Book Review: More Than This by Patrick Ness

Genre: Sci-Fi, YA, LGBT

Publishing Info: 2013 by Walker Books Ltd

Pages: 478

Star Rating: 4/5

 

Back Cover Summary: 

A boy drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments. He dies.

Then he wakes, naked and bruised and thirsty, but alive.

How can this be? And what is this strange deserted place?

As he struggles to understand what is happening, the boy dares to hope.
Might this not be the end? Might there be more to this life, or perhaps this afterlife?

 

In recent years, the post-apocalyptic/dystopian genre in Young Adult fiction has been done to death, especially the ones where a shadowy corporation is quietly influencing the protagonist’s decisions in the background. The sub-genre was in real need of a game-changer, a novel that throws the YA rulebook out of the proverbial window.

In some ways, More Than This is that book.

In the first chapter of the book, the protagonist is seemingly killed after having his body smashed against rocks in the ocean. Then he wakes up, alone in a deserted post-apocalyptic version of England (side point: could we have something like this in a future version of Fallout?), yet he remembers he used to live in America. It is definitely a unique take on the YA dystopian genre and a mystery that provides many twists. However, the first section, though full of mystery and intrigue, is quite slow. It is not helped by the fact that the average chapter length is four pages; brilliant for action sequences and flashback scenes but bad when Seth is starting to reuse bodily functions. This may say more about the lazy reader in myself who sometimes takes any opportunity to put a book down, however.

The narrative becomes far more by-the-numbers once secondary characters appear in this destroyed world but the pacing picks up as well, introducing an antagonistic character in the process. What I love the most about the three protagonists is that for the most part, who they are doesn’t influence the plot. There’s a gay male central character, a BAME female and a young male immigrant and, though their relative struggles can be seen in flashbacks, that is mostly forgotten in the narrative. This is a trend in Patrick Ness’s works, including when he headed the Doctor Who spin-off, Class, and it provides a truer reflection of contemporary society that will appeal to a bigger range of readers.

Whilst the characterisation and motivations of all of the human characters seem pretty much spot-on, the antagonist is a complete disappointment. There is, predictably, a shadowy corporation who directs the plot, but they are unseen, which makes a pleasant change from the usual us-against-them route (I’m looking at you Maze Runner), but on the flip side their full potential wasn’t completely shown. I feel like a sequel would be a mistake, solely because I think that a group can be more menacing when you only know a smidgen of their capabilities. The physical representation of this company ups the pacing and action of the narrative but falls flat in my eyes. Simply put, it isn’t menacing or scary enough and at the climax, the switch in behaviour becomes confusing rather than satisfying.

There were many twists in the narrative that kept me guessing and there would be such a massive difference in how I would see the start again, such is the amount of information that is enlightened to us by the conclusion. These big twists worked far better than small ones that merely altered the direction in which the end battle would be realised. I was constantly wondering whether one of the secondary characters (I’m not saying which one!) would surprise readers by revealing themselves as being the true antagonist or the one who has been pulling the strings this whole time. Maybe I just have an over-vivid imagination or maybe it was a deliberate red herring. The amount of ambiguity is refreshing. I’d rather have questions by the end that I can interpret for myself than a book where every single character is painfully spelt out on to the pages.

Throughout the narrative, the protagonist constantly wonders whether the events unfolding before him are pure chance or a making of his own thoughts. Reality versus storytelling is a powerful battle, that is very important to the direction of the plot, for reasons I won’t disclose in case of spoilers. Once again, Patrick Ness leaves this question hanging in the air without a definitive answer, but allows readers to interpret this whichever way they want. A fairly open-ended final chapter, but coming from the point of view of an unknown individual, allows the intrigue to continue after the book is closed. In a way, not providing all of the answers properly reflects the chaos and confusion that a young person would feel if they were to be placed in this scenario themselves. There is no real point in producing a sequel to this and I think it is this mystery and lack of fundamental answers that makes More Than This stand out in a crowded market.

The author shows that he is able to take the tired YA dystopian genre in a new direction, with characters that readers are able to identify with as they are thrust into a world that is both familiar and alien. Despite a lacklustre threat and antagonist, I believe that More Than This is one of the better YA novels that I have read in the past few years.

 

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