Saturday, December 31, 2011

Book 64: The Ask and the Answer

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

I immediately picked this up upon finishing the first novel in the Chaos Walking Trilogy, The Knife of Never Letting Go.  To be honest, I'm surprised I didn't like it more - while many people felt that the second and third novels of The Hunger Games weren't as good as the first due to the slower pacing, I actually enjoyed them just as much but in different ways.  This novel should have then caused a similar reaction but for some reason it didn't.  It might honestly be that I should have waited a day or two between books so I wouldn't be expecting something quite as fast-paced as The Knife of Never Letting Go.

One of the things that kept me hooked with The Knife of Never Letting Go were the questions regarding what the truth really was as Todd discovered that his whole life had been a lie.  In this novel, that question has been answered, and instead Todd gets to see first hand how politics and appeasement work.  The New World capitulated to Mayor Prentiss without a fight.  Instead of being upset with the new rules he puts into place, the citizens are grateful that he didn't treat them more harshly.  The mayor is a master at manipulating the populace, and while Todd sees and understands some of it, he doesn't always see the big picture.  He and Viola spend most of the novel separated from each other (this novel includes scenes from her perspective as well), and she is now part of the small group of rebels that try to fight against the mayor.  Due to their separation, Viola and Todd spend much of the novel worrying about each other, misinterpreting each other, and being manipulated by others based on the strength of their feelings for each other.  Having the two in different camps gives the reader to see the bigger picture, and see that both sides do things that are morally questionable.

Todd especially has to work in a grey area, all because he is afraid if he doesn't obey, the mayor will somehow hurt Viola.  As a result, he ends up working closely with Davy Prentiss, a man (teenager really) whom he had severely disliked in the previous novel, and the mayor's son.  He is forced to do much of the mayor's dirty work, and goes along with it.  It also turns out that the Spackle hadn't all been killed during the war - some of them were kept as slaves by the citizens of Haven, and prevented from communicating with each other through a cure for the Noise (due to the presence of Noise on the planet, they had no need of a spoken language).  He basically shuts down his emotions to deal with the world.  Through him, Ness explores the question of why good men do bad things, and in Todd's case it is mainly to protect Viola.  He also justifies his actions as he gets involved in darker and darker things by telling himself that if he doesn't do them, someone else will, and they will do them in a much harsher way.  He believes in effect that he is reducing the damage that could be caused.  

Normally, this is the kind of stuff I enjoy - seeing how the people in power massage the truth to get people to fall in line with them, seeing how people don't complain about the small changes until suddenly there are so many rules in place that it is too late to make a difference.  I think the reason I didn't like it as much in this case is because as much as Todd cares for Viola (and vice versa), I sometimes had a hard time believing that he would acquiesce as much as he did.  While The Hunger Games may have been a bit slow in the middle, I never had any doubts about things being in character with Katniss.  Equally, I liked Viola more when I didn't know everything she was thinking.  I guess it is easy to forget that the characters are only about 14, but Viola seemed the more naive of the two.  Todd and Viola are both swept up by things larger than them but I preferred Todd's narrative to Viola's.  I can't quite put my finger on it, but something about Viola's perspective just didn't do it for me.  It might be because the whole previous book was from Todd's perspective so I was much more concerned with him than I was with her.  And to be honest, I don't think the things the rebels were doing was quite as interesting as watching the mayor and wondering what exactly his evil plan might be.  The novel was a good study about power, and I think he left in a good place for the third novel in the series.  For me, there was just something slightly off compared to the previous novel, but I definitely want to see how it all ends.

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