The Ask and the Answer

Title: The Ask and the Answer

Author: Patrick Ness

Summary: Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd and Viola once again their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss.

Immediately imprisoned and separated from Viola, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor’s new order.

And then, one day, the bombs begin to explode…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I was blown away by the first book in the Chaos Walking series, The Knife of Never Letting Go, so I was excited to get to this one. I was hooked straight back in almost immediately and pretty much spent two full days ploughing through it.

It picks up immediately where the first book leaves off, which i appreciated. After travelling for so long, through so much danger and unknown towns, seeing Todd and Viola arrive straight into Mayor Prentiss’ hands… I needed to know how they would react to that. And although quite a lot of time passes over the course of the book, it never feels rushed, or that time is skipped. Time, events, and relationships evolve and are given the time to realistically develop and change. All without dragging, either, which is quite an accomplishment.

The characters and relationships were really the most important things for me with this book. We have characters from the first book: Todd, Viola, Mayor Prentiss, Davy Prentiss, and even Wilf. But we have new characters too: Mayor Ledger, Mistress Coyle, Maddy, Corinne, 1017, Lee. Viola and Todd are separated for a large portion of the book, and there is a lot of manipulation and parallels going on in their arcs. Mayor Prentiss with Todd and Davy, and Mistress Coyle with Viola and Lee. Seeing characters being pushed and pulled into situations and actions they disliked, but feeling like they had no other choice was heartbreaking, but wonderfully portrayed.

Really, I just wanted Todd and Viola to say, “Fuck aaaaaall of this,” and run away together. Of course, with Viola’s ships headed in from space, that wasn’t exactly a realistic option. As Todd himself very aptly put it:

Better the devil you know.
I wonder why the only choice is twixt two devils, tho.

And really, two devils is right. Mayor Prentiss is an all out nasty piece of work, but Mistress Coyle… well, i didn’t trust her from the start. She might sound reasonable, but she’s too ruthless in what she thinks is “right”.

I cried far too hard for one particular character who I didn’t even think i’d warmed to that much. And after everything in the first book I cannot believe Ness had me crying over Davy fucking Prentiss, but here we are. Lee grew on my slowly. If anything in the book seemed too rushed, it was his character and the closeness that grew between him and Viola. I’m not opposed to it, it just seemed to develop too quickly. And I particularly didn’t like the scene, after Viola gets fierce, shouts down Mistress Coyle, and storms off to rescue Todd… when five seconds later she and Lee are joking and giggling? Huge and sudden mood shift just to wedge in a bit of flirting.

My only other major complaint about the book is about how things unfolded. Not in terms of plot, but in terms of plans. Mayor Prentiss and Mistress Coyle are both doing an awful lot of manipulation, double-crossing, and long-term strategy… and it all, always, seems to work out just as they plan. When their plans involve understanding other people enough to influence and control them into doing the exact things you want or anticipating exactly how they will act and using that to their advantage… I just don’t buy that it will workout how you need it to every. Single. Time. Especially when I, as the reader, predict them correctly every. Single. Time, too. When Todd and Viola are puppeted so often, I find it unbelievable they wouldn’t figure it out or second guess things the second, third, fourth time they’re manipulated and maneuvered.

As predictable as the book was for me in most ways, I adored it because I love these characters. Todd and his purity, Viola and her strength… I needed to follow them through this story and see them triumph. Which, well… let’s just say i need to get the third and final book as soon as freaking possible!

The Knife of Never Letting Go

Title: The Knife of Never Letting Go

Author: Patrick Ness

Summary: Todd Hewitt is the last boy in Prentisstown.

But Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in a constant overwhelming, never-ending Noise. There is no privacy. There are no secrets.

Or are there?

Just one month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd unexpectedly stumbles upon a spot of complete silence. Which is impossible.

Prentisstown has been lying to him. And now he’s going to have to run…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: This book has been languishing on my shelf for a few years now. It found its way onto a shortlist for my chirstmas/new year dystopian read, and honestly I thought I was going to be able to rule it out, because a couple of reviews had mentioned their annoyance with the “hillbilly” narrative voice. I read the first few pages to see how much it would irritate me, except instead of being irritated, I was highly amused and instantly in love.

The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say. About anything.
“Need a poo, Todd.”
“Shut up, Manchee.”
“Poo. Poo, Todd.”

If that alone doesn’t make you want to read this book, I don’t think I can help convince you otherwise.

The concept is fascinating, and how the writing deals with the idea of people hearing each other’s thoughts is really well done–people talking, but also answering unasked, but thought, questions and making reference to the not-so-private ideas of others. The entire time I was reading I was also considering what that would be like–the things people would hear and see in my own Noise, and how one might try to hide, confuse, or distract certain lines of thought. Some really interesting things to read and consider.

I loved the characters. Todd is naive, but he’s also very much a product of his environment, and it was wonderful to watch him discover everything he knew was twisted and false in some way, and see how he responded to the truth as it was revealed to him. Ben and Cillian my heart opened to and embraced immediately–their love for Todd and everything they had done for him was so clear. They might not be in the book much, but they are certainly my favourites. Hildy and Tam are also wonderful, and again, though we see them quite briefly, I secretly hold out hope they will return in the next books. And Viola, of course. I warmed to her gradually, as Todd did. But she’s smart and quick and determined, and damn if she’s not awesome.

Setting a quick pace, the story starts moving immediately. It’s that brilliant kind of book that doesn’t give all it’s secrets away at once, only hinting and nudging at missing information and things to come. I had to keep reading–I had to know more, had to see what would happen. Unfortunately this momentum met a lull somewhere in the middle of the book, with there being lots of walking and sneaking and looking, but not much doing. Todd and Viola quickly get into the habit of running away, away from people and places… and plot. This began to drag, and I found myself waiting for the story to pick up again, rather than enjoying what I was reading at the time.

Thankfully the plot does pick up again, and in spectacular fashion in the final few chapters. So much so I was swept up in it all once again. Last night I only intended to read one chapter before going to sleep… instead I was up until gone midnight finishing the book days ahead of schedule. Oops?

The ending is… well, without spoilers I can’t really say how unexpectedly perfect and shocking and tense it was. With everything left teetering, I’ll need to get the next book in the series sharpish. I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

A Monster Calls

Title: A Monster Calls

Author: Patrick Ness

Summary: The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.

But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…

This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4.5/5

Review: When i bought this book from my local comic book shop, the guy behind the counter warned me to have a box of tissues nearby when i read it. He wasn’t wrong.

The story is a simple one, but one well told, with depth and meaning not immediately obvious. It’s hard, reading about Conor coping (or not) with his mother’s illness whilst also trying to navigate life with a grandmother he doesn’t get on with, fights with friends, stand offs with enemies, and an all but absent father. His visits from the monster are almost a relief… taking him out of that world, but still, abstractedly, dealing with the issues from it.

This is a book that deals so well with grief, and loss, and change, and all the messy human emotions that people experience. And it does that so, so well. Never heavy-handed, never too vague. The story is a dark one, but manages to tell it with a certain lightness–an approachable ease; it wasn’t really until three quarters of the way through that it hit me in gut and pulled hard at my emotions.

And the artwork… they are something to get lost in. The full page spreads are packed with detail and texture, while the smaller pieces blend and weave with the words to make a more immersive reading experience. All the artwork is in black and white, and though in some ways that seems stark, in more ways it only enhances the importance of the story being told. The images are striking and bold while never drawing too much attention away from the words.

The end… well. The reader knows what’s coming, just like Conor. And just like Conor, it’s not easy to go through. But it is important.

I do think this is a five-star book, but i just can’t bring myself to give it five stars. It’s a very good and important book, but it’s also a hard book. It’s sad, and although i loved and appreciate it… i can’t celebrate it. If that makes any sort of sense?