Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd has carried a desperately wounded Viola right into the hands of their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss. Immediately separated from Viola and imprisoned, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor’s terrifying new order. But everything is shrouded in secrets. Where is Viola? Is she even still alive? And who are the mysterious Answer? And then one day, the bombs begin to explode....
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While it had some weaknesses, the first book in this series, The Knife of Never Letting Go, won me over by telling an original story with some interesting themes, and keeping the level of tension high. In it, Ness imagined a planet colony of religious settlers that had come to start over with a low-tech life. But, oh, by the way, there was a war with the native aliens, all the women are dead, and everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts, all the time. The main character, Todd Hewitt, begins to realize that he wasn’t told the whole truth, and ends up fleeing the dark designs of his town's leaders, several enemies hot on his trail.
This book picks up right where the cliffhanger ending of that one left off, and adds Viola's perspective to the story, alternating between it and Todd's (I don't think it's much of a spoiler to reveal that women weren't totally gone, since we learned this fairly early in the first book). However, where the Mayor was simply a sinister bad guy before, he becomes a more complex character -- still ruthless, but with a paternal, reasonable side that keeps us guessing. Meanwhile, an uprising against the Mayor/President begins, with the opposing leader showing a few ruthless streaks of her own. And Todd and Viola end up on opposite sides, split first by circumstance, then by an unforgivable atrocity that both factions blame on the other.
What I appreciated about this book was Ness’s front-and-center focus on the issue of how decent people get sucked into monstrous things. Todd doesn't trust the Mayor, yet finds himself being maneuvered into positions of greater responsibility, until he becomes too culpable in events to be able to simply walk away. Of course, the Mayor is manipulating him, letting Todd’s desire to feel like he has some level of control over things work into the Mayor’s own plans. Meanwhile, something similar happens to Viola over in the opposing camp, as she gets pulled into a campaign of bombing attacks against civilian targets. Both feel believably conflicted, yearning to be reunited, but also uncertain and angry over the other’s perceived choices.
I also liked the way the “noise” creates a different power dynamic between men and women, one gender having a hard time hiding its thoughts and emotions, while the the other remains unreadable. Hard to imagine that some men wouldn’t take to this loss of privacy and control with great anger, while the constant bombardment of male thoughts might drive women closer together. Not that Ness digs into this issue too deeply, but it’s an interesting backdrop.
On the down side, I thought the drama could be heavy-handed and I eventually had issues with the believability of the central villains, who are a little too cartoonish in some moments, a little too smart in others. The final battle featured some elements that seemed lifted from the Star Wars movies, but with more speechifying. Another complaint is Ness’s tendency to contrive sudden events that conveniently interrupt something else that’s happening.
Still, there are some effective moments in the story, such as scenes involving Todd and a labor detail of Spackle, the native aliens, and the character development of Davy, who starts off as an overbearing bully, but becomes more human and sympathetic later. And the harrowing ending sets up a lot of possibilities for the last book.
On the audiobook experience, I liked (as before) the personality Podehl gives to Todd’s voice, though moments when he yells “nooooooo!!” remind me, unfortunately, of Adam Sandler’s “they’re all gonna laugh at you!” skit. Angela Dawe does a decent but unremarkable job as Viola.
- Ryan "Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good."
Great Series, Bad narration!
Any additional comments?
Let me first say I loved the first book and am loving the second. The story is great! However, I was disappointed with the narration. Nick Podehl did a good job, although I thought he sounded older than I imagined the character to be, but Angela Dawe was horrible. Her delivery was very slow and drawn out, sometimes creating large gaps in between sentences! At times I felt as if I wanted to fall asleep, even during the faster segments of the book. Plus she sounds much older than the younger Viola. I was forced to buy the Kindle version and read it, and plan on doing that for the third book.