And The Ocean Was Our Sky
by Patrick Ness
Illustrated by Rovina Cai
Published September 2018
I’ve seen the movie based on Patrick Ness’s previous book, A Monster Calls, but I haven’t actually read the book. I definitely see similarities in style between the two stories, though. The blurb calls it “lyrical” and “haunting” but I’d call them both trippy.
In And The Ocean Was Our Sky, the story is told from the viewpoint of Bathsheba, a whale. In her world, whales and humans have been at war as long as she can remember. Whales have learned the human language, and how to build ships and use harpoons. (Though how they actually DO these things with flippers is never explained. Just suspend disbelief and go with it.)
I think the hardest thing to wrap my mind around was the whales have an inverted view of gravity. To them, the human world of air is called the Abyss, and it lives below them. The ocean is, well, their sky, as the title says. Bathsheba mentions the dizzying moment when she breaches and the world turns on its axis as gravity changes around her. When the whales talk of swimming up, they mean deeper into the ocean, or down, to us.
It’s a crazy, inverted, fantastical world, and you just have to go with it. The illustrations both help and confuse further, but I think the fever-dream feel of it is intentional.
Bathsheba and her pod are hunters of men, and they come across a sign from Toby Wick. (You know, instead of Moby Dick.) Toby Wick is a devil in the eyes of both men and whales, and Bathsheba’s captain, Captain Alexandra, resolves to hunt him down once and for all and rid the oceans of his menace. On the way, Bathsheba talks to their human captive and learns not all men are hunters, and they have dreams and fears just like whales do. Disturbed, she begins to question her own morality, and what makes someone a devil.
The book is a quick read at 160 pages, probably half of which are full-page illustrations. But it is magical and surreal and well worth reading.
From the cover of And The Ocean Was Our Sky:
CALL ME BATHSHEBA.
With harpoons strapped to their backs, the proud whales of Bathsheba’s pod live for the hunt. Led by the formidable, dangerous Captain Alexandra, they fight in the ongoing war against the world of men. So it has been, so it always shall be.
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 . . . .
Now, with their relentless Captain leading the chase, they embark on a final, vengeful hunt, one that will forever change the worlds of both whales and men.
From the inimitable author of A Monster Calls comes a dark, lyrical, harrowing tale, hauntingly illustrated, that flips a classic story of violent obsession on its head with heart-stopping questions of power, loyalty, and the monsters we make.