The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The brilliance of the first part of this trilogy and that amazing setup of a cliffhanger at the end would surely prove too much to outdo in the second part, wouldn’t it? And yes, it doesn’t really outdo it, but it’s still a really, really great book and sets up things very nicely indeed for the final part of the series.
After Todd rushes into Haven with a wounded Viola, he realizes the Mayor of Prentisstown has taken over Haven with nary a whimper, the power of the rumor of destruction proving enough to scare the residents into submission. He separates Todd and Viola, and from this point the story also runs in parallel threads for us – one from the point of view of Todd as usual, and another from the point of view of Viola. Todd ends up in close (uncomfortably so for his noise addled brain) company with the Mayor (or as he keeps reminding Todd – President now) and especially his son, the hardly sunny Davy. Both of them are assigned tasks of overseeing certain planned constructions by using the labor from certain surprising quarters. Viola, in the meantime, wakes up in a house of healing, run by women and is attended to by the best healer in Haven, Miss Coyle. However, just as with Todd and the Mayor, Miss Coyle and her band of healers, who are developing plans of resistance of their own, realize that Viola is someone special who can help their cause. The Mayor, initially, seems almost benevolent in his attitude to the townspeople and especially Todd and Viola. He segregates the women from the men, but shows signs of relaxing restrictions. However, Miss Coyle is not planning to give in easily to his idea of a New Prentisstown. She and her band of fighters start their own warfare against the Mayor’s plans. But is she just another version of him?And what of the Spackle, the original inhabitants of this world?
It’s these kinds of moral quandaries that our protagonists find themselves in that make this series so much more than the regular stuff one reads in Young Adult fiction. The world and inhabitants it describes maybe imaginary but the problems and fears faced by the characters are just so real that it completely gets to us. It’s not easy at all to actually predict what will happen in this series, and this book lives up to that. Mayor Prentiss is an enigmatic and worthy foe, but is he all bad? Who is to be believed? Why does he want to keep Todd close to him? And what about Miss Coyle? Even the seemingly hopeless Davy Prentiss may have more to his emotional makeup than it appears at first. Forget Children’s fiction, I’ve not read much of fiction of any kind in the recent past which matches up to these stories in terms of how much the story and characters affect me. Todd and Viola and the rest of them feel so human and vulnerable that we can almost relate to them. The dawning realization on both our heroes’ sides on how much they care for each other and the lengths to which they will go for each other never seems cheesy or put on. It feels oh so real. And this has to be the genius of the writing. If they eventually come out with a proper movie adaptation of these stories, we can be in for some rollicking good cinema too.
I have a sneaking suspicion though, that the reason for my less than perfect score this time is down to… Oh Manchee, I miss you!
For now though, I’m more than happy reading the stories. I can’t recommend this series more.