Another can’t-put-it-down, page-turner from Patrick Ness, The Ask and the Answer is the second book in the Chaos Walking trilogy.
We find Viola and Todd once they’ve reached Haven—the town they had been destined for throughout book one, The Knife of Never Letting Go—only to find that the Printesstown army is there to take them prisoners. The two are separated. As Viola has been badly wounded, Todd doesn’t even know if she is alive and continually pleads with Mayor Printess—now President Printess—that he will do anything to insure Viola’s safety.
With that thought comes the first moral question of the book. What will you really do to save someone else? On the heels of that question come others. The Answer is a terrorist group largely made up of women who are suffering under the command of President Printess in what is now known as New Printesstown rather than Haven. Many women have been imprisoned and tortured. All have been removed from their homes because their thoughts can’t be read in the way that ‘the noise’ emitted from all men’s thoughts can be read. The Answer can only fight back by bombing key locations, such as army barracks.
Meanwhile, Todd is pulled into the army and The Ask. He is given authority by President Printess, who thinks that Todd has a great deal of promise. But what President Printess asks of Todd is to perform cruel acts, first on the indigenous population of the planet, the Spackle, and later on humans. Todd is witness to torture of ‘enemies of the state.’ He learns that an apparent bombing by The Answer may actually be an ethnic cleansing by The Ask.
While Todd is trying to hold his moral center in The Ask, Viola is doing the same in The Answer. Its leader, Mistress Coyle, is fighting for a good cause, but using questionable methods to do so. It appears that she has no problems risking the torture or lives of individuals, including Viola. Mistress Coyle is devious and deceitful, and often when Viola thinks she has some control over her actions, she learns that she is just a pawn in The Answer’s war game.
But if Mistress Coyle is devious, her personality pales in comparison to that of President Prentiss, who is a genuine sociopath. His cool demeanor as he discusses the necessity of his actions is some of the best characterization I’ve ever read in young adult fiction.
The Ask and the Answer tackles many contemporary issues although it removes them to another planet—war tactics, genocide or ethnic cleansing, terrorism, appeasement (in the form of Haven’s old mayor), personal liberties and their value when contrasted against the needs of the state, and more. All of these topics are embedded in a gripping story where friendship and the understanding that “we all fall” (and need to get back up) are the only things keeping hope alive.
The action is fast and furious in The Ask and the Answer. It isn’t a sequel that you should read without having tackled book one first. I am amazed at how quickly I read these books, considering their length. The Chaos Walking trilogy is a great ‘guy’ series and a great way to move into longer, more complex books because you simply cannot put them down.