If you thought The Knife of Never Letting Go had tough sacrifices in it, you are in for a tumultuous and tantalizing experience in its sequel. Below, I share my woes as I process the next installment of Viola and Todd’s journey.
WARNING: some spoilers for The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer. Read at your own discretion.
The Premise of Patrick Ness’ The Ask and the Answer
In typical middle-book fashion, miscommunication dominates The Ask and the Answer. Viola and Todd continue to be part of a devastating conflict. Haunted by the events of the previous book, Todd is willing to do whatever it takes to protect Viola. Todd must work with Mayor Prentiss, who has gained more political power. Withholding vital information about Viola, Prentiss corners Todd into total cooperation. As a reward, he tells Todd that he’ll keep Viola safe.
In this book, Todd works under the direction of Davy Prentiss Jr. As such, readers can expect to see a closer look of Davy Prentiss Jr. Readers are up for a heartwrenching conflict between various groups. Like Todd, Viola is an unwilling participant in a group attempting to gain political control. Warring adults battle each other to gain control of this town. Citizens are trampled. New arrivals are on the horizon as the countdown ticks for spaceships landing.
Will Todd and Viola find each other again? Can they make peace between the Ask and the Answer?
Shush: The Adults are Talking
The power play between President Prentiss and Mistress Coyle is scary. In an interesting approach, Patrick Ness creates two people who share way too much in common. Contrary to what Coyle and Prentiss may say, they both have close tactics to disarm their opposition.
For starters, Prentiss and Coyle will do whatever it takes to accomplish their goals. With the purpose of gaining the upper hand, they are not above lying or withholding information. They never pause to question their motivations or the means they use to accomplish their goals.
This novel’s title suggests the existence of dialogue. An ask or a question demands an answer. A dialogue doesn’t always connote understanding. As such, this is what The Ask and the Answer revolves around: a conversation where no one is actually listening.
InThe Knife of Letting Go noise was a weapon, here, silence is. President Prentiss strips the former mayor of Haven of all power—and takes away his silence. He punishes the citizens of Haven by selectively providing silence and noise to the citizens of this town.
Readers and Protagonists in the Dark
Much like Todd and Viola, I have no clue what could resolve the tension between Mistress Coyle and President Prentiss. Could there be a way for them to share power? Either way, I remain wary of this trilogy’s end. To say that I am hesitant would be an understatement. From experience with his work, I am familiar with heartbreak caused by Patrick Ness’ story endings. Who knows how he’ll do it in the finale!
Among the questions I have, a prevalent one revolved around perspective. Do Todd and Viola see things clearly enough? Are other people who are unsure about these leading figures?
Todd’s early conversations with President Prentiss are dark and frightening. Ness writes, “I squint up into the light, up toward the Mayor’s face. It’s blank as ever. It’s the empty, lifeless wall. I might as well be talking into a bottomless pit.” (19). Todd sees this darkness, this emotionless void in Prentiss from the very beginning. Is he the only one who sees this?
To what extent is Viola and Todd’s cooperation with Mistress Coyle and President Prentiss, respectively, a form of naivete? Is it too simplistic to assume that everyone can be protected?
Scary Silence and Glances
In The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness introduces Davy Prentiss Jr. He is essentially the Draco of this series. Raised by an awful parent, Davy does not seem to understand compassion or affection. He bullies Todd. To make things worse, he would taunt Todd for his connection to Viola.
His scenes with Todd were full of subdued emotion. Part of it stems from the two of them trying to appear as adults (and there is toxic masculinity working in there as well). Both boys are children. Davy Prentiss Jr. is a boy, torn and afraid. A child.
Imagine the pain of facing this—heck, even reading this hurts: “For every failure and every wrong—For letting his pa down—And he’s looking up at me—And he’s begging me—He’s begging me—Like the only one who can forgive him—Like it’s only me who’s got the power—” (486)
I will say this much: Davy and Todd’s relationship will tear hearts for years to come. Often, I find myself thinking of him. I do hope audiences get to see this story unfold on screen. Even if the Spackle may look awkward with our crappy technology, this is a necessary story. These relationships are meaningful. The complications within them can certainly lead to deep discussions on maturity, masculinity, nature vs. nurture, and so much more. I hope these stories get to be celebrated on a larger scale.
When reading books, do you cast your characters as you read? If so, what is a fan-cast you have that you think is perfect? Has an adaptation ever gotten their casting on the nose kind of accurate?
Final Words…until the next book
While the story is not an easy emotional journey, I will say that Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy has been a source of many reflections for me. I think of Todd, Violet, Manchee, Aaron, and Davy Prentiss Jr. often. I plan on reading the final book in this trilogy soon. It’s been quite some time since I Have felt reluctant to let go of a story, to see it end.
I have mixed feelings on the fate of this series’ adaptations. Thus far, I have read of reshoots and delays around the first film. In a way, I think perhaps this story might not translate well for movie producers and marketers. This is not a popcorn flick—at least, it’s so in its original form. Maybe it’ll take more than one attempt to get it right, or at least close enough.
Have you read any Patrick Ness novels? Do you have any favorites? If neither question applies to you, tell me about your favorite unpopular book adaptations and casting choices. See you in the comments section.