The Ask and the Answer: a review

Title: The Ask and the Answer
Author: Patrick Ness
Series: Chaos Walking #2
Language: English
Pages: 517

The Series
This is the second book in the Chaos Walking trilogy. The first book is The Knife of Never Letting Go. The series is about people who have moved from earth to New Earth where the men are affected by a virus that means everyone can hear their thoughts, a phenomenon referred to as Noise. This doesn’t affect the women. The protagonist is Todd Hewitt, the last boy in Prentisstown, a town where all the women died. Right before Todd turns 14 (and into a man) he finds a girl, something he thought to be impossible, and she doesn’t have Noise. His uncles tell him the Mayor of Prentisstown is a psycho and they send him away with the girl, Viola. Viola is from a group of settlers from Old Earth.

There will be some spoilers for book one, because it’s hard to explain this book without revealing anything from the first one.

The Story
The book starts off right after the end of book one. Todd and Viola, who has been shot incidentally, show up in Haven and meet the Mayor of Prentisstown, who has arrived before them. Parts of the army took a different route and beat Todd and Viola to Haven. The Mayor takes Viola to a House of Healing so he can hold it over Todd. Todd is imprisoned and Mayor Prentiss reinvents himself as President Prentiss and renames Haven New Prentisstown. Viola is put to work in the Healing house after she is well and Todd is imprisoned. Because the Mayor is a stand-up guy he separates the men from the women and stops giving out the cure for the Noise. He puts the Spackle (the indigenous people of New Earth) to work as slave labor. He eventually starts making the distinctions between men and women bigger. He refuses to let men and women see their spouses and children for example. Soon a faction of women, and some men, called the Answer, led by Mistress Coyle (a Healer), leaves town and starts a war. To beat the Answer the Mayor starts his own crew, called the Ask, and you know things happen. (I would like to point out that in Chaos Walking world “an ask” is a question, I’m not trying to be patronizing, but it confused me). Todd and Viola are pressganged into service on either side of the war and action is afoot.

Todd Hewitt – the last boy of Prentisstown is no longer a boy, not because he has followed the rules of Prentisstown, but because he has become a man in his own right. He is believable, and relatable. He grows immensely in this book, he turns into a man, and he learns about his world, and he learns about what he is willing to do and sacrifice. Todd is special from the perspective of Prentisstown. Without spoiling it too much he is kind and soft. I am not in any way saying this is bad, like Harry in Harry Potter Todd has the ability to love no matter what happens to him. He is just lovely in that way, and when he is faced with the things he has to do he just shuts off so he doesn’t have to deal with it, not turning to cruelty really. And Todd still holds onto his innocence I guess. I love him. He is also flawed, he finds his emotions very troubling and he constantly tries to prove himself as a man instead of embracing his assets, which leads to him being mean, rash and making bad decisions.
Viola Eade – Viola is the only survivor of a scouting party sent to New Earth to find a good place for the settlers to land. Viola is left alone on a world she doesn’t know when her parents die and the only person she knows is Todd. She is devoted to him and she loves him and whatever she does is done with the aim to help him. Viola is more pragmatic and practical than Todd, who tends to go with his heart. Viola will make hard choices and do what she has to in order to help. She joins Mistress Coyle’s cause even if she doesn’t like her and she fights for the Answer. She holds firmly to her morals and won’t hurt anyone unless she has to. She will hurt people though, if she has to. And I really like her for her practicality and her pragmatism. And she fights for what’s right, not only Todd. I really love Viola.

Mayor Prentiss – Mayor Prentiss was the mayor of Prentisstown, is the Mayor of New Prentisstown and styles himself President of New Earth. He is relentless and cruel, and sadistic, and he is completely sure he’s right. It’s impossible to argue with him because he is convinced what he’s doing is right. He has found a way to brainwash and control his people, and he uses it to maximum effect. People who are completely sure they are right will not be convinced they are not and they can make coherent and good arguments for why they are right and that way they’ll control more people. He can twist any situation to fit his didactic and he is completely ruthless in his quest for power. He is terrifying.

Mistress Coyle – Mistress Coyle is in many ways similar to Mayor Prentiss. She is seen as the “good” one, even though she is just as ruthless as the Mayor. She is willing to go to extreme lengths to beat the mayor, sacrificing friends and coworkers for the cause. She is originally a healer and used to sit on the council in Haven. During the war against the Spackle she used some unpleasant methods and was thrown off the council. She wants equality and cooperation, and while her idealistic goals are commendable and the Mayor is a crazy asshole she does blow up people and hurt people, going against her oaths (basically the Hippocratic Oath of “Do no harm”). Because the Mayor is so crazy Mistress Coyle’s idealism seems justified and right, but her methods are just as horrible as the Mayor’s, and she doesn’t really ingratiate herself with the people.

What I thought
I loved it. I really loved the first book too, I thought it was amazing and unlike anything I had ever read. I worried the second book fell short, but it did not, it was amazing. It was AMAZING. There is seriously action all the time. It never stops. The way the book is written makes everything feel urgent.

The book is split up between Todd and Viola’s points of view. It means you get to see what’s going on on either side of the war. You also get to see the justifications of either side, and the reasoning for what they’re doing. I found it interesting to see how Mistress Coyle and Mayor Prentiss spin their sides of the war. I also found it interesting to see how Todd and Viola see their side of the war and why they do what they eventually end up doing and how it makes them feel. It’s interesting to see what war does to people and how it changes your behavior and priorities. And how it rearranges how you deal with your priorities. Viola and Todd are so deeply devoted to each other and it is interesting to see what they sacrifice to help and see each other.

There is action pretty much from the word go and I felt like my heart was in my throat the whole time. I didn’t want to put it down. I can’t wait to read the last book in the series, although I’m also worried about what will happen when it’s over. Also the book ends with a major, potentially devastating cliffhanger, so that’s going to be an issue in the third book I’m sure. Yeah. I’m excited. I love it.

The writing is really interesting. Todd was born and raised on New Earth and the writing from his expression is changed. It might also has to do with his age and maturity, because I feel like it’s changed from the first book. Ness writes things like “explosion” as “exploshun”, and “you are”, and “your” as “yer”, which is not confusing because context guys. It’s actually pretty cool. I realize it will be annoying for people, but I think it makes it more believable, because language evolves and changes, and Todd lives in a small uneducated society, so they will change the way they write and say things.

Viola comes from a more educated society of settlers, and the writing when it’s Viola’s perspective is grammatically correct and the spelling is correct. I think it’s really interesting, it differentiates them, and it made them more believable, it made them more solid. It made them seem like real people.

Also, the world they live in, or the world Ness has created, is interesting and impressive. He hasn’t explained everything, and there is so much history and stuff that is not really explained, but you know what is going on, and he just reveals slowly and interestingly, for example the Spackles. I also love the creepiness of the Mayor and his bizarre belief system, which just creeps into you and the story, and it’s amazing. He is so creepy.

Final thoughts
I thought it was amazing. I gave it five stars on Goodreads, I was excited. I think it does a good job of showing how war affects people, of how it makes you make tough choices, how it lowers your morals and changes how you react to things. It’s believable even though it’s set on a different planet in the future. The world building continues to be flawless and it’s just so amazing. I can’t wait to read the last one.