The Ask and the Answer – Men vs Women

The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking, #2)The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The sequel to The Knife of Never Letting Go promised much and totally fulfilled that promise. At the end of Book 1, Todd and Viola fell into the clutches of Mayor Prentiss – one of the most evil villains I have ever read in fiction. Viola is sent away, to become a healer, and after a beating and interrogation by Mayor Prentiss, Todd is placed in a prison cell with Ledger, the former mayor of Haven (now New Prentisstown).
The crux of the novel is the struggles of Todd and Viola as they exist without each other, and their desire to be reunited. They are inexorably connected and the plot hinges on whether or not they will ever see each other again.
I don’t want to talk about the events of the book, as so much happens I could write pages. What I do want to talk about is the character development of the main players.
Mayor (President) Prentiss is fully revealed as a vile, manipulative man who will stop at nothing to control all the inhabitants of New World. I can’t give spoilers, but just when you think he can’t stoop any lower – he reaches down and finds a new bottom in the barrel. He is intelligent and charismatic, but he just oozes evil.
Todd, ever the pragmatist, makes the best of his life as Prentiss’s prisoner. He tends the “herds” of Spackle used as forced labour, and is repulsed by them. It is interesting to observe this device in the novel – he can’t see (yet) that the treatment of the Spackle and the treatment of the women is the same. He constantly thinks about Viola and how he can see her again. Ben once told Todd “war makes monsters of men” and through Todd we see how this happens. He does start to become what Prentiss wants him to be. Of course, Prentiss is that quote coming to full fruition. However, through Todd we also see that it might be possible to come back from it – with the right help.
Viola really comes into her own in this novel. She finds a voice (Ness switches the narrative between Todd and Viola)and as the story goes on, a purpose in life. She is not a great healer (as she tells it) and she is overwhelmed with a desire to see Todd again. This takes her into dire situations, but it also makes her a leader. Viola is more questioning than Todd (less of a pack animal than Todd?) and rises up against injustice or pain at every turn. She feels sorry for the Spackle, where Todd, even though he tries to save one, feels only revulsion and disgust. It is clear that Viola and Todd need to find each other again, so she can save him.
Davy Prentiss – this guy is such a tool, I thought I could not feel for him at all, but by the end of this book, I felt pity for him. Everything he believed in is turned back on him and he is abandoned by everyone – except Todd. No spoliers, but from me at least, there were tears.
This is a novel of growing tensions, of revelations, of war and all it’s sorrow. It ends with a match being thrown onto a tinder box. Now I have to read book three Monsters of Men to find out who survives.
A rich and rewarding novel which gripped me from beginning to end. Book three here I come!
Ages 14 and up.

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Holding on like grim death

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking, #1)The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think I should state up front that this was my second attempt at reading this book. The first time (about 2 years ago) I grew impatient with the voice of Todd and gave up. I am so glad I tried again.
Todd Hewitt lives in a world of Noise. Even when the men (and there are only men) in Prentisstown aren’t speaking, you can hear what they are saying. Not just the men either- the animals too. About a month before Todd turns 13 (and becomes a Man), his life is thrown into chaos when the two men who have cared for him all his life tell him he must leave his home and never return. Confused, but trusting their judgement, Todd and his dog, Manchee, flee Prentisstown as an armed conflict erupts. Men from the settlement come after Todd and Manchee and they realise they are on their own and fighting to survive. As they run, they discover, Viola, a girl of unknown origin who does not emit Noise. At first Todd is wary of her, but it soon becomes apparent that Viola is in as much danger as Todd, if not more.
The pursuit is relentless, with gory encounters along the way that are not for the faint-hearted. Both Todd and Viola are tested to the limits of their mental and physical endurance as they try to escape the encroaching army from Prentisstown. There is heartache, tragedy and immense sadness in this book. I became so invested in the characters that I found myself crying in anguish on more than one occasion. But, this is by far one of the best science fiction/dystopian novels I have read, in fact it may be THE best. Patrick Ness has written an accomplished cautionary tale about technology, fear of difference and self-acceptance that left me begging for more. I will not reveal more plot he, but it is safe to say that the end left me hanging and now I must read The Ask and the Answer to find out what happens next. I commend this book to you in the strongest terms. A modern YA classic.
I would recommend this for ages 14 and up but a mature 12 year old will probably get a lot out of it too.