The Ask and The Answer by Patrick Ness

I loved the first book in this Chaos Walking series, and the sequel improved on the original! This was fantastic and amazing. And I’ll say it again, SO NOT A CHILDREN’S BOOK.

The Ask and the Answer
I just love this cover, I think it’s lovely and clean, great font, and a lovely blue.

The book opens not very long after the end of the last one, Todd has arrived in Haven with Vi, who is on the verge of death. And we find that Haven is not a haven, but the Mayor has already gotten there, and now, he’d like to torture Todd. And so begins a very interesting and complex relationship between the Mayor and Todd.

There’s no doubt about it, the Mayor (whoops President) is a terrible man. But he is brilliant. He is so manipulative, and is the perfect actor, and he has his Noise under so much control, he can use it as a devastating weapon. I know Todd and Vi are both children (which I do forget sometimes), but he was able to control them multiple times, and get them even on to his side, and then the end, well, we’ll get to that. Seriously, Vi fell for it, the old mayor fell for it, and Todd fell for it, the whole of Haven and it’s refugees fell for it (well not quite).

But Mistress Coyle, she did not fall for it. We come to learn that she was a previous mayor, but also, she is a force to be reckoned with. And the fantastic thing is, she is just as evil as the Mayor. This is fantastic because it makes it so hard to sit there going like, “Yeah the good guys are winning, take that Mr Mayor”. She uses bombs, she takes innocent lives, she drugs Vi (multiple times), she lies to Vi, and she even tries to kill her! Just to try to ‘win’. Here are two quotes from here which prove it:

“No one escapes from a war. No one. Not even the survivors. You accept things that would appal you at any other time because life has temporarily lost all meaning.”

“War makes monsters of men.” “And women.”

(Love that sneaky reference of the third book’s title there – which apparently was even in the original book!)

But it is so the truth. War leaves scars on everybody, and it makes monsters out of everybody. And the book is brilliant at portraying this. It really is so hard to know who (apart from Vi and Todd) to be trying to support. Especially when the Mayor has his nice face on! Do you go for the man who stormed the castle but is calling for peace. Or the woman who has run off with her supporters and now sets of bombs everywhere. If you live in that town, it’s no wonder you might turn against Mistress Coyle and ‘The Answer’, they’re taking your food, killing you, destroying water and power supplies, and causing the Mayor to tighten restrictions in response. But then the Mayor comes out and starts doing worse and worse things. Though, only ‘in response’ to the Answer, to protect the town (yeah, right).

He imprisons a lot of women (who not having the Noise are the main ‘the Answer’ champions since they can sneak around without letting everyone know what’s going on – but Haven DOES have a cure for the Noise, but the supply is limited). But he treats them terribly (surprise!). And then he has Todd build this ‘Ask Headquarters’ (get it, Ask and Answer!). Let me back up for a moment, Todd agreed to help the mayor if Vi was protected and safe, so he and Davy Prentiss, Jr. (who did shoot Vi remember) were tasked with overlooking a large number of Spackle who were used as slaves in Haven. Their first task is to number the Spackle, now this is done in a terrible way. The bands are permanent. You take it off, you bleed to death. And with it on, it still causes infection. What a terrible way to actually do this to your livestock (they were for sheep). But, they do it to the Spackle. Now Todd, over time becomes quite immune to everything. Partly that’s because Vi leaves without him, breaking her promise, after the Mayor continuously used her over him, and partly it is also that he and the mayor are developing a relationship, and the Mayor starts to teach him a little of the ‘the circle is me and I am and the circle’ stuff. So, for a lot of the novel, you actually scream at Todd because what is he doing? He justifies a lot of things to himself, because he’s doing bad things in the least bad way. That doesn’t cut it though.

Anyway, back to these Headquarters, so they are used as a torture facility. And yep, Vi gets tortured later on. It’s terrible to read, as are the other torture scenes. Again, children’s book? Oh and remember those band things, the mayor makes Todd and others put them on all the women! And those Spackle? Yeah, he killed them all. All except one. And he blamed it on the Answer, just to get Todd closer into his fold. And it worked.

Vi on the other hand she is healed by Mistress Coyle and slowly starts to work as a trainee healer (she isn’t too cut out for it). As I said Mistress Coyle runs off, but she leaves Vi alone. Todd comes to her, but of course the mayor is there, so everything is terrible. Vi is eventually able to run off, helped by Corrine, who said this earlier:

“The only crime, the only crime is to take a life. To live is to fight. To preserve life is to fight everything that man stands for.”

And that’s what Corrine stands by. Vi gets to Mistress Coyle, but only because Vi tries to reach the communications tower to talk to her people. But Mistress Coyle had other ideas, and destroys it. We slowly come to learn that Mistress Coyle isn’t all smiles and roses, she’s ruthless. As I said, she lies and drugs Vi, and in the end tries to kill her, just because it might have meant the mayor died too. When Vi finally leaves (tagged along by Lee, who, sigh, makes a love triangle, sigh) she is very concerned that Todd has changed, and indeed the Answer all believe him a traitor.

So the ending. My, oh my. Vi reaches Todd, only by putting one of those torture bands on herself. That’s how much she is prepared to risk for Todd. As I said, Coyle tries to kill her, but with a bomb, which goes off and destroys part of the mayor’s home. In the process that means the Todd and Vi are now prisoners. So Vi gets tortured, and reveals the plans. Except the plans aren’t the real ones, it was all a ruse. Which is great. Good on Mistress Coyle for being so devious. But the army is still sent. This leaves Todd and Vi an opportunity to confront the mayor, with a few soldiers who Todd turns to their cause.

As I said earlier, the mayor uses the Noise as a weapon, and basically defeats them. Until, Todd is able to use the Noise back, plus a good stone throw by Vi. So yay, we won.

Nope. Ness makes shenanigans. A scout ship lands, presumably looking for Vi and her parents. So now the race is on to communicate with them, and help the good guys (which are who again). Then, there’s still the fighting between the Ask and the Answer. But do you remember that one Spackle who was left alive. Yeah, he’s brought back a Spackle army. So now. So now! Vi has been sent to talk to her people, and Todd was left with the mayor. But he mayor tells him to release him, so he can control his army and beat the Spackle. He’s done it before. Plus the Spackle all know Todd, and want to kill him, for killing one of them, plus torturing them. YAY. Todd agrees with the mayor is going to let him go. And that’s how it ends.

I just love this book. It makes you question right and wrong, and there’s so much ambiguity. And what would you do? And what is the line, and what’s acceptable in war? I feel that it’s very poignant in our time. And it shows how people can influence you. And it discusses torture, and maybe mental illness with Todd’s withdrawal. And IT’S FANTASTIC.

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