Normally book 2 is where a series starts to lose its way, but not only is The Ask and the Answer as good as The Knife of Never Letting Go (oh god please better titles), it is so so much better. If the first book looks at altered history in isolated communities, this one is almost a psychological study in what humanity is capable of in the name of keeping your head down. This book, moreso than the first one, is what has me recommend the series only for more mature YA readers. There are some legitimately dark scenes of torture and dehumanization that are definitely would have scarred me at a young age.
This book picks up immediately where the first left off. The men of Todd’s tiny town have blown past their borders and overrun the primary point of civilization on the New World. The man who was Mayor is now President and is expertly bringing this new city to heel. He ramps up the expectation for violence and then shows mercy. He instills draconian curfews so that the people feel profound gratitude when they are even slightly lifted. He carefully explains how everything he instructs the townspeople to do (and he very carefully never gets his own hands dirty) is in fact in service of the greater good – and don’t they want to protect their community? When a rebellious faction splits off, he expertly twists the narrative, sowing just the right amount of doubt that even our hero, Todd, finds himself complicit
It is to the book’s credit that Viola is separated from Todd and gets her own first person perspective as she reluctantly joins the rebel group. They’re the lesser of the two evils (though she’s rather upset she only has the two to choose from). She sees what Todd is descending into, but hasn’t given up on him yet.
I’m not sure where book 3 is going to go from here (and apparently there’s a 4th?) but I’m along for the ride. The writing can be a little clunky, but this book is a vast improvement on the first, which wasn’t even bad to begin with.