Title: The Ask and the Answer
Author: Patrick Ness
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopia, Young Adult
Publisher: Walker Books (UK) / Candlewick Press (US)
Publication Date: May 2009 (UK) / September 2009 (US)
Hardcover: 528 pages (US)
Stand alone or series: Book 2 in the Chaos Walking trilogy.
How did I get this book: Bought.
Why did I read this book: I read The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking book 1) earlier this year…and I loved it. From the unique writing style, to the ingenious premise, to the genuine characters, and the white-knuckle action, I loved it. And, given that book 1 ended with a killer coronary of a cliffhanger, I was ALL OVER The Ask and the Answer when it finally made its way here to the US for release!
Summary: (from Patrick Ness.com)
Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd has carried a desperately wounded Viola right into the hands of their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss. Immediately separated from Viola and imprisoned, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor’s new order.
But what secrets are hiding just outside of town? And where is Viola? Is she even still alive? And who are the mysterious Answer?
And then, one day, the bombs begin to explode…
**As The Ask and the Answer is book 2 in an ongoing trilogy, please note that this review contains spoilers for book 1, The Knife of Never Letting Go. If you have not read book 1 and do not wish to be spoiled, please back away from this review! (However, this is a spoiler-free review of The Ask and the Answer itself)**
At the end of The Knife of Never Letting Go, Todd and Viola have made it to Haven in hopes of sanctuary from their pursuers, the ever-growing Prentisstown army…only to meet with grim news. Haven has been surrendered to Mayor – that’s President, now – Prentiss, and Viola is near death from her gunshot wound. When Todd awakens at the opening of The Ask and the Answer, however, he is alone with the enemy, with Viola nowhere in sight. Todd struggles awake with a single thought in his mind – to find her, to save her, to keep the both of them alive and out of the Mayor’s (the President’s) reach. But Todd finds himself trapped, ensnared in the Mayor’s web of manipulations, lies and truths. Forces larger than the two young teens pull them apart and test the strength of their relationship, as two warring camps emerge with the Mayor and men of New Prentisstown on one side, and the insurgent, mysterious “Answer” on the other.
This is a tough review to write (especially without spoilers), as The Ask and the Answer covers a LOT of ground, with each plot development and twist building on the last to a dramatic climax. The plotting, in itself, is effing brilliant. While The Knife of Never Letting Go was more of a quest/chase novel with Todd and Viola racing on an alien landscape to outrun the men of Prentisstown and warn other outposts, The Ask and the Answer is more contained and cerebral – but don’t let that fool you because it is every bit as thrilling as its predecessor. Driven by politics and tackling some big questions about absolute power, imprisonment, and even insurgent terrorism, this second book is a very timely and intelligent novel but never feels heavy-handed or condescending. Rather, Mr. Ness integrates these current issues into a savvy, inquisitive narrative. There are twists and turns and twists upon those twists and turns, and so much delicious heartstring-pulling drama in this second novel too, making it impossible to put down. I finished the whole thing (over five-hundred pages, mind you) in a single day’s frenzied reading flurry. It’s that good.
While the plotting had me on tenterhooks the entire time, the Chaos Walking books are really all about the strength of their characters. And in The Ask and the Answer, the characters we know and love (and some that we hate with every fiber of our beings) are back with a vengeance, just as compelling as we remember them from The Knife of Never Letting Go, but growing and changing too. Both Todd and Viola are growing up – maybe not in actual years, as it has only been weeks since their dramatic adventure across the New World together, but in terms of their emotional maturity. These are two characters who have been through hell, and are believably forever changed by their ordeals, and this is reflected in how each character becomes something more and different from the young teens we meet in the first novel. As with Knife, Todd is the main protagonist and his narrative drives this novel. He has become a man, not just by Prentisstown standards, but in a wisdom and weariness that belies his young 14-New World years age. How dearly do I love Todd? He is passionate and strong in this novel, but he’s ultimately human and goes through a lot in this second book – from his feelings of worry and fear for Viola, his mistrust of Mayor Prentiss, and his own position in New Prentisstown society. When we first met Todd in Knife, he was preoccupied with becoming a Man and finally being treated as an equal and as someone important; but in this novel, Todd is forced to grow up very quickly, and sees what being a man is truly about.
Viola too has changed from the untrusting girl from the first book, and gets her own voice in this second novel as The Ask and the Answer alternates between Todd’s and Viola’s points of view. This alternating narrative is incredibly effective, lending Viola more color as a character as readers are able to connect with her own thoughts beyond the lens of Todd’s narrative. We learn about her fears for Todd and herself, and her own independent questions and doubts. Seeing Viola in this new light, she’s every bit as sympathetic and genuine a character, and perhaps even stronger and steelier than Todd. Viola, plainly, rocks.
And then there are the OTHER characters – both old and new. The Mayor, now President, is an initial enigma, drawn painfully realistically by Mr. Ness as a layered character. I am loathe to spoil anyone, so I will simply say that no one is what they seem. These characters are genuine creatures, with feelings and their own endearments and shortcomings – from the alien Spackle (who play a much larger role in this novel), to the Davy Prentiss, to the mysterious Answer. (Although I will say, I’m not too keen on the appearance of a new character named Lee. That is all. )
Finally, the writing in The Ask and the Answer is fantastic and one of the things that sets this dystopian/science fiction series apart from the rabble. Todd’s narrative is as emotional and honest as ever, punctuated with his innocence (despite everything he has seen and been through), his sympathetic feelings, his intriguing perceptions & descriptions of Noise, and the occasional childlike spellings of certain words (i.e. “celebrayshun” for “celebration”). Contrasted with Viola’s more refined narrative, no less emotional or introspective, the overall effect is surprisingly stunning. Just like the plotting and the characters, I loved the writing.
This is one damn fine book, even better than its predecessor, and I cannot wait for the third and final book of the Chaos Walking series, Monsters of Men.
Oh yeah, and an FYI – as you might have guessed, The Ask and the Answer? It ends on another killer cliffhanger. Let the countdown for book 3 begin!
Notable Quotes/Parts: I was near tears at a pivotal, showdown scene near the end. I refuse to elaborate more – just know that there is some serious EMOTION comin’ atcha when you read this book. Guh.
Additional Thoughts: Author Patrick Ness has written a new story set in the Chaos Walking universe. Following Viola after her ship crashed, “The New World” is a short story you can read in full online. Huzzah!
‘There it is,’ my mother says, and what she means is that the dot we’ve been nearing for weeks, the one that’s been growing into a larger dot with two smaller dots circling it, has now become even larger than that, growing from a dot to a disc, shining back the light from its sun, until you can see the blue of its oceans, the green of its forests, the white of its polar caps, a circle of colour against the black beyond.
Our new home, the one we’ve been travelling towards since way before I was even born.
We’re the first ones to see it for real, not through telescopes, not through computer mapping, not even in my own drawings in the art classes I take on the Beta with Bradley Tench, but through just the couple centimetres of glass in the cockpit viewscreen.
We’re the first ones to see it with our own eyes.
You can read the whole thing online HERE.
Also, as I’ve mentioned above, the title of the third and final book in the Chaos Walking series has been announced by Patrick Ness: Monsters of Men. If you’ve read these books, you’ll be familiar with these strange but very significant and subtle titles. Mr. Ness reveals a little of the story behind the new title on his blog:
On page 430 of The Knife of Never Letting Go, Todd has a flash of memory: “War makes monsters of men, I hear Ben saying.”
On page 102 of The Ask and the Answer, Viola remembers it, too: “War makes monsters of men, I say, quoting Ben…”
And in the final volume, they’ve come to it at last. They’re going to find out for themselves how true that is, whether they want to or not.
Intrigued? I know I am. Monsters of Men comes out in May 2010 in the UK, but not until September 2010 in the US.
Also, fellow blogger and fan of the Chaos Walking series Rhiannon Hart has just recently had a great interview with Patrick Ness – make sure to check it out for little tidbits about the upcoming book!
Verdict: I loved The Ask and the Answer from beginning to end, and am on pins and needles waiting for Monsters of Men. Absolutely recommended. This series is amazing.
Rating: 9 – Effing Near Perfection
Reading Next: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro