My friend and colleague Charlotte previously recommended the first book in Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy, The Knife of Never Letting Go. If you haven’t read that book, you ought to stop here, read this post about the series starter and come back to The Ask and the Answer after you’ve read it. Spoiler alerts for anyone who reads on in this post! Still, this YA series is so good that it deserves a second entry.
The second book picks up with Todd and Viola waking to discover that Mayor Prentiss has arrived at Haven and holds them separately captive. The Mayor has changed tactics somewhat, and is now working to win Todd and Viola over to his cause. What follows are chapters full of subtle psychological games, as Todd and Viola try to confirm each other’s safety and reunite, while the Mayor plays both good cop and bad cop in his nasty but subtle style.
The unusual conceit of the series is that a virus left men on this planet unable to hide their thoughts from others. In their heads, each can hear what everyone else is thinking. Women don’t broadcast their thoughts but can hear those of men, an inequality that makes Mayor Prentiss particularly hard on them as he struggles to maintain control. Some residents of Haven give in quickly to his armed dictatorship, but others begin to engage in vicious guerilla warfare, hiding under the mysterious moniker of The Ask. The Mayor responds with his own Gestapo-like organization, The Answer. Not just Todd and Viola are at risk, everyone in Haven is in danger, and the future of the whole planet’s up for grabs, as another wave of colonizing ships is due soon. To make matters worse, the Mayor has discovered a method of masking his thoughts at time, using them like a weapon at others.
Todd, along with the Mayor’s bullying, ne’er-do-well son Davy, is put to work rounding up the planet’s other species, the strange Spackle, and monitoring their forced labor. Viola must recover from injuries, then begins to learn healing arts herself, all the while searching for both Todd and those with whom she could ally to fight the Mayor.
Ness writes masterfully, leaving the reader unsure of whom to trust. Todd, in particular, undergoes a dark journey in this novel, suffering manipulations that lead him to behaviors that give him great shame. The suspense of the outcome of the ongoing war becomes almost secondary to the question of whether Todd can even save his own soul. If you’ve ever wondered how people can become twisted enough to perpetrate the heinous deeds committed during wartime, this book will provide an unforgettable example. There’s drama, suspense, action, and an enduring romance at the core of a series, which should be enjoyable to all adults, whether they’re young or not.
Check the WRL catalog for The Ask and the Answer