This is a spoiler-free review, but if you're like me and are allergic to reading reviews for books you are really excited about, scroll down for release information for book three in this series, Monsters of Men.
If I thought it was difficult writing a spoiler-free review of The Knife of Never Letting Go, it's going to be nigh on impossible to do the same for The Ask and the Answer. The joy of reading these books, especially The Knife, is going in completely blind, not knowing the setting or even the genre.
But I'll give it a go.
The Ask and the Answer picks up the story a few hours after we left it at the end of The Knife. A new world order is about to be born, and whoever is in control will greet the new settlers, Viola's people. It's a story of resistance and persecution, men, women and Spackle struggling for a position in New World.
As with The Knife, the story warms up slowly, ambiguously, like riding up the hump of a rollercoaster blind-folded. Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? What the hell is going on? While The Knife was a chase narrative, The Answer sees the story of Todd and Viola become an overthrowing narrative--but it's not clear exactly who should be overthrown.
For those of you who thought Viola wasn't fully realised in The Knife, she gets a much elaborated role in book two. (Okay, so that was a bit of a spoiler, but we all knew she wasn't REALLY going to die, right?) Every few chapters alternate between her and Todd, and while her voice isn't quite as strong as his, and I still love Todd the best, it's interesting to see things from her perspective. Todd changes immensely during this book. By the end I had a whole different picture of him in my mind. He gives so much life and humour to these books, and he's becoming one of my favourite characters ever. There's a new villain too. Where Aaron was a Terminator-like villain and definitely the bad guy, the new villain is not so easy to pin down. I found myself oscillating wildly as I read, unable to decide who to trust, and it's little wonder that Todd reacts the way he does. I kept hoping that he would run, that this would turn into a glorious chase novel like the last one, but there's nowhere for him to go. As a result book two is a lot darker than book one, with scenes reminiscent of Nazi death camps. I also found myself reminded of scenes in District 9 for its alien cruelty.
But what REALLY made me mad is what happens to the women. Because of Noise, a virus from the Spackle that makes all men hear each others thoughts, there is a deeply ingrained mistrust of females, who are unaffected. The structure of society goes men, women, Spackle, with not a lot of breathing room between women and Spackle. But another delicious thing about this book is that while it appealed to my sense of feminine self-righteousness, Ness isn't flattering his female readers that they are the superior of the species--one of the possible villains is a woman, and I have the feeling that she's going to have a big, bad role in book three.
I was furious reading this book, tearing through the last 300 hundred pages in one sitting HATING several characters with all my might. I'm getting all riled up right now just thinking about it and the fact that there was another cliffhanger ending and I have to wait until MAY 2010 (!!!) for book three, Monsters of Men--but that's if you live in Australia and the UK. US residents have to wait until FALL! On his website, Ness says that Monsters of Men will finish off the trilogy "with a bang". I don't doubt it.
Again, I don't give ratings, but five effing stars.
(except I don't say effing)