The Ask and the Answer

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The Ask And The Answer
The Ask and the Answer.jpg
Front cover of unknown edition
Author Patrick Ness
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series Chaos Walking
Genre Young-adult science fiction novel
Publisher Walker Books
Publication date
4 May 2009
Pages 519 pp
ISBN 978-1-4063-1026-9
OCLC 310156536
Preceded by The Knife of Never Letting Go
Followed by Monsters of Men

The Ask And The Answer is a young-adult novel by Patrick Ness, published by Walker Books in May 2009. It is the second book in the Chaos Walking series and events continue immediately from The Knife of Never Letting Go (2008).

Plot summary[edit]

The novel begins with Todd Hewitt recovering consciousness after surrendering to Mayor Prentiss in The Knife of Never Letting Go. He is physically hurt by the new heads of Haven, renamed New Prentisstown, but his only concern is for Viola.

Elsewhere, Viola awakes. Likewise her thoughts are for Todd’s welfare. She is in a house of healing, a 'clinic' staffed by female healers, as opposed to male doctors, for her gunshot wound. Here she meets Mistress Coyle, a renowned healer, who also has previous political and activist ties. Viola also meets the apprentices Madeleine (Maddy) and Corinne (Mistress Wyatt), among others, as she recovers.

Meanwhile, President Prentiss psychologically manipulates the people of New Prentisstown into accepting his rule.

Back at the house of healing, Viola has finally recovered enough to help Mistress Coyle and begins an apprenticeship as a healer.

Todd is told that Haven has indeed discovered a cure for Noise, but President Prentiss has confiscated the necessary pills for the sole use by leaders of New Prentisstown. Prentiss also separates the males and females and takes all domestic Spackle away to an old abandoned cathedral. The President is intent on creating a new world so the settlers, when they arrive, are welcome to a literally "New" Prentisstown.

Unhappy with these developments, Mistress Coyle leads a group of women out of New Prentisstown to form a resistance movement, reconvened from the time of the Spackle War, known as "The Answer" to carry out a series of bombings in the city.

Todd has to work with Spackle alongside President Prentiss’ son, Davy. Todd hopes that by following the President’s orders, he is ensuring Viola’s health and safety, while the President hopes that Davy will become a better person with Todd's influence. However, uncivilised and arrogant, Davy scorns him, forcing Todd to undergo unethical practices such as branding the Spackle with metal bands without anaesthetic. Todd himself is shocked by the extent of Davy's inability to feel compassion.

One of several large bombings happens. Todd, trying to redeem himself, saves a Spackle, banded with the number 1017, who is ungrateful. Angered by the attacks, President Prentiss sets up a counter-intelligence unit called "The Ask". He promotes Todd and Davy into this unit, where New Prentisstown residents are captured and tortured for information on The Answer. Next morning, Viola wakes to find that the House of Healing is completely empty except for Corinne. The rest have gone to join the Answer, but Mistress Coyle returns to recruit Viola, who feels forced to join, knowing that President Prentiss has been torturing women and men alike.

Todd realizes that he must take sides, and is urged to do so by President Prentiss. At The Answer’s headquarters, Viola learns how to assemble and set off a bomb, which she does during an attack. An older teenager, Lee, befriends her. Lee is intent on avenging his family, who have been taken by The Ask.

On his way back to his bell tower prison, Todd tells Davy about the Spackle bombing, and is surprised that they now share a kind of friendship. Meanwhile, Viola and Lee arrive in Haven to rescue Todd, knowing that otherwise Todd will die in an attack on New Prentisstown led by the Answer the next day. Viola notices that there is something darker to his personality, but still urges him to leave with them, warning that the attack will come from the east. Mayor Ledger, former mayor of Haven, and imprisoned alongside Todd, turns up, explaining his loyalty to President Prentiss. Holding them at gunpoint he finds a self-arming bomb known as a "Thrace bomb" in Viola's bag that ams itself on sensing a pulse and detonating when the pulse is no longer present. Too late, the former mayor attempts to throw it away, but it explodes.

President Prentiss captures Viola and Lee. Viola is interrogated and tortured, with Todd watching from a soundproof room. The Answer are planning to attack New Prentisstown, and President Prentiss wishes to know from where. Unable to watch Viola in pain, Todd screams that the Answer is attacking from the East, ending the torture session. The President then tells Todd to meet him in the town Cathedral with Viola. Todd realises where his duty lies, and formulates a plan to stop the President, with the help of Ivan and other military personnel.

The guards agree to help Todd rescue Lee and Viola. Smitten with Viola, Lee wants answers about her love for Todd. Viola tells Lee that she loves Todd more than anything, and says she sorry because Lee loved Viola. At the cathedral, the President disables the entire procession simply with his Noise and captures Viola while the rest of Todd’s group are incapacitated. The President still wants Todd to join him, despite his betrayal. Davy Prentiss arrives to tell his father that an army is coming, and requires orders. At this point a second scout ship, like the one Viola crashed in, lands. In desperation, Todd holds Davy at gunpoint, threatening to kill him if the President does not release Viola. Shockingly, the President drops Viola and fires his gun, quickly killing his own son.

In anger, and quick to learn, Todd uses his own Noise as a weapon with Viola’s name to overcome the President and ties him up in the cathedral. Todd sends Viola off on Davy's horse, to meet with the scout ship. No sooner than this is done, a horn sounds across New Prentisstown to warn of an army of Spackle marching towards the city. President Prentiss tells Todd that since he was the one who killed the Spackle, the army wants revenge. With no alternative, Todd releases President Prentiss to enlist help; hoping that he is not making the biggest mistake of his life. The series continues with Monsters of Men.


The Ask and the Answer received largely positive reviews from critics. Publishers Weekly praised the brilliant cast, and believed it to be "among the best YA science fiction novels of the year", including it in their best books of 2009,[1] while Anita Barnes Lowen from Children's Literature labelled the book "a stunning not-to-be-missed science fiction adventure."[2] Independent on Sunday said that "... it is every bit as ambitious as the first book but the ambition is easily matched by the execution, with powerful prose and tight plotting that pull the reader on at a terrifying speed."[3]

The Sunday Times commented that "Ness is both accessible and sophisticated," and said that he handled extraordinary themes "in prose that is simple and heart-stopping." Daily Mail also praised the themes in The Ask and the Answer, calling the plot "twisting" and "action-packed." A starred review from Booklist did the same, calling it a "relentless flurry of heavy-hitting issues, hinging on appeasement, complicity, and maintaining one’s morality in the face of impossible choices."[3] Kirkus Reviews noted that the plot was "breathless... with heartbreakingly real characters"[2] and the Costa Book Awards 2009 judges recognised the novel as "a strikingly original and compelling work."[4]


Runners up


  1. ^ "Best Children's Books of 2009". 2009-11-02. Retrieved 2011-04-14. 
  2. ^ a b "The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking Series #2), Chaos Walking Series, Patrick Ness, (9780763644901).". Barnes & Noble. Retrieved 2011-04-14. 
  3. ^ a b "The Ask and the Answer". Walker Books. 2009-09-07. Retrieved 2011-04-14. 
  4. ^ "Costa Children's Book Award 2010 Shortlist". Costa Book Awards. Retrieved 2011-04-14. 
  5. ^[dead link]
  6. ^ "The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness". Lovereading UK. 2009-09-07. Retrieved 2011-04-14. 
  7. ^ "Booktrust Teenage Prize 2009 Longlist". Booktrust. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2011-04-14. 
  8. ^ Ness, Patrick. (2009-11-06). "Two award nominations for The Ask and the Answer". Retrieved 2011-04-14.