25 September 2023

And The Ocean Was Our Sky

Start the conversation

Reviewed by Robert Goodman.

By Patrick Ness, Illustrated by Rovina Cai, Walker Books, $24.99.

You could imagine the elevator pitch for Patrick Ness’s new novel And the Ocean Was Our Sky: “Think Moby Dick, but from the whale’s point of view”. But while Moby Dick is a touchstone, fantasy writer Ness, responsible for A Monster Calls, the Chaos Walking trilogy and the Doctor Who spinoff Class, takes this well known story into new territory.

The book opens with “Call me Bathsheba” a riff on that famous opening line. Bathsheba is a whale who has been told that she has a destiny as a hunter of men. In Bathsheba’s world, whales hunt humans as much as humans hunt whales in a war that seems to never have an end. The whales carry harpoons and drag boats behind them underwater as a way of storing and transporting human bodies which they use as resources. These whales have developed an underwater civilization and have a breathing technology that enables them to only venture to the ocean’s surface, known as the Abyss, infrequently.

Bathsheba’s story centres around a hunt for the great white ship of legendary whale killer Toby Wick. After picking up the lone survivor of a massacre of humans which hints at the work of Wick, Captain Alexandra and a small group of whales go on an epic journey towards a final epic confrontation. In this world whales and humans can communicate and Bathsheba, tasked with protecting and interrogating their captive, slowly develops a grudging relationship with him.

Ness has taken both the story and the themes of Moby Dick – obsession, destiny and the nature of evil – and has put a unique spin on them. And while the original text was in some often intensely naturalistic (for example, including a chapter detailing how whales are slaughtered), Ness’s more fantastical approach makes this quite dark tale more palatable for younger readers. Ness’s prose is more than matched by a series of exquisite illustrations by Australian artist Rovina Cai, that serve to enhance the reading experience.

This review first appeared in Aurealis #116, Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine, www.aurealis.com.au.

This and over 300 more reviews can be found at www.pilebythebed.com.

Start the conversation

Be among the first to get all the Public Sector and Defence news and views that matter.

Subscribe now and receive the latest news, delivered free to your inbox.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.