Thirty seconds after I finished the first installment of The Chaos Walking Trilogy "The Knife of Never Letting Go", I zoomed over to my mobile Overdrive to download the audio version of "The Ask and Answer" (my library didn't have the disc version). This was serious business now. The first installment left you hanging in mid-breathe, and I was a crazed, addicted fiend that needed my next fix.
But wait. The library SAID they had it on Overdrive, but it wasn't there. I made a call to the library. Oops, they say, looks like they don't have it anymore. Voice trembling, I ask if they can get the audio on loan from another library. No, they say, after budget cuts, they no longer support inter-library loans. OMG. OMG. OMG. So in desperation I broke my rule of sticking with all audio for a series, and I downloaded the Overdrive e-book on my phone. I read the whole thing on my phone. In three days. All 536 pages.
I will try to be as non-spoilery as possible here, but just the nature of talking about a sequel is a spoiler in itself.
Synopsis: Todd and Viola believe they are escaping to a safe town called Haven, only to find it overrun by none other than Mayor Prentiss. He has appointed himself President, has imprisoned the townsfolk that make trouble for him, banished the women to the outskirts of town, and is holding the aboriginal alien species in work camps. Todd and Viola are separated as a result, but determined to reunite.
Mayor Prentiss grows in power with the building of an army (called "the Ask") and development of his mind controls, and is all narrated by Todd. A group of revolutionaries, mostly women (called "the Answer"), decide to rebel by committing terrorist acts. The actions of this group are narrated by Viola, who has joined them out of necessity to survive. Jumping into the fray as a third combative force are the Spackle, who can no longer stand back and watch their people die at the hands of humans. Will there be anybody left when Viola's settlers arrive in the New World months from now?
My thoughts: There was much to love in this second installment. As much as I enjoyed "The Knife of Never Letting Go", and as much as I believe that most series blow their wad in the first book, this one just got better.
I loved the addition of Viola as a first person narrator (in the first book we only heard from Todd). She has a compelling voice, one that is passionate, earnest and determined despite her terror. The separation of her and Todd was palpable. I could feel their frustration and angst and need to be near each other, and their belief that they would do anything to protect each other. It was very sweet in a fierce kind of way.
I also got wrapped up in a number of emotional issues that were addressed in this novel. Big Issues. The struggle of the enslaved Spackle. The desperate longing for Mayor Prentiss's son to live up to his father's expectations. And the precious talking horse Angharrad. These animals, I swear.
But the biggest smack in the face was the morality of war. It is obvious from the beginning that Mayor Prentiss is evil - that is a no-brainer. So initially, the reader will applaud the efforts of The Ask to resist him, and blow up a few of his soldiers. But soon, you see that both sides are vicious and blood-thirsty. The Spackle have been used and abused in their native land, so they have a right to be mad. But then they come blasting with their fire sticks that burn everything in sight. So who is the good guy here? Who is right? Are any of them good, or just variations of the same brand of greed and anger? This is a book that makes you go "hmmm".
I will admit that I came out of the last book with some baggage. Ness left us with a cliff-hanger and he murders kind people - important people! I did not trust him, and was scared to death of who was going to get the ax. I have to admit that I'm in the camp that applauds an author that throws important characters under the bus, but with Ness it is extreme. I did not cry in this book, but felt the shock waves when characters were being picked off. (Truthfully, I was terrified for the end of the third book. But I'll talk about that tomorrow.)
And yes, this book ends (again) with the story hanging off the edge of a chasm, perfectly constructed for maximum anguish for those who had to wait for the third book to be published. You'll want to have the third and final novel "Monsters of Men" nearby. Luckily, I already had it loaded on my iPod. Stay tuned for that review tomorrow...
4.5 out of 5 stars