Book Reviews

The Ask and The Answer – Patrick Ness

I won’t be starting this blog post off with a piece from the book’s beginning because this is book 2 of 3 from Ness’ rather spectacular Chaos Walking trilogy. Some of the things I may mention in this could be seen as spoilers so if you’ve not read the book or are dying to, like I was after finishing The Knife of Never Letting Go, thank you for stopping by but I wouldn’t recommend reading any further. 

Once again a gorgeous cover for Ness’ book!

As I’ve mentioned already, this book is the second in the trilogy and follows on from Todd and Viola arriving at Haven, the army closing in on them. And boy does Ness just pile on the feelings onto my poor little heart from the very beginning to the end of this novel. The relationship between these two protagonists is tested throughout and the fact that they have been split up despite needing each other so badly is just heart wrenching but such a wonderful plot device. By splitting the two apart we get to see the two different sides to Haven, or New Prentisstown as it becomes, and it also gives us a chance to really get to know these characters on an individual basis. 

What I really liked about this novel in comparison to the first was that Ness changed from having Todd’s singular perspective to the dual narrative of him and Viola. Each chapter reads with a very different voice and the style is very different; Viola’s obviously more educated, reflected in the spelling and structure, whilst Todd is less so and the spelling that I found rather difficult to grasp came back to the second book but was actually a lot easier to get my head around. What I think having the dual narrative really does is show us how dependent the characters are on one another. Frequently we come back to the same questions like where is the other? What are they doing? Are they looking for me? Are they even still alive? I think seeing this really makes it so much sweeter when they are reunited briefly, and so much more heart breaking when they are torn apart. 

I didn’t think it would be possible for Ness to put any more action into this series after the tormenting travels of the first novel, but this holds its own in that department. Sometimes middle books to trilogies can feel like building blocks for a final fight but this novel is no such thing. Yes it provides information that is very important for the final book, which I am desperate to get my hands on when I’ve got some more money, but also it has it’s own story and its own conflicts within which are incredibly complex. Ness’ introduction of the women into society is really interesting to me, seeing as the first book is so heavily male. The new female characters are well rounded and well thought out, Mistress Coyle being a complete badass of a woman who I debate between loving and hating throughout. When I think about some of the actions in this book I can’t help but think of the Suffragettes and their violent response to wanting the vote. There seem to be some similarities between the women of this novel and their rebellion against Mayor, now President, Prentiss and the suffragettes, even if the actions in this novel are bigger and definitely more dangerous. It’s very clever and interesting and you are instantly drawn into the work that these women are doing, whilst also questioning if it is the right way to be going about things; going from being healers and nurses to being rebel activists, verging on terrorism, who set off bombs. 

Mayor Prentiss makes a return in this novel; and he’s still just as terrifying. I think what makes Prentiss such a good villain is the fact that you can almost see what he’s trying to do. It is possible to see how he thinks what he’s doing is a good idea, which then makes you think about if it is a good idea or not. He’s an incredibly complex character who I really like to examine when I’m reading scenes with him in. He can very quickly switch from warm to cold hearted in an instant which makes him unpredictable and therefore definitely more scary than a man like that should be. Also the amount of power and control he has doesn’t help with making him seem less scary. He’s definitely frightening, if only because you realise that people like him do actually exist in the world. 

His actions in this novel however are definitely frightening, especially towards the end where he finally allows Todd to see what happens with their prisoners. Yet even from the start we are wary of him as he convinces Todd that he’s not about to hurt Viola if he does what he wishes. And as Todd works for him throughout the novel we start to see real emotion coming from Mayor Prentiss. He even calls him his son, in front of his actual son Davy. 

Davy is not a character to be left out. I remember being a little frightened of the threat of Davy Prentiss in the first novel of this series, purely because it was his army that were following Todd and Viola and there was always that constant threat of him. Also what happened to Ben in the first book really can’t be forgiven. However throughout The Ask and the Answer, Ness really shows us another side to Davy. He seems to be a character pining after his father’s affection and this is something that I can see being really relatable. Also he doesn’t seem to have any friends of his own age so as the novel progresses and his and Todd’s relationship grows, you really start to get attached to him as a character. Especially when he brings back his mother’s book and tries to apprehend Mayor Prentiss for Viola’s sake. 

The Ask and The Answer is definitely a novel about free will under strict regimes, battling against what you believe to be wrong with underlying tones of rebellion and what happens to those who don’t wish to follow a new structure or order. It’s definitely worth a read if only for the, once again, spectacular cliff hanger that Ness leaves you on for the third and final instalment. 

Total pages – 517

Total read time –  Untimed

Rating /10 – 8

Recommend – Yes 

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