The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
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.
This is absolutely wonderful sequel. It's rare you find a novel better than its predecessor, but this is one of those unique moments. The story follows on from the sinking feeling I had when The Knife of Never Letting Go didn't quite end as happily as I had hoped. Todd and Viola are instantly separated and we follow the story of them both being adopted by different camps - Todd by Mayor Prentiss, and Viola by a rebel female group called The Answer.
Ness writes from the point of view of both Todd and Viola this time, alternating chapters. This gave us perfect insight into each camp's comings and goings, and let us see where assumptions or misunderstandings of the other's movements were happening in both camps. Viola is a brilliant character, so mature and level-headed, and it was incredible to hear her side of the story and comparing her to Todd. She never loses her way, and her constant mission is to return to Todd and save him, always with good intentions in her mind. In comparison, Todd seems to become swept up in his work in New Prentisstown, with his friendship with Davy, and the influence of the Mayor. At times I felt he was going to lose his soul completely; this was heartbreaking, and the realisation that good people can be turned bad in real-life is a harrowing one.
One of the most interesting areas of the novel is how Ness shows both Viola and Todd to be unknowing pawns in a greater picture. Both camps see them as expendable, and use them to their own advantage. So, although we think we know who the good guys are, it's never entirely clear who can be trusted.
My favourite character here was Davy Prentiss. He is so flawed, but I loved him entirely. He was portrayed in the first book as evil to the core, chasing Viola and Todd and trying to attack them constantly. Here, he is forced to work with Todd, and we are able to see him in a much brighter light. He's a bit of an arse, but he's human. He's lonely. He only does the horrible things he does because his father has ordered him to, and all he wants is his father's love - something he never manages to achieve. His Noise burns with colour every time his father praises him, and this made me both rage and choke at the same time. Davy's a flawed character, but at times it was as though he was a better person than Todd. He's the imperfect Manchee of book two.
Mayor Prentiss is one of the most terrifying villains I have ever read of. His ability to brainwash and control people, his cold heart, his ability to view his own son as a disposable solider, and the fact that he has so many men employed just so he doesn't have to get his hands dirty, are all factors scarily similar to some real-life leaders we've had both in history and in modern times.
But Mayor Prentiss isn't the only evil in this book. Ness shows us that evil can show up in lots of different forms, whether in wartime or not; most interestingly in those we trust. This raises some interesting questions, particularly for a young adult novel. Does fighting against one evil mean you're not evil yourself? What makes people expendable? Why should they be? How can you fight against being controlled by information? Or manipulation of information? Why should we show kindness to the oppressed if they don't show gratitude? Should they show gratitude? What's the difference between fighting for freedom of oppression, and terrorism? If there's a difference, where is the line? I could go on and on about this, but I think these are important questions to come from the novel, and it's impressive that Ness can write these into such a story. He explores war and how it affects different people. It's good to get a young target audience thinking about such things, and if they can relate these questions to anything in the media, then all the better.
The story is so emotional and affected me in so many different ways. I felt as though I was taking blows myself, I felt hurt, confused, and upset. I choked up at some of the deaths, and I mourned some of the things Todd and Viola had to experience. I am so excited to move onto Monsters of Men today, and I'm already planning buying the trilogy for someone's birthday present. This is wonderful - read it.