BOOK REVIEW - The Maximum Ride Trilogy by James Patterson

on Saturday, May 22, 2010

By James Patterson (Official Website)
Buy the Books Here: The Angel Experiment, School's Out - Forever, Saving the World


James Patterson’s Maximum Ride Trilogy is a great example of an intriguing story failing completely in the third act. While the first two books, The Angel Experiment and School’s Out - Forever lead up to a promising conclusion, the third and final book of the series, Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports doesn’t fulfill reader expectations and, to be honest, felt like a lame cop-out.

Since this is a trilogy, I’ll review each book individually. I read The Angel Experiment just before School’s Out was released, so I read the first and second books in close succession. The third was released shortly after (following Patterson’s “Write a book every four months” craziness), so I was able to get the whole trilogy down rather fast.

I also read them at the same time I was writing my first novel, Lacrymosa, which also was featuring winged people. A big coincidence, but one that I might as well point out, if only because it’s my blog and I think it’s interesting.
James Patterson is more commonly known as a mystery/thriller writer, famous for his Alex Cross character. Having read about six or seven of these after finishing Maximum Ride, I can say that Patterson does know how to build suspense, though it is best to read his books in small doses. This is because each of them follows a similar routine as the previous, so if you’ve read one you’ve essentially read them all. There is an attempt at an overall, underlying story with Cross during these cases, similar to what Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files does, but Butcher’s series does a much better job at this sub-story (which becomes the main story) than Patterson’s. Frankly, Patterson is at his best when he write one, self-contained book, rather than trying to stretch the plot twists and mystery across several novels. This, in and of itself, might explain why the ending of the Maximum Ride trilogy seemed so half-baked.

Review: Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment (Book 1)

The Angel Experiment is quite a good read, despite all the criticisms I’ve leveled for the series above. It follows the viewpoint of Max, who, based on her voice and actions in the novel, I didn’t know was female until about a quarter of the way through the book. Patterson has had similar problems in other series I’ve dug up, though the main character’s names have often tipped me off before their actions are.

The story starts with Max, living in a hideout with the rest of her “flock,” a group of kids genetically modified with the gift of flight. They are an interesting assortment: Fang, the emo love interest of Max; Iggy, sarcastic and blind; Gasman, nicknamed Gazzy, who provides comic relief and is also the only one of the flock with a sibling (Angel); Nudge, who I think is African-American, though Patterson never says it straight out; and Angel, the one with the most unimaginative name, who is the youngest and, of course, an “angel” of a child. If you are getting a sort of “The Boxcar Children” vibe, you wouldn’t be far off; reading it reminded me a lot of that classic series.

Of course, just them hanging around would make for a boring story, so right off the bat the Flock is attacked by Erasers, a group of werewolves (essentially), created by the School to destroy them. The School is where the Flock was “born” and raised, only to later escape with the help of the father figure, Jeb, who they believe is dead.

It only gets more convoluted. Jeb actually isn’t dead, one of the Erasers (named Ari) is Jeb’s son, and Jeb is maybe evil. Or is he? Plus, Max has some chip in her arm that she can’t remove, that we are lead to believe the Erasers use to trace her. Also, it seems to be the cause of a “Voice” that keeps telling them what to do.
As stated before, I enjoyed the first book, if only because the premise was interesting, the book is breakneck fast, and it opens up a lot of interesting questions. Questions that, unfortunately, are never really answered, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Patterson’s prose is simple, and believable that a 15-year-old girl would talk that way, minus the gender confusion. This is partially what contributes to the book’s fast pace; Max and the Flock are always doing something, with conflict starting within the first ten pages.
While not too exhausting for one book, the consistently shifting conflict, loyalties, and just general mass confusion really begins to add up. It works in the first book because it is short and I never feel cheated: I have promises of answers later. Which works, or would have, if Patterson had actually had some sort of overarching plan for the trilogy.

Review: Maximum Ride: School’s Out - Forever (Book 2)

Surprisingly enough, as a sophomore novel in a trilogy, School’s Out work exceptionally good. It keeps the action going, while mixing developments with the characters, as well as Max and Fang’s relationship. However, the problem with the novel is for every step the characters take forward, both plot and character development-wise, they take two steps backward in another area.

Right off the bat, you discover the Erasers can fly now (because that makes perfect sense), and a character who Max killed at the end of the first book, which looks like it will be a strong emotional conflict for her, magically lives again. It’s almost as if Patterson read his first book, realized he messed some stuff up in the final draft, and just decided to do whatever the hell he wanted to fix it.

Well, you are the author, so I’ll just deal with it. But that doesn’t mean I’ll like it.

Despite these oddities, I still think the second book is better than the first, if only because the situations they are put into are more clever than the first one. The first was a simple, “Run away from the bad guys” story. This one is as well, but it slows down a bit, allowing the Flock to be put into quite an entertaining situation: they are enrolled in a real school. One of the best things about this trilogy is you really grow connected to the characters: none feel similar to each other, and each is unique and interesting. So, as they are put into weird situations, you can't help but smile as they have difficulty managing, or are delightfully out of place in real-world places. This is, easily, one of the strongest points of the trilogy.

Now might be a good time to point out that the adults in this book are, frankly, pretty stupid. That, or completely clever geniuses. People help the kids, knowing they have wings or not, all the time. As kind as I’d like to believe humans are, this just isn’t believable. Of course, Patterson manages to cheat out of this, essentially by saying “ANYBODY could be working for the (bad) School, so that answers that question. Now keep reading.”
And on that note, we learn a little bit more about the Erasers, the School, Jeb, and the Flock’s past. It’s a pretty common theme through trilogies that readers love to have questions last through all the books, only to be fed hints in bite-sized chunks, waiting for the fantastic final reveal. The first two books in Maximum Ride do this wonderfully: lots of loose ends, tons of questions to be answered, and they all seem to be tied together, so readers will spend lots of time considering exactly what is going on. The third book was set up to be a brilliant finale, with mind-blowing revelations and a stunning conclusion.

Too bad it falls flat on its face.

Review: Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports (Book 3)

This book is what made me realize that Patterson is best when he just does what he’s always done: write self-contained books, with the same characters. He just isn’t that good at trying to carry an overlying plot through multiple books. This couldn’t be more evident in Saving the World, where everything degenerates into either an info-dump or nonsensical plot twists that come completely out of left field, including one that literally made me put the book down and physically shake my head.

This book focuses more on Max, and the fact that she is “chosen” to save the world, though she had no idea how to. The general idea is they’ve got to take down the School (now known as the Itex corporation) and the Director. The Director's plot would make a comic-book villain cringe: they want to kill half the population of the earth. Their reasoning? Well, it makes no sense, so I’m not even going to try bothering to explain it. It is foreshadowed, unlike most of the rest of this atrocious ending book, but that doesn’t make it any less dumb.

So Fang, being the genius he is, decides that rather than have Max save the world he’d rather settle down with her and see what happens. He also starts blogging more (I believe he starts in the previous book), which plays an integral part in the climax of the novel. Anyway, the Flock splits because Fang wants to see half the people in the world die, and Patterson thinks logical people will do these things for sake of an interesting plot.

Then comes what I consider to be the most infuriating part of the book. Note this is a potential spoiler warning, though I’ll do my best to remain vague. Max and co. are captured, and at that point it is then revealed that one of the Flock was a traitor the entire time. This makes sense, because Patterson dropped tons of hints in the past two book that somebody was up to no good, and the shocker is who it is. At this point, I thought Patterson was brilliant, because who the traitor was made sense. I found myself thinking back on the previous two books, figuring out exactly how this worked, all the while amazed at Patterson’s complete genius. It made perfect sense, it was super clever, and completely shocking. A perfect twist.

Until the traitor essentially says “Just kidding,” within the next twenty or so pages.

No, I’m not joking, though I wish I was. Patterson essentially just undid all the greatness that could have been this trilogy, simply for a two-second thrill. A clever twist, a startling reveal...gone.

But wait, didn't they foreshadow a traitor? So who is that, then? Patterson ends up filing with all the other loose ends, including this one, by having a bad guy character say, “Well, sometimes bad people lie.”

So all that build up, all those potential huge reveals? Well, if Patterson forgot to reveal it, he conveniently gave himself an out: file it under “bad people lie.” This is how Patterson plans finales to trilogies. Magnificent.

Well, by that point, I was so frustrated with the whole ordeal I wanted to quit reading, but I just had to know how they take down the School, because that was the point of this whole series. I’m going to spoil it for you, so if you don’t want to ruin the ending, don’t read any further. Though you honestly aren’t spoiling much.

Remember that blog Fang started a while back? Well, apparently he has become more famous than the Numa Numa guy, because billions of people decide to listen to him and friend him. None of the people at the School, these genetic manipulating geniuses planning to take over the earth, realize they could probably track Fang's IP address and find him. But I’m digressing. There’s the final showdown at the School, and Fang unleashes the power of his internet friends list, in the form of a bunch of kids essentially raiding the building and overthrowing the evil corporation because he send them all a message telling them to do so through Facebook.

Or maybe he just promised to fertilize their crops in Farmville. I'm going to go with that.

Go kid power, I suppose? Patterson certainly knows how to spoon-feed his audience what they want to hear (a bunch of teens, using the internet, can show those rule-setting adults who is boss!), but it makes for an absurd, and mind-numbingly stupid ending. Kids from the internet all met together and destroyed a huge corporation. Just run that around in your brain a few times and see how it feels. Now imagine that being the stunning conclusion to a three book series you've been anxiously following for some time.

Not to mention the final reveal (who Max’s parents are) is just as heartwarmingly dumb as the internet destroying the bad guys.

Final Words

Honestly, it is hard for me to recommend starting a series that ends so poorly. The first two books were fun, light reads that you could pound out in an hour or so each. The third, however, is a terrible train-wreck of a novel that really needed to be outlined before Patterson put fingers to keyboard.

It is important to note that these books have sold millions of copies, and a movie series is currently being made. Also, there are three more books past these (which is a new trilogy, with a different bad guy and what-not), but I was so disgusted with Saving the World I couldn’t get anywhere in these.

Overall, if you plan on writing fast paced, middle-grade/YA, it might be worth looking at, if only to see how well Patterson paces his books, as well as giving a reasonably valid 15-year-old’s viewpoint. If you want to see a more “modern” look at The Boxcar Children books, you might want to read the first book and see how Patterson does a good job pulling this off. However, if you are expecting solid writing, or a coherent story, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

And for the sake of this blogger, please don’t read the third book. Don’t buy it. Don’t encourage this sort of story-destruction.


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