Sunday, January 2, 2011

Review: "The Ask and the Answer" by Patrick Ness

Title: The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking Book Two)
Author: Patrick Ness
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2009
Where I got it: My library.

**Spoilers for The Knife of Never Letting Go**

After a terribly hangy cliffhanger, Ness continues the story of Todd and Viola on New World, this time as they process their new surroundings and situation in the colony of New Prentisstown, under the direction of Mayor (now President) Prentiss. Kept separate by the new regime, Todd and Viola both narrate their own stories and experiences; Todd as a prisoner and then worker under Mayor Prentiss, and Viola in the healing house under the formidable and strong Mistress Coyle. Things aren't as terrible as they feared at first, but as time goes by they both notice things that aren't humane or right. It doesn't take long before they must choose what side to support, whether they agree with everything going on or not.

This second installment of the Chaos Walking trilogy is no disappointment. Though not as heart-poundingly intense as the first, it is still chock-full of tension and twists that I wasn't expecting. Ness is more subtle in this one, and that's not a bad thing.

Though the plot certainly kept me turning the pages, this is very character-driven as well. We see a lot of development in certain characters, especially Davy Prentiss, that I never would have imagined after reading the first book. There is also a little development in Todd and Viola's relationship, despite the fact that they are separated for most of the book.

The way Ness portrays the Mayor is truly terrifying. An ally, or a foe? He is alternately kind and maniacal, and I was never quite sure which way it would go; I always wanted to believe everything he stood for is evil, but Ness wrote him in such a way as to confuse me enough to wonder. Mistress Coyle is similarly handled. I was never sure if I should trust her motives or not. For those of you who read Mockingjay, I was reminded of Snow and Coin by these characters, respectively. I'm not saying they're the same by the way, I'm just saying that these two characters put me in mind of those two.

It was interesting to hear Viola's point of view in this book. Part of why I loved The Knife of Never Letting Go so much was Todd's voice and the way Ness wrote him and his vernacular. That was lost when Viola narrated, as she is from a more educated background than Todd, and she has no Noise. Todd's stream-of-consciousness style is still beautifully written here, but I missed it when I read Viola's portions. That said, I am glad we get to hear her story as well.

Ultimately this is a story about the cause, effect and practice of warfare. Ness goes into the decisions made during war, and the ethics involved on both sides, yet he is not black and white about it. There is some very philosophical debate within the pages, and it will certainly raise some discussion questions if you read this for a book club or in a class.

And the ending? Be prepared for another massive cliffhanger. I think I'll take my time before reading the third book (which I have taken out of my library already), just to recover a bit from this one, but I fully intend to find out what happens.

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