Title: The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking #2)
Author: Patrick Ness
Audio Read By: Humphrey Bower
Genre: YA dystopian
Date Read: 26/11/2015 – 02/12/2015
After the enormous cliffhanger that The Knife of Never Letting Go ended on, I was relieved that I was able to dive straight into the second book. Not that Patrick Ness grants his readers any reprieve; he throws us straight back in the deep end. There is a slew of new characters for us to get to know and new conflicts for them to deal with. While it’s quite different to The Knife of Never Letting Go, it was still an intense ride.
Todd and Viola have been separated and neither knows if the other is alive. They both have to trust the word of Mayor Prentiss, who has now declared himself President of New World. While he seems sincere in his intentions to create a new and better society, there are plenty of people who do not want to see him in charge when the new settlers arrive. While Todd is put to work taking care of the remnant Spackle population in Haven/New Prentisstown, Viola begins training as a healer under the formidable Mistress Coyle, who we later learn was a member of a powerful faction of women called The Answer during the first Spackle War. In retaliation to a new iteration of the Answer, Mayor Prentiss sets up the Office of the Ask to interrogate those suspected of terrorist attacks. People continue to get hurt on both sides, and neither Todd nor Viola know who to trust, but this is just the beginning; a bigger war is yet to come to New Prentisstown.
As with the first book, this one is quite long, and seems to repeat itself a lot. Todd and Viola are not running for their lives this time, instead developing daily routines that go on for the several weeks the book spans. Todd and Viola spend the majority of the book separated from one another, and Mayor Prentiss successfully plants seeds of doubt in both their minds about how trustworthy the other is. We get Viola’s point-of-view as well, and get to see both sides of the war for New World as it unfolds. To use a term so beloved by Tumblr users, a lot of the “feels” in this book came from knowing as a reader that their love for and loyalty to each other is still as strong as ever, but watching them struggle with not knowing for certain. Even when they were separated, their relationship is still one of the best I’ve read for a long time.
Because there was less of a chase going on in this book, and more time spent with other human beings, the side characters all felt like real characters, too. Once again, Patrick Ness managed to create characters that I found really annoying at first, and then made me love them (… and then kill them off, in one particular case, damn him). Mayor Prentiss is a much more impressive villain than Preacher Aaron was in the previous book (though I did have the issue of him looking like Governor Ratfcliffe from Disney’s Pocahontas in my head), and Mistress Coyle provides a good foil for him, though you can never be sure whether you trust her anymore than you trust him.
This book also ended on a huge cliffhanger, just when it looked like everything was sort of maybe going okay (even though you knew it wouldn’t, because there was still another 500-page book to read). I’d recommend having all three lined up and ready to go, even if you’re not sure you’ll enjoy them. Better to have them handy and end up not wanting to read them, then devouring the first ones and then flailing while you struggle to get hold of the sequels.