The Ask and the Answer

The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking, #2)The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Augh this book. It’s so good, and then it grabs the ball and just drops it all over itself and leaves me going “…” because why. Why did you drop that ball. You did everything else so well. Why.

It has so many flaws and yet I must rate it 5.

The Chaos Walking series continues its excellent character development, and even the villains are interesting this time. The story picks up where the first book left off, and the entirety of it is set in the capital city of the planet. A number of heavy issues are broached (racism, slavery, torture, approaches to morality, self esteem and identity…) and it never once became preachy or uninteresting to me.  It also managed to stop doing that thing I hated in the first book where Todd would discover something and react appropriately and not tell anything to the reader grrrr.  So kudos for stopping that bullshit.

It did, however, become a bit baffling at points. What the book (and series so far, really) seems to lack is motivations. Amidst all of these excellent character depictions and believable responses to things, there is a complete lack of a sense for why they are doing what they are doing. The real strengths of these characters are how believable they are, but the lack of clear motivations is starting to make even that a bit muddy in this book. Before reading these books I probably would have said it wouldn’t be possible to write characters this well and somehow miss their motivations, but, well, here it is, and it’s probably the worst thing about this book given how well the first one developed the characters.

In the first book we had comically evil mustache twirling villains who seemed to be evil for the sake of being evil, because there wasn’t really a decent motivation behind their actions. We still have that here, but the villains are fleshed out a bit more and it’s easy to forget that the bottom line is they’re being evil pretty much for the sake of being evil. Okay fine the motivation is “I will rule the world” but that’s synonymous with “comically evil”.

[Vague plot discussion follows – I try to avoid major spoilers but it’s worth a warning:]

Then we have Todd. Todd realizes right away that the Mayor completely controls him because he controls Viola. Todd must play along and obey the Mayor, or Viola will be hurt. Todd submits and is whisked off to a dungeon where he is forced to help the Mayor under continued threats that Viola will only remain safe if he obeys.

Makes sense so far!

Then Viola escapes and Todd……… feels betrayed that she left and he continues to begrudgingly serve the Mayor? What. She’s free now. That’s not something to be upset about you idiot. I believe I even wrote “Come on Todd stop being a doof” somewhere in there. I feel like there was supposed to be more of an idea that the Mayor is getting inside his head and making him lose his sense of identity, but the transition was lost and it’s just confusing.

Then the book nearly starts a love triangle. I winced so hard when I thought it was coming, but it narrowly avoided that particular disaster. …which just resulted in all of it being kind of a waste of words and empty characters, really. I could be speaking too soon – there’s another book.

There were a few other bizarre failures of logic, like continually pointing out that the ships won’t arrive for months, and then expecting them to rescue you at a particular moment. Or identification bands that are in every way inferior to branding, that can never be removed or you’ll die (I suppose it’s to make them seem more sinister but it was kind of a /facepalm all around for me). How about Todd punching himself in the face when he’s upset (what. No really, what). I also kinda laughed when they started pulling the fighting scenes at the end, and I somehow don’t think that was the intention.

I felt it was just a bit too contrived how Noise becomes unreadable when it’s important for the plot. The whole point seemed to be that it can’t be hidden and everyone must deal with everything being out in the open (which catches the denizens off-guard when the Mayor starts his tricks, too, as well as kinda being the basis for his power over people y’know). If being emotional was enough to make Noise unreadable then it would kind of subvert all of that.

I ALMOST scoffed and wrote nasty notes near the end when Todd attempts to manipulate the Mayor. It’s so god damn obvious what he’s going for and the Mayor completely fucking falls for it and I /facepalmed over how obliviously stupid he was being for a character that spent the whole book being fairly smart. Then it… kinda didn’t go the way I thought it would so maybe that was intentional.  Bravo? I’m really not sure if that was a decent outcome or not.  I’m conflicted now.

And I’m worried about the series trying to ramp up Todd as special.  “The boy who can’t kill” – except that he did, remember?  And even if he chooses not to it’s a god damn morality choice not a character trait that physically makes it impossible.  And the whole bit at the end about how powerful he could be… please don’t wander into Gary Stu territory, you’ve been doing so well.

Really, other than lapses in logic and a bit of convenience writing, it was excellently executed. I would be at a loss about why Hunger Games got blockbuster movies and this did not, except that I think a lot of what makes these books powerful would be completely lost on the screen.
I’m starting book 3 next. Please don’t ruin everything.

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About tagracat
I am not a professional, I don't get paid to review shit, I am just opinionated and I seem to have some sort of disorder that results in spewing my opinions onto the internet. I enjoy writing long-winded posts about things and sometimes I like to pretend people want to read them, so a blog seemed an appropriate place to stuff it. But mostly I just like writing about things.

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