The Ask and the Answer
Booklist Reviews 2009 August #1
*Starred Review* Ness brings the frantic chase of The Knife of Never Letting Go (2008) to a screeching halt at the beginning of this second book in the Chaos Walking trilogy. Todd and Viola have finally arrived in the town of Haven, only to find that their pursuers, an army led by the zealot Mayor Prentiss, have beat them there and set up a harsh new regime. Alternating chapters from both Todd's and Viola's points of view follow the two as they are separated and implicated into the schemes of both the oppressors and the resistance, both sides defined by the atrocities they perpetrateto achieve their goals. What results is an amalgamation of society's most brutal facets—fascism, terrorism, torture, ethnic cleansing—with all kinds of relevance to our world, even if the story is set on a made-up planet warring for identity as it awaits an influx of new settlers. While this book suffers from some of the same frustrating plot holes found in the first, Ness more than makes up for it with a relentless flurry of heavy-hitting issues, hinging on appeasement, complicity, and maintaining one's morality in the face of impossible choices. And the concept of Noise, so brilliantly conceived and executed in the first novel, is given even more depth as it becomes both a tool and a weapon. A notch less exhilirating than the first, this book is far weightier and no less stunning to read. If Knife provided the cut, this follow-up provides the fester. Copyright 2009 Booklist Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2009 #5
In The Knife of Never Letting Go (rev. 11/08), set on an alien world where the native "Noise" germ makes thoughts audible (except those of women, who are immune), Todd escaped from the brutal all-male village of Prentisstown with Viola, the orphaned daughter of scouts sent ahead from a settler ship. But when they reached their destination, the peaceful city of Haven, they found that their enemies had beaten them there. While Todd is imprisoned and put to work by Mayor Prentiss, a master manipulator who's secured a cure for Noise and, with it, Haven, Viola is placed in an all-female house of healing, the head of which forms a resistance group called the Answer and starts blowing up strategic targets. Now-President Prentiss forms the Ask in response, and the conflict escalates. Ness takes his characters to new, dark places -- particularly Todd, who, believing Viola first a hostage and then a traitor, colludes with Prentiss, helping him brand first the Spackle (the enslaved indigenous population) and then the women of the settlement in horrifying scenes that test the boundaries of young adult literature. For Todd to be remotely sympathetic by book's end is truly an achievement, and the struggle to reconcile his supposed innocence despite the "blood on his hands" with his unforgivable actions will provoke as much thought as the depictions of slavery, genocide, terrorism, and torture. After so much incident, Todd essentially ends where he began, and, faced with a new peril (and a new cliffhanger) at the climax, he makes a decision that will have most readers groaning in frustration. Still, the series continues to develop a fascinating world, and its fully formed characters and conflicts draw attention to difficult issues with a rare, unblinking candor. Copyright 2009 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
PW Reviews 2009 August #5
This grim and beautifully written sequel to Ness's The Knife of Never Letting Go picks up where its predecessor left off and will have readers racing to its painful conclusion. Having escaped from the dystopian, all-male Prentisstown, teenagers Todd and Viola have fled to the city of Haven, only to discover that Prentisstown's mayor, a powerful and charismatic sociopath, has gotten there first, intent on controlling the entire planet. Separated, the friends are caught up on opposite sides of a horrific, morally ambiguous civil war, with Todd coming close to madness. (Viola later reminds Todd, who has undertaken some shocking and cruel responsibilities while working with the mayor, "We all fall but that's not what matters. What matters is picking yourself up again.") This superb novel, which ends with a gripping cliffhanger that sets up the third Chaos Walking book, uses a brilliant cast of well-developed characters and its singular setting and premise to present a provocative examination of the nature of evil and humanity. This is among the best YA science fiction novels of the year. Ages 14–up. (Sept.)[Page 59]. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.