The Ask and the Answer – Patrick Ness

Oh, Todd. Oh, Viola.  You’re breaking my heart.

Patrick Ness has done it again with the second book in his Chaos Walking trilogy. When we left Todd and Viola in The Knife of Never Letting Go, they were running for their lives into the town of Haven. Well, Todd was running at least; Viola had been shot.

Haven turns out to be exactly the opposite; the pair are captured and separated. When Todd comes to, he is tied to a chair and the Mayor (remember how evil he was in the last book? You ain’t seen nothing yet!) is interrogating him. But all Todd can think about is Viola.

“Where is she?” I spit into the dark, tasting blood, my voice croaking, my Noise rising like a sudden hurricane, high and red and furious. “WHERE IS SHE?”

“I will be the one doing the asking here, Todd.

That voice.

The opening scene in The Ask and the Answer is but a taste of the horrors to come. Ness doesn’t pull any punches: literally.  Haven has been taken by the Mayor and his men and Todd finds himself separated from Viola.  No one is safe and the lines between who is good and who is not are constantly shifting.

The Ask and the Answer is about war. The themes are universal: outsiders rounded up like cattle and branded; a leader crazy for power (or perhaps just plain crazy), and two kids trying desperately to make meaning and find a way to do the least damage.So much comes at them and I often forgot that they were just kids. That was the hardest thing to believe about the whole book: Todd is supposed to have just turned 13 and he seems a lifetime older.  But I am looking at him from my cushy, never-been-in-war, perspective. Who knows what you might be capable of if there was no alternative.

And that question is at the very centre of Ness’ terrific book. If you had no choice – what would you do? If you thought all was lost – what would you do? People constantly surprised me in this book, particularly the Mayor’s son, Davy. It’s a testimony to Ness’ considerable talent that he is able to make Davy sympathetic.

As for Todd and Viola – they continue to be resourceful and bloody amazing and true to each other is ways that are both heart-breaking and inspiring. They’re so brave and so resilient, I hated to leave them again.

Book three, coming up: Monsters of Men

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