The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

ask and the answerI thought the first installment of the Chaos Walking series – The Knife of Never Letting Go – was good, but its sequel, The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness, was superior in every way. It may be one of my favourite books that I have read in 2014.

Immediately following the events of the Knife of Never Letting Go, Todd and Viola are caught in the middle of a power struggle between two powerful forces. Separated and finding themselves trapped on opposite sides of the fight, Viola and Todd struggle to do what is right, hold onto what they believe is good for the world and its people, and ultimately, find each other in a world that is tearing itself apart.

To sum up my overall thoughts on this book: This book was impressive. Even though its audience is predominantly young adult, this book gauged me sociologically. The best part about it is that Ness writes in a way that the themes – which are important and relevant in today’s socio-political context – are accessible to younger audiences; the themes are articulated in a way that is thought-provoking, and compels you to learn something about yourself when you find yourself agreeing or disagreeing with various perspectives.

Whilst The Knife of Never Letting Go was about self-discovery and the impact a rite of passage has on the psyche and society as a whole, The Ask and the Answer moves onto graver and heavier themes, such as power (especially how it is attained in fascist regimes), oppression, fear, control, choice, war, violence, and the power of words, secrets, truth and lies.

These themes, which are often themes that are misused and manipulated to further political agenda, are executed with finesse and nuance. Whether intentional on Ness’s part of not, various characters represent common characters within these power struggles – the tyrant, the branded enemy, the one who follows the status quo or the ‘winning side’, the pacifists, those who exploit war, etc. –  and through their speech and rhetoric, there are echoes and pieces of ideology and justifications of their actions (or inaction) that can be found within our history and today. To locate these characters within fiction in the context of our society give rise to the complexity of war and rebellion, but more so why sometimes rebellion is not always bad and why violence may be, though undesirable, a lesser evil than war or relinquishing one’s liberty.

The characters in this installment play a central role in the story’s development; not just our protagonists, Viola and Todd, but the other characters too, especially the President, Mistress Coyle, and Davy – in fact, I would go as far to say that they play larger roles than the two protagonists. Characters grow and develop, and every character introduced is relevant and integral in the fabric of the wider story. Furthermore, the representation of the characters aren’t stilted from bias, but are portrayed in a way that allows the reader freedom to interpret their actions and perspectives. And as much as I’d love to delve into my own opinions of this book (and I have many; especially about which party I think is justified), unfortunately sharing those opinions would give it away, and I would like to implore everyone to read this book series.

The Ask and the Answer is an important, necessary book and it’s a fantastic and thrilling read also. It’s the young adult dystopian that I wish I had written, and as I said when reviewing The Knife of Letting Go, authors should aspire to write a book series as compelling, poignant and thought-provoking as Chaos Walking.

Rating: 4/5

Book Information
Book Name: The Ask and the Answer
Book Series: Chaos Walking #2
Author: Patrick Ness
Pages: 536
Publisher: Walker Books

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