Y’all. For serious. Patrick Ness.
The Ask and the Answer has caused me to lose the power to form sentences. I am not even lying. I was sat there in the Bongs & Noodles right after I finished reading the book (which isn’t officially out yet – I love it when the bookshop doesn’t care), and someone asked if the seat next to me was taken. I believe my exact words were “Nnng blfff chair sit. I mean, no,” and then I wanted to tell them all about The Ask and the Answer and how intense and terrifying it was. You know how some books make you want to talk about them? And you have to really try hard not to, because you know if you start talking you’re going to babble? That is The Ask and the Answer for me.
Patrick Ness, not afraid to go to the dark place. Dark like exploring how a person who participates in slavery can come to sympathize with it; i.e., triple extra dark. So dark that if it were Lindt chocolate IT MIGHT EVEN BE TOO DARK FOR ME, and I say this as a girl who loves the 80% cacao Lindt chocolate. And I expect there will be spoilers for The Knife of Never Letting Go in this review, because I can’t help it; but only minor spoilers for The Ask and the Answer.
Todd and Viola have been separated by the old Mayor of Prentisstown, now styling himself as the President of New Prentisstown (what used to be Haven); and each of them are hostage for the other’s good behavior. As Viola recovers from being shot, the Mayor tries to convince her that he’s working for the good of the planet. Meantime Todd works alongside Davy Prentiss (you know, the kid that just shot Viola), supervising a herd of enslaved alien creatures (Spackle). The Mayor asks more and more of Todd, always threatening him with Viola’s death-
(I keep writing “the Mayor” and thinking of hand sanitizer.)
Yeah, so Todd becomes an overseer for this massive herd of Spackle, while Viola, in the healers’ house, is asked over and over by the Mayor to persuade the healers – one in particular – that the Mayor means to create a good civilization for them. Mistress Coyle, the one in particular, isn’t having any of it. She and some of the other healers prove to be part of an underground guerrilla fighting group called The Answer, and she tries to get Viola to fight on her side. Essentially Todd and Viola are both fiercely recruited for opposite sides of a war for the world, even though all they really want is to find each other again. Never sure what to believe, they do come to identify with the people with whom they have fallen in. In spite of being elaborately and repeatedly manipulated.
These books are so bleak! And good! And bleak! Viola and Todd have to grow up a lot in these books, and make fantastically difficult decisions while being unable to trust the main people in their lives. Because, of course, they want to be the main people in each other’s lives, but they have been separated. They are not even sure whether they can trust each other. It is bleak, but it is really about the power of love (like the bleakest possible ever book on that theme), and the identities we create for ourselves (and that others create for us).
If you haven’t read The Knife of Never Letting Go, you should get on that, and then read also The Ask and the Answer. They are painful and sad and all about redemption. (I wish Todd would get to read his mum’s notebook already. I know it’s going to make me cry but I want to know what she says.) I am desperate to read the third one, Monsters of Men it is apparently going to be called, which is not coming out even in the UK until next year. Hmph.
Let me know if I missed yours!