This books resumes right where book one ended. We are thrown into a room where Todd Hewitt, already man although not by age, is being interrogated by the Mayor. It's no longer Haven, but New Prentisstown and the lines of war are being drawn. Todd and Viola find themselves as pawns in this game of war as they try to figure out what is right or wrong, who is the tyrant and who is the savior, and above all, how to stay true to themselves.
I am really impressed with this book. Usually the second book drops in quality because the initial premise disappears and the newness of the world becomes commonplace. But Ness is not afraid to try new things and bring a different viewpoint into this second book. We get a taste of Viola's thoughts as we flip back and forth between Todd and Viola's first person view point. Both have distinctive voices and like the first book, both are easy to care about. Their sole reliance on one another is one of the only consistent themes, even though it is somewhat shaken once in a while - and I like that. It's a romance that takes backstage to the action, just as it should be in this type of book.
I think I actually like this book more than book one because it makes you think a lot more - about justice, about slavery, about right and wrong and the means to the end. And about perspective. Not to say that this book is a heavy book. Similar to the first book, it has that same style of fast-paced action and easy reading. And though it also contains heavy material (death, character death, slavery, etc), it is still a light read. It moves and carries you along in the rush of explosions, and confusion and emotions and Noise.
Unfortunately, sometimes that's a detriment. It moves a little too quickly sometimes, to the point where transitions from one scene to the next feels fairly contrived (same problem as book one). But that's okay - suspension of disbelief. It's not enough to detract from my enjoyment of the action.
I loved the scenes with Davy and Todd. Wow. Ness's portrayal of character is so spot on. He makes every character stay true to themselves, but transform and alter in such slight ways through little scenes that before you know it, the character has already changed. Beautiful bit of writing.
But sometimes, just like the scene transitions, the character change moves just a little too fast. I don't completely buy Todd's actions towards the women at the end. But suspension of disbelief, eh.
The duality of the Ask and Answer is quite the backdrop for this book. It's the reason why this book succeeds. Ness isn't afraid to take it away from an escape adventure to a war adventure. And it works. It really does. Setting the scene where both sides are almost sympathetic, showing the actions and how they can be misconstrued by the other side, etc. Very nicely done.
Again, I appreciated the literary references (I'm looking at you, blatant reference to Scarlet Letter).
Three and a half stars (which is actually really high praise from me as a second book in the trilogy) because of the strength of the story's progression and Ness's ability to show the characters in a different light.
Recommended to people who have read book one. But I would really recommend reading the first book now because I know the second book is better than the first. It's a series worth reading now, when before after just reading book one it was an okay series with potential.