YOU, Blogosphere- Amazon- Goodreads- you've Asked me to read this book by plastering shamelessly positive reviews of it all over yourself.
I have Answered.
The Ask and the Answer ("TATA") by Patrick Ness is book 2 of the Chaos Walking trilogy. Now before we go getting our teeth stuck into this fresh piece of meat, I highly HIGHLY recommend that you read Book 1.
I repeat: this isn't one of those series' where you can afford to pick up at Book 2 - you simply MUST read Book 1 FIRST. Patrick Ness' ROARINGLY adventurous dystopian trilogy is all about the suspense, and besides the story being absolutely spoilt in its entirety, you won't have any EFFING clue what's going on at ANY stage. So if you want to be part of this exclusive club, GO. Now. Read. And love.
So with that out of the way: TATA begins at The End. I mean that it presents itself as the tail of Book 1, where we are left hanging by one very sweaty hand off the edge of a high, rocky cliff, otherwise known as the dreaded 'cliffhanger'. There, first page in, written THE END, and then the story begins...
----Mild spoilers start here - watch for the splash as you hit the water below - DON'T SAY YOU HAVEN'T BEEN WARNED ------
---------------------Begin Spoiler -------------------
I guess it's no big secret that Viola lives to see another day, brushing off that bulletwound that showcased Todd as the hero we all know he is in The Knife of Never Letting Go ("TKNLG").
Problem is, Viola's been picked up by a group of healing and silent (no 'noise') dastardly WOMEN, while Todd's thrown in the deep end with Mayor (now President) Prentiss, who sees 'big things' in Todd and wants him to join his gang. It's a power struggle and brainwashing of epic proportions as the two young protagonists fight their way through evils untold and doubts unnumbered in pursuit of their destination: each other.
That is seriously ALL I'm going to say about the plot. Read it yourself.
Now for everything else:-
As the second book in the series, TATA has a fair bit to live up to. In Book 1, Ness built a world where a cowboy and a GI Joe could feel equally at home within its landscape. Book 2, with the further introduction of females and especially with the added viewpoint of the sensible and sweet Viola does run the risk of softening the novel's edges. Lucky for us there's plenty of dust, horses, blood and guts, bomb explosions and gunfire, sweaty boys and sadistic men to keep us thrilled to bits with the second offering.
In my thoughts on TKNLG (see review here) I had challenged Patrick Ness to include Viola's perspective in the next book - Todd was so full of life and guilt and strangeness that I felt sure Viola would bring something extra special if she were allowed to be NOISY with the rest of them.
I was, however, a little disappointed in Viola's representation in the second novel. I was hoping she would be a joint protagonist similarly to Will's role in His Dark Materials (yes I'm still comparing Todd and Viola to Lyra and Will because they are PRETTY MUCH ONE AND THE SAME - you just don't want to admit it), but instead Viola's still that backstage prop used to reflect and deflect Todd's NOISY musings. Further to this point, I had difficulty establishing which character was speaking, except that Viola spoke/ wrote/ told the story like a genderless, stunted being. She sometimes experienced moments of warmth but Todd's overriding personality gobbles it up. Viola is still two-dimensional, Todd is like ten-dimensional. Viola should have been at least a five-dimensional by my awesomely accurate maths calculations. And can I just lament over how much I miss a certain adorable someone from the first book who didn't quite make it to the second? You know who I mean.
But despite these slight hitches, TATA is a dangerously addictive addition to the three-part series. The reading style continues to be accessible and despite its thickness, I guarantee you will rip through it like a horse through a gate at the mere mention of the word 'lightning'.
Happily, Todd's language is still an endearing mix of Shakespeare, current teenage slang and toddler spelling. And ordinary words like "ask" become something entirely different and somewhat dangerous with the simple addition of, for example, some silver paint and a capital "A". Manipulating words and screwing with multiple layers of meaning makes the trilogy enviously exclusive to the readers, like learning a secret society's handshake. Only YOU know what The Knife of Never Letting Go refers to. Thankfully, it's the same with The Ask and the Answer. This book will scribble on your brain like a PARTICULARLY HYPERACTIVE PRESCHOOLER in search of the creative holy grail, so be warned: side effects from reading include expecting everyone around you to talk in echoes with thoughts popping up in bold and unapologetically messy font around their head. You may find that you have to consciously refrain from using the word "effing" in more than three sentences in a row and on blog reviews you'll almost certainly increase your rate of TYPING IN CAPS LOCK FOR NO APPARENT REASON....
And the physical book itself is adorable. It's lovely and fat and uncontrollably baby-blue in colour. There's a massive silver letter A (which will ONLY make sense when you're reading it) and it's covered in a thick plastic perfect for adventurous boys and girls who don't understand the meaning of keeping books in good condition.
I also think it's SUPERCOOL the way highly mature themes are dealt with in this series. There's racism, sexism, other general discrimination, dictatorship, questions of religion, abuse of power...I could go on for a while. Chunks of heart and hope are just bowled in randomly along with the usual suspects of greed, guilt, betrayal of trust and general disillusionment. It reminds me a lot of the movie District 9 (which I LOVED as well, by the way - see my review of the movie, here) - fellow Aussie blogger Rhiannon Hart touched on the book's familiarity to District 9 as well (see THAT review, here).
All in all, the sense of creative adventure in this series is sure to overwhelm you- it'll quicken the hearts of any Peter Pan in pursuit of a freshly opened window or a wizened pirate desperate for a new frontier, but equally girls should love the first buds of romance and Todd's crazy "boy-ness". I think I can say without reservation that almost everyone with a still-beating heart will appreciate the elements of humanity and community: an oh-so-relevant commentary on today's increasingly distant and ego-centric world.
So if you have an impossible sense of adventure; if you enjoy tales of an underdog fighting against the injustices of a dystopian world; if you enjoy transformations and the triumph of EVIL over GOOD as well as GOOD over EVIL; if you fly the flag for teenage romance in the most unlikely of situations...pick up the first book and join the revolution, or get ready to read the third and final instalment before the rest of the world catches on.
Cos I think we're on the brink of something big.
4.5 stars for The Ask and the Answer.