“The Ask and the Answer” is the second novel in Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy, picking up from where the first novel left off. Todd Hewitt and Viola Eade are separated in different fractions as Mayor Prentiss greets them into what he calls New Prentisstown, and coordinates a group called “The Ask” which maintains its tyrannical control over the settlement. Todd’s thrown into prison, working alongside the Mayor’s son Davy, while Viola’s treated in the company of a group of healers, who also happen to be a part of an underground group called “The Answer” and are bent on overthrowing Prentiss’s tyrannical rule. Ultimately, the road that both Todd and Viola take while in the company of these fractions isn’t without weight, and they’re caught up in a web of lies, betrayal, and manipulation that weaves cleverly throughout the collective novel. There are times when these clashes are violent, that characters are either tortured, maimed or killed in the crossfire clashes between these groups, but the emotions shown by the alternating narratives of Todd and Viola resonate and feel quite intimate in points. I won’t say that there weren’t slower points in the narrative (unlike in the first novel where the story ran in a punch gut race for survival), but this novel expands a bit on a theme that was introduced even in the previous novel – the onset of war and the changing landscape of those that exist and those that exist to conquer. Mayor Prentiss is still very much a manipulative villain in this novel, and plays his hand to reach Todd and Viola in whatever means he can to achieve his aims.
There were times when I audibly groaned (and felt a deep measure of frustration) because both Todd and Viola make major morally flawed decisions in the scheme of the novel (Todd especially). However, I appreciated the points where both characters grew on realizing the aftermath of those decisions, and I did feel for the characters when they’re faced with a great amount of responsibilities that call for them to step up to the challenge. Ness treats the themes of the novel with careful precision and resonation, and there are tough issues/stark images of violence in this novel that build upon the foundations of the first. I don’t think this novel had quite the same harrowing pacing as the first novel and had some definite slower areas where it needed to set up certain events, but I still enjoyed the unraveling of the conflict and the parts of higher tension when they struck. This book, like the former, leaves on a wonderful cliffhanger that makes me eagerly anticipate the last book in the trilogy.
I read this via the audiobook version, which features wonderful performances from both Nick Podehl and Angela Dawe.
Overall score: 4.5/5