4 May 2011

19. The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

The second book in the Chaos Walking trilogy picks up right where The Knife of Never Letting Go leaves off with Todd and Viola's arrival at Haven. I will leave any other plot spoilers until after the jump but I was glad that I had this at hand to pick up as soon as I finished the first book as it ends on a significant cliffhanger! The second book is very much in the same vein as the first, continuing with the excitement and consideration of big themes. There are plenty of surprises and plot twists and it is refreshing to have characters who you root for but are so realistic in their emotions that you never quite know how they will choose to behave. In not being traditional, always do the right thing heroes, they become real heroes for being so touching and empathetic and realistic in their choices.
The narrative switches to dual narratives from Todd and Viola as they end up in very different situations in Haven. Ness uses this really well to explore war from different sides as Todd ends up a captive of the Mayor and Viola ends up with the rebel womens movement. Whilst it seems initially that one side is in the right, Ness quickly makes it clear that just because something is fighting something evil does not make it inherently good. The events of The Ask and the Answer have clear links to events of our world and hopefully will really make young adult readers think about these big issues. Todd and Viola both have to make difficult decisions and both struggle to know what is the right thing to do. The novel covers issues such as torture, slavery, sexism as well as friendship and family.

There are some potentially upsetting scenes meaning that I wouldn't recommend this series to anyone much younger than 12. Personally, I didn't find anything too upsetting as nothing is described in graphic detail and Ness focuses much more heavily on the emotional impact of these events. Alongside the big issues there is also a lot of action with a science fiction tinge - but it is so far away from your stereotypical science fiction novel so don't let that put you off if you're not a science fiction fan. It is more of a setting than the key feel of the novel, which is very character orientated. There is a massive reveal at the end of the novel that leaves the world poised on the brink of war.

An outstanding sequel to an outstanding novel, if possible I think I enjoyed this one even more than The Knife of Never Letting Go. It is not a novel to read without having read the first installment but I would urge you to get going on the first one for an exciting, thought-provoking and poignant read that transcends its young adult target audience. Unputdownable.

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