James Patterson's uber-bestselling series Maximum Ride is back for a sixth installment. I have to admit I've had a waning relationship with this series. The first three, now branded as The Fugitives, had a tightly wound narrative and a serialized feel. It was one long book divided into three, with action, suspense, and grit, with just a hint of romance. A well-balanced, addictive brew.
Then James Patterson decided to continue the story by continuing on with the loose ends from the trilogy, and we got The Final Warning, the most divisive book in the series. While it was nice to see the characters again, the sense of immediacy was absent, the tone was a lot lighter, and there was a real green streak running through it all. In fact, the climax involved Global Warming... which then proceeded to overshadow the characters. And it was only 250 pages long. So I was disappointed, naturally.
I still read Book Five, MAX, when it came out. While it was a serious step up from number four, it felt like a different series. The plot was episodic. There was only one significant bit of character development that carried over into the next book, and it was pretty much inevitable. So it's a love-hate relationship.
That said, I approached FANG, released just yesterday, with some degree of skepticism, expecting a book not unlike MAX, with a self-contained adventure with a few environmental themes. So I was surprised to find something more akin to the original three. In fact, it's darker than any book since probably The Angel Experiment, and there haven't been as many long-range devolpments to both the plot and the characters since Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports. Is that enough titles I've tossed around?
Max and Fang are a couple. If you didn't know that, you're a year late to the party. They seem to be about perfect for each other... so leave it to Angel, the creepiest girl since River Tam, to mess things up. And things get really messed up. You see, she says that Fang will be the first to die.
Throw in perhaps the most evil villain this series has seen since the beginning, a better connection to the series as a whole, and Dylan, another bird kid created to be Max's perfect match (creepy), cnd you've got more than enought material to fill this slim volume. I wouldn't have minded a bigger page count, but at least it's bigger than Book Four. Actually, it's almost the exact same length as MAX.
This book and the last one form a nice complete set, with MAX building everything up and FANG proceeding to tear it all down, piece by piece. There's some serious character development here, and only a few scenes I found to be repetitive. The direction Patterson takes the story is shocking in the way it hasn't been in years, and it never gets that over-the-top environmental exposition that had come to mar the past couple of volumes.
The book ends on the biggest cliffhanger perhaps to date, with one of the characters doing something that will have repercussions for a long time coming. The mysteries are deepening, and it seems clear that Patterson is falling back in love with Maximum Ride, which he's said before is his favorite series. It's a fantastic return to form, and all he can do from here is make it longer.
Welcome back, James Patterson. We've missed you.
My rating: 9.5/10
Coming Soon: The Keys to the Kingdom: Lord Sunday.