Okay, so I’ve spent days trying to get this review together. If you’re not familiar with him, Patrick Ness is the double Carnegie winning author of the Chaos Walking trilogy, & the hauntingly powerful A Monster Calls – As well as a great Twitter profile, & occasionally appearing on BBC Breakfast.
His latest offering isn’t due out until the 5th of September, but once again, I was a lucky enough bookseller to get hold of a proof edition.
This will be a difficult review to work through without revealing one or two slight plot points, so minor spoilers ahoy.
Seth is dead. He knows he must be, he remembers struggling against the cold ocean current, remembers the sickening crunch of his bones on the jagged coastal rocks. So when he wakes up, lying on the pavement outside his childhood home in England, over 3000 miles from the US coastline where he lost his life, it’s safe to say that Seth is painfully confused. Not only is he in the town he grew up, but it seems like it’s been untouched for decades: layers of dust cover the houses, the food in the supermarkets decaying & rotten. This is the town he has so many painful memories of, the one his parents moved across the Atlantic to escape… So if Seth really is dead, this must be Hell, surely? Soon though, things take a turn for the stranger, when he meets two other people trapped in the town, Regine & Tomasz, both of whom remember their own deaths too. If this is his personal hell, did Seth create companions from his own imagination? If he didn’t though, & they’re real people with real pasts, why would they all share this space, in a town that meant so much to him personally? The mystery is just beginning though, when a mysterious black van, complete with malevolent black clad driver begin stalking the three companions, ruthlessly determined to eliminate them. Is it the devil? Or is there something more than this, some darker puzzle to be solved?
This novel is superb. I’m likely to be somewhat gushing here, but I genuinely think Patrick Ness is one of the most talented writers from Young Adults, not just right now, but probably of all time. He has a talent for writing teenage characters that feel wholly real, flawed, brave & natural, & he tackles complex issues of life & coming of age in a non-patronising way that makes his books so popular & accessible.
Seth, the novel’s protagonist, is a troubled individual, with a very complicated back story, & a really powerful emotional progression throughout the story. In a rare instance in Young Adult fiction, Seth’s sexuality as a gay character isn’t a major focus of the plot, & while it is a huge part of his characters actions prior to the setting of the story, it’s amazingly refreshing to have a homosexual character portrayed in such a natural way, the way of course it should be shown, both in fiction & everyday life. His strained relationship with his parents, as well as the mysterious childhood incident involving his younger brother, which plagues his memory throughout, hint at a dark past for Seth, & the slow way it’s teased out through flashbacks is really absorbing & gripping. Seth is not the only character with a dark past though, & Regine is a strong individual with a stubborn streak through her that makes her a good counterpoint to Seth, a girl of decisive action & repressed emotions, her character’s mysterious past which she refuses to discuss makes her even more stoic. I found her spiky nature & nonchalant attitude endearing, hinting at a vulnerable & pained young woman, desperate to avoid the horrors of the past. Tomasz is a brilliant third perspective on the darkness of the world, a bright, optimistic young boy, with a natural exuberance that counteracts the other two character’s painful emotional angst. He still possesses a haunting secret to his past, but he’s young enough to push it away, choosing instead to throw all of his hope & trust into Seth & Regine. His motivations are of pure friendship, often taking rash & brave actions because he’s a naturally positive individual who cares deeply about his friends. He’s really the innocent glue that holds the other two characters together & he’s often the funniest, most touching character in the novel.
Past some wonderfully complex, well written, & multifaceted characters, More Than This has a winding, gripping thriller of a plot, linking theology, philosophy & science fiction to create a really unique view on the Dystopian angle, with strong hints of the Matrix, but with a much stronger feeling of personal discovery. As with all Patrick Ness’ work, the moral dilemmas in the book are so much shades of grey than they are clear cut right & wrong, which I think is an important angle for young readers to learn at this sort of an age. There isn’t always a right & wrong answer to your questions, & sometimes people do awful things for the perceived Greater Good. This novel really explores that idea of the greater good, & also analyses the selfishness & selflessness of both teenagers & adults, showing both in an altogether more human light than a lot of books do. Normally, the adults are flawed, but selfless, the teens selfish, but able to grow, but here, some of the adults actions aren’t just selfish, they’re downright painfully horrific. Patrick clearly believes in the idea that teenagers are complete individuals, capable of just as much decisive action (right or wrong) as any other human being on the planet, & he really weaves that moral into the plot.
The mystery unravelled throughout More Than This kept me gripped from page one, & the writing style, the short, gut-punching chapters with sudden drop-off cliff-hangers really make this a rollercoaster of emotions, & an un-put-down-able read. Every chapter ending left me yearning to learn more about the bleak, abandoned landscape our characters are stranded in, & their desire to solve this mystery keeps the reader glued to the story. It’s a wonderful book, written in a poetic, fluid & dynamic style, with tense mystery & philosophical issues tackled. It doesn’t talk down to its readership, & pulls no punches on some very distressing but important themes. Pick it up the beginning of next month; it’ll blow your socks off.