The Ask and the Answer is one of those books that is difficult to review without shaking the reader and urging them to read this series as soon as possible. It will also be tough to explain the context of the story without spoiling the first book, so I highly recommend reading book one before reading this review in full. See my review for book one here.
I went into The Ask and the Answer not expecting it to be as good as the first book, The Knife of Never Letting Go. Fortunately, I ended up liking it even more. With such an phenomenal start to a trilogy in book one, it has to be difficult to top it with book two. But I feel like Patrick Ness really hit the nail on the head with this one.
There may however be some who disagree. The Ask and the Answer is a big shift in gears from the first book. Where The Knife of Never Letting Go excels at being an on-the-go adventure, the events of The Ask and the Answer all take place in one town, New Prentisstown. After pulling a hostile takeover on the town of Haven, Mayor Prentiss claims himself President Prentiss and takes the town under his control (hence New Prentisstown). Protagonist Todd Hewitt, who is carrying a wounded Viola to Haven at the end of book one finds himself captured by President Prentiss. The worse part of this for Todd is that he can no longer hear President Prentiss’ Noise.
In New World there was a plague that caused male inhabitants to be able to hear each other’s thoughts, along with the thoughts of animals and creatures. This is referred to as Noise, and it only affects males. Females can also hear a male’s noise, but produce no Noise themselves. However, in The Ask and the Answer President Prentiss has seemingly taken control of a cure for the noise produced by the people of Haven.
After Mayor Prentiss declares himself President Prentiss he forces Todd into work life and Viola is left with the women healers. President Prentiss ensures that Todd is separated from Viola, and thus Todd spends much of his time worrying about her. The lady healers begin to form a resistance against President Prentiss called The Answer which leads to continuous bombings in the town. The women manage to flee and thus President Prentiss creates an order named The Ask. This leads to a war between the two factions; leaving Todd and Viola caught in the middle.
What stands out about this book versus the first is that you really get a sense of Todd and Viola maturing. The obstacles presented between them are strenuous and their reactions really shape their character. It’s also nice that the book switches between the perspective of both Todd and Viola frequently as the first book was mainly Todd’s own perspective. But although Todd and Viola are the main characters a couple other relationships in particular standout.
Buy this Book (US)
The exchanges between Todd and antagonist President Prentiss are phenomenal. There’s no denying that Todd is willing to rebel against President Prentiss at a moment’s notice to unite with Viola, but at times Todd is obedient to the President, almost like a son. This comes into play in a big way as the President’s real son Davy is tasked with being in charge of Todd while they work. This is another interesting relationship to experience as the two despise each other, but by the end of the book things change in a big way.
Patrick Ness has mastered the art of suspenseful writing, and he can catch you off guard at any point where you think you know where the story is heading. The exchanges between the characters add so much to their characterizations and it makes every character feel relevant to the story. At no point was there characters you didn’t care about, and you can clearly understand the motivations of the antagonising characters.
Furthermore, the writing itself feels more mature than the first book. The Chaos Walking series is stylised in its writing, particularly when inside the mind of Todd. Todd is illiterate, and his passages are written to reflect his illiteracy. But even these stylistic inclusions feel better placed than they did in book one and this adds to the feeling of Todd becoming older and wiser.
There’s much more to say about The Ask and the Answer, but ultimately I feel like detailing every positive will take away from the beauty of reading it yourself. If I had one gripe with the book then it would be the inclusion of a possible love triangle. This possible love triangle doesn’t play out in full, but I fear that it may in book three. If so, then it feels like the inclusion of a love triangle may be a consciously placed story device to appease the target audience. Regardless, I highly recommend reading both The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer; and I hope that the third book is just as good as its predecessors.