The Ask and the Answer is the second book of Patrick Ness‘s Chaos Walking trilogy. The first book, The Knife of Never Letting Go, impressed me.
The distinctive feature of the Chaos Walking world is telepathy, with the interesting twist that women don’t broadcast. Crucial to the second book is the further twist that some men don’t broadcast either. One such is the evil and manipulative President Prentiss.
That word manipulative is particularly important, because it brings me to the main way in which Ask didn’t work as well for me as did Knife. The main characters Todd and Viola are manipulated by Prentiss and by his arch-enemy, Mistress Coyle. That would be fine, had the author’s manipulation of these and other characters not seemed intrusive.
That said, I found Ask engrossing, and Ness does move the pieces into place for a cliffhanger even more dramatic than the one on which Knife ended. So I’m looking forward to Monsters of Men, the third book, which is due out next year.
I gave Ask a four-star rating, while I gave Knife the maximum five. I refer to ratings at Goodreads. I’ve just resumed activity there thanks to prompting from uberbibliophile Nicholas Whyte.
The full title of the book is The Knife of Never Letting Go: Chaos Walking: Book One. It already has many glowing reviews and several awards, and I’m not doing much here but adding my praise to the heap.
The narrator, Todd, is a boy in a town of men. There are no females, and no other boys. He can hear the thoughts of others, and they can hear his. He is told by the men raising him that he must leave, and that there is no time to explain.
The text poses question after question about what’s going on. Author Patrick Ness serves up answers a little at a time. That’s the main reason I found The Knife very hard to put down.
I suggest that you don’t start reading it late at night; in doing so, I follow and quote Rachel Brown’s excellent review. One of the things I mean by excellent is that it makes most of the points I would have, and makes them well. The points includes some caveats.
One caveat is that the cliffhanger is “truly impressive,” to the extent that this is Book One of a series, rather than a book in its own right. Book One stops with three limbs hanging over the cliff: there is suspense with respect to one of the main characters, to the science in this science fiction story, and to the politics of the planet on which it’s set.
But the (full) title of the book tells us that it’s Book One. A Q&A with the author attached to another favorable review indicates that Chaos Walking is a trilogy. Since Book Two (The Ask and the Answer) is already written, there is hope that it may be one of those good old-fashioned trilogies comprising only three books.
I’m certainly glad I joined Todd on the journey described in Book One, and look forward to rejoining him on the edge of the cliff next May, when Book Two is due out.