And the Ocean was our Sky

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Patrick Ness (text), and Rovina Cai (illustrator), And the Ocean was our Sky, Walker Books, September 2018, 160 pp., RRP $24.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781406383560

“Call me Bathsheba.”

The Whales of Bathsheba’s pod live for the hunt. Led by the formidable Captain Alexandra, they fight a never-ending war against men.  So it has been, so it shall always be.  Then the whales attack a man ship, and instead of easy prey they find the trail of a myth, a monster, perhaps the devil himself.  With their relentless Captain leading the chase, they embark on the final hunt, one that will forever change the worlds of whales and men…

And The Ocean Was Our Sky is the story of Moby Dick told from the perspective of the whales, and gives a classic tale a very refreshing and unique spin.

The story is told in the first person, a recollection by Bathsheba, last surviving whale of her pod.  We understand from the opening stanzas that some great calamity has befallen Bathsheba and her kin, however what this is we may only learn through the unfolding of the narrative.

It took me a few pages to get used to the internal geography of the story – that is, regarding everything “upside down” to how I would normally view the world.  Once I’d achieved that, however, it felt very natural regarding the inverted world of the ocean as right, and the “abyss” of land and air as distinctly other.

Ness has cunningly crafted a narrative of great depth and maturity, paying homage to the classic novels of bygone eras while maintaining a fresh and modern outlook.  There is a dark current that runs throughout… a through-line that takes us into a world we hadn’t previously imagined.  We can feel the ocean surrounding us.  We feel the thrill of the chase, just as the characters do.  The pain of the whales at the deaths of their kin, slaughtered at the hands of man… we feel it acutely and it will resonate with readers who hold strong views about conservation.

Cai’s illustrations are exquisite and feel like they should be on display in an art gallery.  Ness’s words certainly don’t lack power or punch, but Cai’s vivid imagery make the scenes hit home with devastating impact.

I would recommend this book for readers 15 and over. It’s a truly excellent piece of work and one that is deserving of much praise and study.

Reviewed by Christian Price

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