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BOOK REVIEW: And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Rovina Cai

| 24 September 2018 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Rovina Cai 

Walker Books
September 2018
Hardcover, $24.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Young Adult / Fantasy / Retelling


We are proud, proud creatures of the ocean. We dominate it, conquer it, there is no creature in it that doesn’t flee before us or do our bidding. It is the supreme element, three full dimensions in which to live and race and hunt. We have illuminated its darknesses, husbanded its fish. We have made great cities, grown out from the mountaintops that drop from our sky.
We are the ocean.

With harpoons strapped to their backs, the proud whales of Bathsheba’s pod live for the hunt, fighting in the ongoing war against the world of men. When they attack a ship bobbing on the surface of the Abyss, they expect to find easy prey. Instead, they find the trail of a myth, a monster, perhaps the devil himself…

As their relentless Captain leads the chase, they embark on a final, vengeful hunt, one that will forever change the worlds of both whales and men.



The latest book by Patrick Ness, which just happens to be a retelling of Moby Dick, from the whale’s point of view, and filled with stunning illustrations? From these points alone, readers know they’re in for a wild, memorable ride. And it is that, to be sure.

There are many points in favour of this title, from the fact that it would add another dimension to the story for anyone studying Moby Dick, to the comments on society and war (no matter how justified one might think their side of the battle is).

I had learned, in short, to love the hunt, not merely for itself, but for its history, for its part in my identity. And I did love it. I had my own, personal reasons by that point, too, but what more reason did a young whale need than the fact that men had hunted us for time immemorial and hunting men was what we did in return? It was a whale’s duty, if so prophesied, and I embraced it.

Unfortunately there seemed to be a lot of handwavium in this volume, with certain things just not making sense or operating seemingly without logic. Such as the whales swimming upside down in ship formations and tugging old ships with them. Such as keeping their human prisoner alive, even as his skin disintegrates in the water, by breathing a special breather-bubble around his head. Such as boiling parts of the humans they catch to turn them into soap… underwater… Such as the whales talking about their advanced technology, and using harpoons that are strapped to their backs. How do they even fit these things, since any given whale could not see what its flippers were doing?

We would harpoon our prey to either death or incipient mortality, and the sailors would bring in the carcasses. Every bit of them would be used, their bones for tallow and soaps, their skin for sails, their meat – inedible to us – as bait for the vast shoals of prey who, once attracted, we could eat at our leisure.
Mostly, though, in that paradox of all wars, we hunted to prevent from being hunted, just as they did.

It can be particularly hard to wrap one’s mind around the supposed logic here, especially from a human point of view… but the illustrations paired with the stunning writing that we have come to expect from Ness still make this worth the cost of the book to have this beauty for your shelf.

If we could reach the stars, I wondered, could we swim in those? Would they hold our weight? Could we swim from one to another, like between mountains in the ocean? There seemed to be none of the great unknown continents upon which men lived, continents whose coasts we knew intimately but whose vast middles contained only guessed-at mysteries. And the moon? What was that? It moved through the Abyss like a ship. A ship whose face showed no men at all. Was it a place without war? Was it a place where a whale fed a man? Would we be safer there? Could the hurt end forever?

The I was alone in the ocean with the devil.
Here was prophecy. Here was prophecy incarnate. And now I saw the truth. Every attack we attributed to him – from the massacre of my mother to, yes, the men who had harpooned and released my Captain – only brought the legend to life. You imagine the devil, you make the devil.



Category: Book Reviews

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