I finally got my copy of The Ask and the Answer, perfectly timed since I’d just finished rereading The Knife of Never Letting Go, but I’m practicing supreme self-discipline and finishing up another book first.  I have way too many books going, stuck in odd places and picked up at random.  The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey is somewhere in my car, The Lincolns is sitting next to my bed – and those are just the most recent ones.

I started Suzanne Crowley’s The Stolen One the other night, in a moment of desperately wanting something girlier than what I’ve been reading.  It’s set during the reign of Elizabeth I, and the cover features a very glam and clean heroine with enormous hair, but I’m halfway through and it’s pretty compelling.  And I don’t want another book on my conscience while I read The Ask and the Answer.  And I needed something without action or chase scenes or moral dilemmas about self-defense.  Embroidery and period costumes and family secrets and several dashing gentlemen?  A refreshing change.

Reading Eragon and The Knife of Never Letting Go one right after the other was an interesting study in contrasts – they both feature a young man on the run dealing with moral dilemmas.  Eragon has no problem killing multiple villainous characters attacking him, by magic or swordfighting – but the second that he’s not in immediate danger, he’s in favor of knocking someone out rather than running them through.  He objects when another character beheads a slavetrader who is in retreat – although they just killed several henchmen.

I got the sense that Paolini was desperately trying to develop a character for Eragon – a man of growing moral principles, etc.  I would have bought into him as a character much more if he’d also experienced pangs over killing people in the fight scenes – sort of an “I did what I had to do, but I wish it hadn’t been necessary” type of thing.

Todd, in The Knife of Never Letting Go, experiences much more complex questions.  He wants to kill the character who threatens his life, and he has several opportunities, knife in hand.  But he’s reluctant to kill – a reluctance that becomes more poignant and more complex as the story progresses.  It causes problems but it also defines his character.  When he does kill, he suffers, reliving the moment over and over.  Even when killing is an act of self-defense, the characters in the story respond in complex ways, feeling both relief and guilt.

Good grief, I feel sorry for Todd just thinking about all the things that will happen to him in the next book – I don’t know what they’ll be, but I’m sure it won’t be easy.

Another reason to put off reading the sequel: once it’s over, I’ll just want the third book.  Sigh.

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