In Patrick Ness’ amazing homage to the American literature classic Moby Dick, the worlds of ocean and sky are upturned, and it’s a whale that tells her version of the story of hunter and hunted. With a reversal of point of view (a literal one, with Rovina Cai’s exceptional illustration showing whales swimming upside down, with the ocean floor as their sky) comes Ness’ re-visioning of the patriarchal exploitation of the natural world, and of man’s destructive obsession to conquer what he falsely believes he is master of.
The writing is as beautiful as you might expect, and its literary style, as well as some dark imagery, make it appropriate for older readers.
At first glance this heavily illustrated book looks more like Ness’s bestselling A Monster Calls than his Chaos Walking series and YA titles. But as in all his work, the writing is clear and often lyrical, and the story moves with plenty of pace. The themes of personal identity and difficult moral choices are also familiar Ness concerns. With their haunting, melancholy sense of the undersea world, Rovina Cai’s full-page and double-page illustrations are beautiful in their own right, but they’re a real enhancement to the story and perfectly integrated into the design. This is a book for all ages, although some scenes contain graphic violence, so it might be a little too strong for children under 10. I loved it, and you can call me Ishmael if it doesn’t end up on several prize shortlists.