Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports is the third book by James Patterson about the flock, a band of six winged children (and their talking dog Total) and their struggles to survive the menacing forces that created them — and that want to destroy them.
I admit, I’m a sucker for mouthy girl main character and that description fits Max (short for Maximum Ride) the same way her amazing wings fit her, wings that carry her effortlessly over the ground and just as neatly fold up against her back. Max is the leader of the troop and with her co-captain, Fang, are the Peter Pan and Wendy of the four younger ones in their care. Since I haven’t read the first book, I can’t explain about the dog other than he’s kind of persnickety and has no interest in eating from a dish on the floor.
Max gets off some good ones that had me giggling more than once, and her intense love of her fellow bird-kids is very real despite the way she throws off smart-alecky one-liners. That her way of whistling in the dark and there’s plenty of dark in this book.
The unreal video-game violence might prove to be exciting for some readers. As I read Max’s description of her round-house kicks and about the impossible odds, I couldn’t help but think of old cowboys v. Indians movies. You know, the kind where the cowboy shoots once and four Indians hit the dirt? It’s like that, except high tech and more likely in Technicolor rather than black and white. The problem, as far as I’m concerned, is that character development becomes secondary or even tertiary to the gore. Yes, I know it’s fantasy and I don’t have any problem with flying kids. I appreciate the physiological explantions (bird-kid bone density) and the way Max describes the oddness of a trip on an airplane and the reality that although they are strong and fleet, they are not built for transatlantic crossings. I appreciate passages that remind the reader that these are beings, humans just like the people turning the page of a book.
Patterson pays homage to the Wizard of Oz during the infiltration of a big castle run by a witch and inhabited by legions of mutants who all but chant “O-lio, o-LEE-o” as they march in lockstep. It’s probably not a coincidence that the scary uniformity takes places in Germany and that the evil powers-that-be have cleansing-by-extermination in mind, any more than the Imperial soldiers in Star Wars had helmets that bore a strong resemblance to the uniforms of WW II German troops. But Mr. Patterson, why put “Publicists” on Fang’s Web blog entry where he lists useless people? And the two foaming-at-the-mouth villains (one with a crappy German accent) seem mostly silly.
Good fantasy pulls the reader into the alternate world or the wrinkle added to our own. That’s what any good story does, horse-opera (an old name for westerns) or space-opera (an old name for SciFi). This book has some of those moments. And some readers might appreciate the call-to-action and the opportunity to log onto the book’s Web site and feel as if they part of the story. The best way to become a part of the story, however, is to care about what happens to the characters. You don’t become part of the story so much as the story becomes part of you. Max, in her much-appreciated teen snarkiness, cetainly struck that note with me.