Author: Patrick Ness
Publisher: Walker Books Ltd.
Publishing Date: 2009
Number of Pages: 517
Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Dystopian, Science Fiction
Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd and Viola once again face their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss.
Immediately imprisoned and separated from Viola, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor’s new order.
And then, one day, the bombs begin to explode.
Patrick Ness is an author that has slowly endeared himself to me. I barely had an iota then on who he was and what his works were but after countless encounters with his books in bookstores, my interest has been piqued ten-folds. The first Ness book I bought is The Knife of Never Letting Go. Even though I bought it randomly, it thrilled and captivated me. But when I bought it, I didn’t realize that it was part of a trilogy (Walking Chaos Trilogy). Because I was immensely impressed by the first book, I didn’t hesitate in purchasing the second and third sequels to the story. I have also bought and read A Monster Calls which only further stimulated my interest in Ness and his works.
To keep myself from the tenterhook that usually accompanies reading serial stories, I immediately delved into the dystopian world of The Ask and the Answer, the second installment in the trilogy. I included the book, and its sequel, Monsters of Men in my August 2018 Young Adult Fiction Month. I will be writing a separate evaluation of the last book. The last review will also include an evaluation of the trilogy. For now, here are my thoughts about the second book.
“In this world of numbness and information overload, the ability to feel, my boy, is a rare gift indeed.” ~ Patrick Ness, The Ask and the Answer
The story picked up where the first book when Todd and Viola confronted their biggest adversary in Mayor Prentiss. After being chased from Old Prentisstown all the way to Haventown, Todd and Viola were captured and incarcerated. Unfortunately, they were also separated; Todd was being interrogated by Mayor Prentiss while Viola was convalescing under the care of Mistress Coyle and her group of healers. Both were unaware of each other’s fate.
To win over Todd, Mayor Prentiss appointed him and his son to herd the Spackles, alien-like creatures who reside in the outskirts of the city and are enslaved by the humans as a result of a treatise signed years ago. Everything was peaceful until bombs begun exploding all over the city, catching the mayor and his army off-guard. To stop the unrest, a new ministry was put up to deal with the new situation – The Ask and the Answer. Who started the explosions? Will Todd meet Viola again? What will happen to Haventown, or the New Prentisstown?
Again, Ness has filled my appetite for literary adventure with his riveting and magical storytelling. He delivered a tale that transported me into a different world filled with an array of experiences. The Ask and the Answer is an equally fascinating read worthy of succeeding its predecessor. The story kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish, eagerly anticipating Todd and Viola’s fate. Moreover, Ness introduced a set of new characters that makes the story more interesting. Several new storylines were established as well as the narrative progressed. In my opinion, the story of the Spackles grounded the story onto a whole new different playing field; it made the story unfold towards a very different perspective from the one that I have built up reading the first book.
“If you ever see a war, you’ll learn that war only destroys. No one escapes from a war. No one. Not even the survivors.” ~ Patrick Ness, The Ask and the Answer
What is important, as the story progresses, is consistency and that is something that Ness has established at the onset. For a start, he barely altered the voice of the story. There was a slight change in the tone, however, but it developed slowly as the story progressed. He also didn’t deviate from the subject matters discussed in the first book. Rather, he delved further into the subjects of colonialism and feminism; men hated women because they cannot hear their noise. He cited even more situations and scenarios to highlight these subjects while at the same time introducing new subjects and themes.
Through his compelling tale, Ness made his readers think through complex and heavy yet relevant issues such as war, genocide, racism and terrorism. When Mayor Prentiss took over Haventown, he installed himself as the president and ordered all Spackles to build the city he envisioned; it is reminiscent of Adolf Hitler and his plans to recreate Berlin into the New Rome. Another disturbing point in the plot is how it uncannily depicted Martial Law. It highlighted the suppression of the rights of the residents and the use of torture as a machination to make people speak. All of these were highlighted while the reader is asked the critical question, “Up to what extent is violence justifiable?”
The psychological facet of the narrative sends readers into overdrive, drumming up those long-sleeping gray cells and forcing them to take sides. Ness successfully blurred the lines between good and evil. He forced his readers to think through the character’s intentions. Who, if there is, is on the good side? The key characters used largescale brainwashing to win over the support of Todd and Viola. In a quandary, Viola and Todd must then seek within each other the truth and learn to trust each other to prevent widespread violence that is lurking within the horizon.
Compared to its predecessor, The Ask and the Answer was related with a relatively slower pace. Much of The Knife of Never Letting Go moved because of its pace but in the second book, it took on a more relaxed pace in order to evaluate and understand the character’s motivations. However, I lament the fact that Todd and Viola matured too quickly (just like Lyra in The Golden Compass). The reader wasn’t involved in their development as most of it was implied. There was a drastic jump in perspective that is a little too contrived.
“Ah, well, then you’ve never stood on a beach as the waves came crashing in, the water stretching out from you until it’s beyond sight, moving and blue and alive and so much bigger than even the black beyond seems because the ocean hides what it contains.” ~ Patrick Ness, The Ask and the Answer
Nevertheless, The Ask and the Answer is a perfect follow up to The Knife of Never Letting Go. It introduced new subjects while building up on the older ones. There was little “Noise” but Ness’ writing is riveting as it always is. He simply possesses that knack for writing fantasy ridden tales while at the same time delivering his message across. The ending to the story as well left me hanging at the edge of my seat and made me want to delve into the next book as soon as possible!
Recommended for readers who love young adult fiction, readers who enjoyed Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy, readers who like scientific and dystopian fiction, those who devoutly follows Patrick Ness’s works, and those who like reading about complex subject matters broken down into simpler and more artistic delivery.
Not recommended if you have not read the first book yet, and readers who don’t like novels that come in trilogies or series.
About the Author
To learn more about Patrick Ness, click here.