl". He'd also "do anything" for the Mayor to keep Viola safe. To be fair, Viola acts the exact same way in terms of him.
    • The Mayor can be seen as this with Todd. Specifically, when Ben is involved.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Every time the Mayor says that Todd is Like a Son to Me, or even that he is proud of his actions, Todd usually follows up with denial and then just ignores it.

Alternative Title(s): The Knife Of Never Letting Go, The Ask And The Answer, Monsters Of Men