Book Review – ‘The Ask and the Answer’ (#2 Chaos Walking) by Patrick Ness

The Ask and the long-winded Answer….

Genre: YA, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 553

We were in the square, in the square where I’d run, holding her, carrying her, telling her to stay alive, stay alive till we got safe, till we got to Haven so I could save her – But there weren’t no safety, no safety at all, there was just him and his men…

Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd has carried a desperately wounded Viola right into the hands of their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss. Immediately separated from Viola and imprisoned, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor’s new order. But what secrets are hiding just outside of town? And where is Viola? Is she even still alive? And who are the mysterious Answer? And then, one day, the bombs begin to explode…

Picking up where ‘The Knife of Never Letting Go’ left off, we jump right into the action with Todd and Viola. Their dual points of view take our intrepid teens in two different directions as they struggle to get back to each other and prevent the planet they are on from imploding political tensions.

There didn’t feel like a lot happened in this instalment… and it definitely suffered that second book syndrome.

The Ask and The Answer’ almost put me into a book slump; it was very boring and long, the story took forever to get anywhere, and all the interesting bits happened in the last few chapters. I think because we delve into political movements and differing factions led by flawed and self-righteous people, there is a lot less science fiction and so much more posturing and maneuvering. The character development did not seem to grow our two main protagonists Todd and Viola too much apart from making them suffer inordinate amounts of pain, treachery, and heartache to shape them into possible leaders. It didn’t feel justified to me – and certainly not over 500 pages of it. We see both Todd and Viola challenge the system, and those in power, but we did not see them learn much from it. They spend their time reacting and surviving. I would have appreciated either of them having frank discussions on how to overcome, strategize, or even some psychological insight into those in power to better equip them in the battles to come. Instead they are tossed about like pawns on a chess board always a few steps behind.

I had pretty much the same opinion of all the characters at the start of the novel as I did at the end. And there is so much senseless death and destruction. The same about the plot too. We see something major happen in the beginning chapters and the book concludes with the groups still in much the same positions, and a few small victories for our protagonists. So ‘The Ask and the Answer’ left me frustrated because there didn’t feel like the characters or the story have changed or evolved much from start to finish – and this is one of the longer novels I’ve read of late. So much time invested for little return.

Patrick Ness has a lovely writing style. The use of dialect to distinguish between the two narratives for our protagonists make it instant and easy to recognise whose voice is whose. You get an instant picture of the setting of each scene, and the use of font and format for the mental projection of thought (Noise) of the males is unique… but all this goes up against unending violence, subjugation, and long monotonous monologues. I honestly felt like the whole novel is one big manexplanation.

I really wanted to love ‘The Ask and the Answer.’ I really did. It has all the trappings of a story that completely takes me over, but it didn’t execute it well enough for me to sing it’s praises. It was a struggle to read and put a stain on my experience for the world of Todd and Viola. Plus I still have a Manchee hangover…

For YA, I don’t think this is something I’m happy to recommend. That target market have less patience than I do, and this really felt more like a social commentary on racism and colonialization than it did on science fiction.

Overall feeling: *jolts awake*

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘The Knife of Never Letting Go’ (#1 Chaos Walking) by Patrick Ness

A tale of a boy and his dog… and a girl from outer space.

Genre: YA, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 512

Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him — something so awful Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears too. With hostile men from the town in pursuit, the two stumble upon a strange and eerily silent creature: a girl. Who is she? Why wasn’t she killed by the germ like all the females on New World? Propelled by Todd’s gritty narration, readers are in for a white-knuckle journey in which a boy on the cusp of manhood must unlearn everything he knows in order to figure out who he truly is.

Dogs in novels are always a kicker for me. I love them characterised as one of the main cast, and the bond that pet Manchee has with protagonist Todd is pretty special, and I ate it up like a second helping of icecream.

There are so many exciting elements in “The Knife of Never Letting Go,’ colonisation of an alien planet, warring with the native inhabitants (The Spackle) which verges on genocide and slavery, sexism that is amplified as the male half of the population suddenly find their every thought is displayed for all to see through the ‘Noise,’ the arrival of a new colonist from another ship from Earth – Viola, and her introduction to Todd, a local boy who is starting to find out what he had been told about their village, and the circumstances of haw they now live aren’t entirely true. We even get to hear the thoughts of animals on the planet as well which is another dynamic that adds to the narrative.

Told in first person from Todd’s point of view we see how the safe little existence in his village is slowly dismantled, how most of what he has come to love, is now a threat as he chooses to protect and guide Viola. The discovery of a new colonising ship about to land on the planet stirs ideologies of control and dominance in Mayor Prentiss as he jostles to put himself in a position of power before the ship lands so he can maintain his status once the new colonists arrive. But Todd and Viola pose a threat with their uncovering of some awful truths… and if they tell their story to those on the ship before Mayor Prentiss can cement his position in society, it will all come crumbling down around him. Especially some of those dark, dangerous truths the village has hidden and spread false stories to hide.

This is essentially a road trip/chase as Todd and Viola leave the village that is the only place Todd has known his whole life, and head to the capital to radio the colony ship and warn them of what is awaiting them on the planet below.

There are some hard themes explored. It’s a gruelling journey as the teens are perused by zealots determined to either kill or bend the pair to their will. As Todd is only thirteen years old, I sometimes felt the narrative separated itself from the realities of a boy of that age. Plus there were a lot of illogical decisions make that didn’t make sense to me – both in this story and in how the society came to be. But it was great discovering the world through Todd’s naive eyes.

We get some great character development, both Todd and Viola have to face a much different world than they thought it to be. And they have to do it on their own with very little resources. Trust is tested and forces the teens to rely only in each other.

Aaron as a religious zealot and antagonist in this story is the one character that I had the most issue with – while great for the story, the realism of this did not sit well with me. He is seriously crazy. And in a world where the Noise leaves little to be hidden, that type of thinking should have isolated him from the colony, rendered him powerless. So while a great storytelling device, I held little value in him as a character.

There is also a heart-wrenching scene that just about ended me. I was audibly sobbing. I won’t say much more than that to avoid spoilers… but man, there is some brutality in the novel that is traumatising. And afterward I was trying to figure out what its role was in the grand scheme of the novel and while I understand it to an extent, it didn’t resonate well with me.

Patrick Ness has a great writing style, though I must admit I found the use of dialect a little off putting. To continually read grammatically incorrect sentences because of the education level of the protagonist is jarring. It’s either brilliant of annoying… maybe a little of both. Other than that it was fantastic to explore the alien planet, the Spackle, and the colonists with delicately painted scenes; though on the whole the novel did feel a little too long, and slightly over-dramatic.

I can see how it deserves some of the praise it’s received. However, when I think of the target market, ‘The Knife of Never Letting Go’ needs some serious trigger warnings. Some of the content is traumatic.

This is a soft recommendation from me. A great concept, interesting character development, if a little long.

Overall feeling: what the hell did I just go through?

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.