(Starting with this review, I’ll be dropping the star system and replacing it with a “verdict,” in which I give a quick line or two about my overall thoughts on a book.)
Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment (which I’ve been and will from now on refer to as just Maximum Ride), written by James Patterson, is not a very good book. It’s not a very good book at all.
Let’s start with the plot. It follows a group of six kids (the titular Maximum (Max) Ride, Fang, Iggy, the Gasman, Nudge, and Angel) genetically modified to be able to fly via wings, who grew up in cages and were experimented on and tormented by the scientists of a mysterious facility called “the School.” Four years prior to the book’s events, however, one of the scientists (Jeb Batchelder) helped the kids escape from the School. Then, two years before the book starts, he disappeared.
This immediately presents a set of problems. After leaving the School, Jeb took the kids (who call themselves the flock) to a house up in the mountains… where somehow they managed to survive in isolation for two years, continuing to build up a fascinatingly impeccable range of “pop” culture references. There’s also the matter of how he disappeared never being explained.
It’s once the plot kicks in, however, that things get truly bad. A mere fourteen pages in, the youngest of the flock (oh yeah, and for some reason the kids range from fourteen to six years old, despite having no discernible differences in their wing technology), Angel, is kidnapped by the evil scientist’s henchmen, the monstrous Erasers.
Next to me, Angel froze and screamed.
Startled, I stared down at her, and in the next second, men with wolfish muzzles, huge canines, and reddish, glinting eyes dropped out of the sky like spiders. Erasers! And it wasn’t a dream. (pg 14)
Stopping once again for the Erasers. They are presented as men who have been somehow modified to be able to shift into wolf-men, complete with snouts, claws, extra fur, and… oh wait, that’s it. Not only is their name idiotic, but these Erasers also serve no purpose: the only advantage this wolf-man form has is to be able to track via smell, which makes it a very clunky way to gain an improved sense. Then there’s the fact that these Erasers have guns, which kind of makes the claws useless.
Oh, and the Erasers look like male models when not in wolf form. I really don’t know why.
There’s another problem with this scene: the Erasers end up having all the kids incapacitated (after beating them up with no weapons whatsoever, which makes perfect sense) and then choose to only take Angel. Given the fact that they then continue to chase the rest of the flock, well…
This strangeness extends to the entire book, too; the Erasers are never established as trying to kill the flock or capture the flock, and they seem to flip-flop between the two whenever it’s convenient.
“You know, if they just wanted to kill her, or kill all of us, they could have,” Nudge said shakily. (pg 29)
Nudge and Fang rocketed out of there as fast as they could. A bullet whistled right past Nudge’s ear. She’d been that close to being deaf and dead. (pg 141)
After this, the flock obviously go after Angel, which manages to take up the first half of the book. For the sake of spoilers, I don’t wish to continue covering the plot (you can read my spork if you’d like that), so let’s move on to the characters. And oh boy are the characters bad.
First, we have Max, our protagonist and narrator:
Okay, maybe I’m paranoid, danger everywhere, but I could swear the bigger kids looked really threatening.
The bigger kids were boys. The smaller kid in the middle was a girl.
Coincidence? I think not.
Don’t even get me started about the whole Y chromosome thing. I live with three guys, remember? They’re three of the good ones, and they’re still obnoxious as all get-out. (pg 61)
Note to self: Show Nudge and Angel how to make choc-chip cookies. (pg 147)
She’s sexist! (Keep in mind that Nudge and Angel are the two other female members of the flock, and that Iggy, a male, is the supposed best cook of the flock.)
Note to self: Give subconscious a pep talk re: better dreams. (pg 8)
Just another stupid girl, they thought, relieved. (pg 67)
To make my Mayberry holiday complete, (pg 147)
This high up, the land below took on a checkerboard effect of Robin Hoodsy greens and browns. (pg 60)
Acting trés casual, I glanced around again. (pg 182)
She has an inexplicable knowledge of “pop” culture references and slang!
I hate her and she makes no sense. She’s irritating, can’t let a dramatic moment go by without some silly quip, and acts way too much like a stereotypical normal teenager for me to believe she actually grew up in a cage and was educated via internet.
Then we have Fang, the calm and collected one who refuses to let his emotions show. That’s pretty much his entire character. There’s also Iggy, and do I have something to say about Iggy.
See, Iggy is blind. This is explained as having happened while at the School, when the scientists tried to improve his vision (despite the fact that the flock are described as having great, birdlike vision anyway) and failed. Does this blindness impair him in any way, shape, or form?
Nope! Because he has some sort of mystery echolocation… thing that is never explained and apparently allows him to move about exactly like a normal person, which makes him being blind in the first place entirely pointless. (And this isn’t to say that blind people can’t do anything, just that Iggy is not “reasonably impaired” but “not impaired at all.”) There’s also inconsistency, in that the echolocation thing comes up halfway through the book, and at the beginning it’s said “The only time he has trouble being blind is when one of us forgets and moves furniture or something.”
Iggy howled and swept his hand across the kitchen counter, catapulting a mug through the air. It hit Fang in the side of the head.
“Watch it, idiot!” he yelled at Iggy furiously. Then he realized what he’d said, clenched his teeth, and rolled his eyes at me in frustration. (pg 27)
In addition to those three are Nudge, who is said to talk a lot and occasionally follows that characterization, the Gasman, who is flatulent and a stereotypical eight-year-old boy in pretty much every way, and Angel, the “adorable” six-year-old who can read minds (more on that later) and is mostly unlikable for how generic she is. This is unfortunate, given that all the tension and drama in the first half of the book relies on the reader actually caring about her.
Really, none of the characters act believably. They’re pretty standard as far as stereotypical kids in fiction go, but that’s just the problem: they grew up in cages, were endlessly experimented on, then lived in a remote house with nobody to interact with but themselves and one man… and somehow they turned out like your average stereotypical kid. This is even more problematic when James Patterson tries to remind us that they grew up in cages by having Max go “oh yeah we didn’t like the elevator because of claustrophobia” or “oh no there was antiseptic smell I don’t like that smell but I’ll just tell you about it.”
We rode upward, hating being in a small enclosed space. Sweat was breaking out on my brow by the time the doors slid open on the fourth floor, and we leaped out as if the elevator had been pressurized. (pg 255)
With our core characters out of the way, let’s talk about their wings and how they work. It is explained to us by Max that the flock were given avian DNA, and that that’s the cause for their wings, which are described as being accordion-like in that they can fold up, at which point they go into indents on the flock’s backs.
This brings up a number of issues, first and foremost being that birds do not have accordion wings, nor do they have indents in their backs to hide these wings in. So why James Patterson even bothered to explain it as such, when he had every excuse not to give any explanation at all given Max’s background, I have no idea. Secondly is the fact that these indents would pose some serious problems; the flock would require maybe ten foot wingspans, and for wings of that size to fold up into a back indent would mean the flock’s hearts and lungs would be significantly smaller, which would significantly hinder their flight capability as they’d have less blood and air to power those wings.
I pulled my wings in, feeling them fold, hot from exercise, into a tight accordion on either side of my spine. I tied my windbreaker around my neck. There. Perfectly normal looking. (pg 66)
The flock also have hollow bones to make for easier flight, but simultaneously are stronger than normal humans and can run faster as well. Where James Patterson got the idea that bird DNA makes people stronger, or that hollow bones could coexist with extra strength, I have no idea.
Then there are the powers.
See, because these characters being capable of flight just wasn’t enough for James Patterson, he gave them random powers. The most notable of these powers is Angel’s mind-reading–yes, she can read minds (and later in the book begins to control them). I honestly have no idea why James Patterson thought this was a good idea; all it does is make Angel creepier, as well as beg the question of HOW THE HECK DOES BIRD DNA MAKE PEOPLE BE ABLE TO READ MINDS.
These powers are also random and show up whenever the flock need them. A fourth of the way through the book, just when it could come in handy, we’re told the flock have an innate sense of direction that lets them know where they’re going. To my recollection, this shows up only once more in the book (to serve as extra drama when Max is driving a car. Don’t even get me started on that one). Nudge, too, gets a random power at the end of the book just as it’s convenient, and not only is it nonsensical and poorly defined, but it also takes about 170 pages into the second book before it gets mentioned again.
“Maybe because I’m like your little girl,” said Angel, turning around to look at me. “But don’t worry, Max. I won’t tell anybody. Besides, I love you best too.” She threw her skinny arms around my neck and planted a somewhat sticky kiss on my cheek. I hugged her back, hard. Oh yeah–that’s another special thing about Angel.
She can read minds. (pg 12)
Well, look at that! Thirteen hundred words in and I still haven’t touched on the writing itself.
Which is absolutely terrible.
The prose is utterly devoid of tension or character; every scene, humorous or dramatic or pointless, reads exactly the same with the exact same boring, lifeless narration. This is especially curious when the book forays into third person (yes, that’s right, this first person book that is presented as truth goes into third person with absolutely no explanation), as the third person limited narration of Angel sounds exactly like the first person narration of Max, minus snark. The only plus to the prose is that it isn’t hard to read, but it’s so far from enjoyable that I barely count that.
This might be excusable if the book had some actual excitement in its scenes, but it doesn’t. Action scenes, because of the boring prose, take on a boring tone and tend to stop before they’ve even got going. (I don’t think any of them lasted more than a couple scenes.) The rest of the book isn’t much better, as after rescuing Angel (because come on, who thought they didn’t?) the rest of the book is spent on pointless filler before a quick climax that’s just as boring as the rest of the book.
There are also issues with the book’s format. For some reason I can’t fathom, James Patterson decided to give Maximum Ride criminally short chapters–my calculations put the book at an average chapter length of three pages. Cutting out the spaces at the beginning and end of chapters, that means each chapter has about two pages of actual text. All this does is at best give the book a jumpy, jerky sense to its pacing as the scene changes every three pages, or at worst serve to pointlessly break up a single scene.
Not only that, but this format wastes paper, too! At 134 chapters and 422 pages, and putting each chapter as having two thirds of a page of nothing for its blank space at the end and chapter number at the top (which isn’t even a stylish image; just a plain number taking up over a fourth of the page), there are 89 pages of nothing in this book.
89 freaking pages that are completely empty.
Overall, I just have a hard time believing James Patterson put any work into this book. The plot is dull and simplistic, there are continuity errors, there’s plenty of unnecessary filler that’s nothing more than boring… The entire book reads like a first draft, and I feel insulted that James Patterson would sell a first draft.
Given its popularity and my previous love of the book, there is entertainment to be found in Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment. To find that entertainment, however, one has to be prepared to entirely shut off one’s brain, and I don’t think that’s a reasonable thing for a book to ask of its reader. Maximum Ride could have been a very powerful, interesting, and well-crafted book, but it isn’t, and so I refuse to recommend the book to anyone.