This beautifully produced book is matched by the beautiful writing, and a concept that absolutely turns Moby Dick upside down. The allegorical nature of the story gives a great messages about tolerance, understanding, the nature of power and much more besides.
Bathsheba is a young whale who is one of three apprenticed to Captain Alexandra. They are hunting Toby Wick – but just what, or who, is Toby Wick? A ship, a whaler, a devil? you’ll have to read it to find out.
However, Patrick Ness has done it again – by which I mean he has created a story which instantly engages the reader: ‘call me Bathsheba. It is not my name, but the name I use for this story. A name, I hoped, that would be free of prophecy, free of the burden of a future placed upon it, free of any destiny that would tear it from my hands and destroy worlds. You think I overstate. You are wrong.’
Quite hard to stop reading after an opening paragraph like that. You’d think it would be hard to write a story from a whale’s perspective, but not to this author apparently. It’s a powerful narrative, occasionally violent – well, it is about whales and whaling! – and frequently extremely moving.
The stunning illustrations by Rovina Cai are a brilliant addition to the book, and visceral in their power. They are mostly black and white, which makes the red of blood leap off the page.
In any hierarchical group, human or animal, there are weaker and stronger characters, and challenging and difficult relationships when power is in play. Ness manages this extremely well, making the whales entirely credible as characters. The interplay of conversation and emotions between the captured sailor and Bathsheba is clever; the power of Captain Alexandra is well-conceived and well-described, and the whole book carries you along – the questions of morality which, to me, under-pin the whole story, are poignantly written, particularly at the closing of the story.
I think this would work well as a read-aloud to older kids, but I also think there’s much for the able reader of any age in this excellent book.
Reviewed by Sue Esterman
And the ocean was our sky
by Patrick Ness
Published by Walker Books