Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

The Ask and the Answer From Goodreads.com:

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...

"The Ask and the Answer" is a tense, shocking and deeply moving novel of resistance under the most extreme pressure. This is the second title in the "Chaos Walking" trilogy.

I finished this book way back at the beginning of February, and it is only now, at the beginning of March, that I am finally starting to write about it. And that is largely because I haven’t been able to nail down what I want to say about it.

There has been all sorts of enthusiasm about this book, and the one before it, The Knife of Never Letting Go. I read The Knife of Never Letting Go in two days and was very impressed by it. I then rushed out and bought a copy of this one because I didn’t want to wait for as long as it might take me to get to the top of the library hold queue. I started reading it eagerly, and then I started to struggle. In contrast to the first book in the series, it took me twelve days to read this one and I could never decide if I liked it or not.

The thing is, this is a good book. The people who have said so are right. But I didn’t find it a nice book. Nice may not be the right word, as that seems to suggest something sweet and light, which this most definitely is not, but I can’t think of what the word I want actually is.

This is a good book. It raises important issues and tells a complicated story. But I didn’t enjoy reading it. And now, a month later, I’m still not sure if I liked it or not.

The pace is a lot slower than The Knife of Never Letting Go, which gives Ness the time to explore the issues he’s raising in the book. And boy oh boy, they are serious issues. He’s introducing things like fascism and terrorism and the rights and wrongs of both. There’s torture and terror and moral pitfalls everywhere. And as well written as it was, I didn’t enjoy reading about those things.

And then there was the Mayor. Really, I think he’s the crux of my issue with the book. I absolutely hated the Mayor. I detested him and I despised him. And I don’t mean that I hated the character because he was badly written; rather he was so well created and depicted that I hated the person in the pages as if he was a real person.

He had an absolutely clear insight into the hearts of all the other characters and he used that to manipulate them to the end of the world and back. It was just horrible. He separated Todd and Viola and then made them do exactly what he wanted – not through force or even fear (although there was a lot of fear) but by manipulating their very best characteristics to twist them into following his agenda without knowing they were doing it. It was heartbreaking to watch them trying so very hard to look out for each other and do the right thing and constantly have it turn back on them. By the cliffhanger at the end of the book (yes, there’s a cliffhanger but I’m not going to give away any of the details), the Mayor has achieved the result he has been working for all along (I totally don’t understand why that’s what he wants, but maybe it will become clear in the last book) and Todd and Viola are left in the same position they were in at the end of the last book. Or perhaps a worse position, as this time they’ve been vital in his achieving his ends, all while trying to oppose him.

It’s just awful and I was left aching for them both.

And it’s not just the psyches of Todd and Viola that he understands. It turns out he’s manipulated pretty much the entire population of the planet to do what he wants and I hated reading it. But I still had to keep on going.

I really, really, really want the Mayor to come to a very nasty and very sticky end.

So here I am, left not knowing what I thought of this book. It was good. It was very good. But I don’t know if I liked it. And I find myself eager to read the last book (thank goodness for library suggestions-to-buy) but not sure why about that either. Except that I want something awful to happen to the Mayor, and given the punches Ness has refused to pull so far, I find myself very afraid that may not happen. But I really hope it does.

You’ll have to decide for yourself if you want to read this. I really find myself unable to make a judgement call either way. Like I said, it’s good, but I didn’t really enjoy it. I guess you have to decide what your reasons are for choosing to read any particular book. If it’s to have fun along the way, this probably isn’t the right book. But if you want to be drawn into a fascinating world and challenged every step of the way, then maybe it is.

The Ask and the Answer
Patrick Ness
Chaos Walking, Book 2
Read: 21-1-10 to 2-2-10

Chaos Walking

  1. The Knife of Never Letting Go
  2. The Ask and the Answer
  3. Monsters of Men (Goodreads link: Due for release 3-5-10)

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