This novel takes off with the speed of NASA spacecraft; the events of the previous title are picked up and tossed over the very able shoulders of Todd and Viola. Having successfully taken over Haven (now New Prentisstown), the noxious President Prentiss has decided to use our two industrious kids to further his political gain with those on the planet and those soon to arrive.
The Ask and the Answer proves that the second title in a trilogy can be a strong one, surpassing the first title in my eyes. The pace is thrilling, the events are breathtaking and the character development is supreme. As the opponents and supporters of Prentiss’ evil plans swell in numbers, it’s less of a good versus evil conflict but more about what one might do to retain a hold on their own morals, identity and life. What happens in New Prentisstown can be read on many levels but the political edge of this novel made this a fascinating read. The Answer, New Prentisstown’s guerrilla movement, could be seen as the French Resistance of this world with Prentiss himself treading the line between genuine horror and charm as the self-determined leader of the planet.
Viola and Todd are immediately separated as the events of The Knife of Never Letting Go take effect. Viola is whisked away to recover while Todd is held captive as he’s the one preventing citizens of Prentisstown (the original) from being whole. Ness has changed this novel up, having the perspective jump between Viola and Todd and it works fantastically. Their allegiance to one another allows the President to work each of them like puppets. While Todd survives by turning in on himself and taking on more responsibility with the Spackles, Viola is left anchorless, watching another tussle for control of the planet through less-than-noble means.
This book has many moments that are genuinely discomforting and horrifying – whether the annihilation of captives, the banding of citizens or the physical and psychological torture inflicted under the dictator’s control. Ness has a great way of making the page and its characters come alive through clear language and the deeper character study that is undertaken makes the world all the more richer. That being said there is a certain repetitiveness, perhaps as I have read both titles uninterrupted. Todd and Viola continue to take turns rescuing one another, calling out each other’s names and stupidly failing to realise they are being lied to over and over again (you would think they would catch on after the third time.) But the alternative perspectives ably assist in showing how different factions are dealing with occupation, assimilation and rebellion.
The Terminator-esque preacher has been done away with and as a result there is larger focus placed upon President Prentiss, his son and the depths people will plunge to in their need to live. The villains are all fantastically portrayed, not as evil incarnate (though that could be argued), but as individuals utter convinced they are doing what is best. Conviction makes the best kind of baddies and this novel has many to choose from. Of particular note, the relationship between Todd and Davy was one that evolved continually throughout the novel. Davy’s arc was one from two-dimensional villain to a friend by the end which boggles the mind and impresses the heck out of me. The characters, old and introduced, are what make this novel.
Terrorism, oppression and dishonesty are a large part of the narrative. Todd struggles to retain a sense of self while making his thoughts private as many take the cure for The Noise. Both Viola and Todd are seen as their self-appointed mentors as leaders and are regarded both respectfully and brutally in their “education” of those fighting for the survival of themselves and their ideals. This is what great dystopia should aim to be. An absolutely thought provoking, entrancing and thrilling read.
Adele Walsh, book blogger of Persnickety Snark fame and trusted reviewer, recently selected her best young-adult reads of 2009.