Monday, September 13, 2010

When the Wind Blows (book) by James Patterson

I read and wrote an entry for The Angel Experiment a while back, but at the time I didn't realize that Patterson's Maximum Ride series actually had an earlier incarnation. When the Wind Blows features characters that readers of the Maximum Ride series will recognize, although, as flawed as I thought The Angel Experiment was, this book is much, much worse. I finished When the Wind Blows so that I could enjoy writing this post, not because I actually enjoyed the book.

My synopsis doesn't exactly lay out events as they happened in the book - Patterson took his sweet time with the plot on this one, and I'm going to try streamline things a bit better than that.


Frannie, an animal-loving Colorado veterinarian who despises hunters, is horrified when she discovers that the man who is renting out the cabin she used to share with her husband (now deceased, murdered by someone who was never caught) is a hunter. However, the man, Kit, refuses to leave, so Frannie angrily puts up with him.

Kit, whose real name is actually Tom, is an FBI agent (or former FBI agent, I can't remember) who's supposed to be on vacation in an entirely different state. His boss isn't happy about his obsession with a case involving murdered doctors. Actually, Kit (or Tom, but he seems to be more comfortable with being called Kit) hasn't been doing well since his wife and child died in a plane crash. Now all he lives for is figuring out why these doctors are being murdered, and it's possible that Frannie knows more than she's letting on - after all, her husband is one of the murdered doctors. Without the knowledge or consent of his boss, Kit is continuing to investigate, and Frannie's area of Colorado seems to be the best place to do that.

And Kit's right - there's a secret lab, not too far away, that holds all the answers he seeks. Max, whose name is short for Maximum, escapes from that lab with her brother Matthew, but the two are soon separated. Max is almost caught but manages to get away at the last second - by opening her wings and flying. Max and Matthew are both part of secret genetic experiments that combined avian and human DNA, and the people chasing after them are willing to kill anyone and everyone who witnesses the results of these illegal genetic experiments.

Frannie can't believe her eyes when she first sees Max. Eventually, when she comes to trust Kit more, she tells him about Max, and the two of them convince Max to let them help her. What Max wants more than anything is to save her brother and the others at the School (the lab). She leads Kit and Frannie there, terrified of what might happen to them all if anyone found them. Things are relatively easy, at first. The School has been abandoned, the "imperfect specimens" left to die. Max is reunited with almost all of her friends from the School, and they all escape - but they don't get far before almost all of them are captured.

Frannie is shocked to discover that one of the primary people behind the experiments that resulted in Max and the others is none other than one of her best friends, Gillian. Not only that, it turns out that Gillian's 4-year-old son Michael, who Max and the others knew as Adam, is also the result of these experiments and has a projected lifespan of about 200 years. Their captors want to know who's been told about Max, so Frannie is questioned and Kit is tortured. Once they're back together, not knowing what the future holds, Frannie and Kit decide to give in to the feelings that have been building between the two of them and make love to each other (Breaking out of synopsis mode for a second: Kit is cut and bleeding everywhere and his nose is broken. Romantic.).

Little Adam comes to rescue everyone, but, unfortunately, Kit's boss shows up and tries to interfere - it turns out that the reason why Kit had so many problems getting support for his investigation of the doctors' murders was because his boss was also involved. Kit overpowers him, and they continue their escape. Everything goes to hell for the people involved in the School: an auction had just been held selling each of the winged children and their "scientific papers" (whatever that means), and the auction attendees now get to witness Kit, Frannie, and those children escaping; the occupants of a news helicopter film the children and their escape; and all the primary people involved in the genetic experiments and the School are killed in a car crash.

Frannie and Kit manage to get the children into hiding, away from the prying eyes of the authorities and the public. However, they can't stay hidden forever. When they're found, the children are all united with their biological parents, and everyone lives happily ever after, despite the fact that the world is probably not prepared for intelligent avian-human hybrids.


There are so very many things I didn't like about this book.  The writing was choppy and clunky, Patterson overused italics and exclamation marks, chapters were painfully short, and occasionally question marks weren't used when they should have been. If Patterson (or his editor, if he even has one) had ruthlessly cut out all repetitive wording, there would have been plenty of space to flesh out the things he should have fleshed out.

Some of the things Patterson wrote didn't gel with what I got from the descriptions. Over and over again, Patterson would write that Max was a beautiful little girl, superior in every way, and yet the actual descriptions of her would make everyone's first impression of her be the exact opposite. I couldn't quite wrap my brain around what she must have looked like or how her body worked (I still don't understand how her arms and wings worked, despite what I'm sure Patterson thought of as a painfully exact and logical explanation), but the general idea that I walked away with is that she would have looked a bit freakish, with feathers in lots of places, a massive chest, and an arm-wing combination that had to look strange as hell. However, Patterson tells us that she's beautiful, so of course she must be beautiful. Right. Sorry, it doesn't work that way.

He also tells us that she's superior to both humans and avians, with the best features of each, but I somehow doubt that as well. Birds do better on the sky than on the ground, because they've evolved to get from one place to another mainly by flying, rather than walking (with some exceptions). Humans have our own adaptations. Max has escape options open to her that normal humans wouldn't have (flying), and she's supposed to be smarter than the average 11-year-old (although I'm doubtful of that), but nothing Patterson can say can convince me that she's superior to, say, a hawk when it comes to flight. Different, yes, but not superior.

Patterson's villains are supposed to be horrible, terrible people who will do anything to make sure there are no witnesses - and yet they allow some witnesses to survive. The one's I'm talking about are the two children Max spoke to and demonstrated her flying to - away from their mother's hearing, the person talking to the children threatened them and their mother, but none of them were killed. It doesn't make sense. Also, leaving the winged children to die of starvation and dehydration also doesn't make sense when Gillian and the rest auction them off only a little while later - auctions take a while to arrange, with everyone needing to be invited and more, and an auction like that would take a particularly large amount of time, since they'd have to make sure that everyone would be able to come up with the money. Although how anyone could come up with the auction's required increments of multiples of 100 million dollars without prior warning is beyond me.

The sex scene between Kit and Frannie was badly timed and just...awful. Only a few paragraphs prior, Patterson wrote that Kit was bruised and bloody, with multiple lacerations, a split upper lip, and a nose that was probably broken, and yet suddenly he and Frannie are overcome with passion, kissing each other and having sex. One, I don't care how gentle they do it, this can't be anything but painful for Kit. Two, they're still in captivity, with captors who may come bursting into the room at any moment - their brains must be like Etch-a-Sketches in order to forget that detail.

Things like that are exactly why the characters in this book don't feel like people - they don't react like you'd expect real people to react, and Patterson can't even manage to write their thoughts and dialogue in ways that feel real. To make matters worse, Patterson attempted to write multiple perspectives in this book and failed miserably - some chapters were written from Max's perspective, some from Kit's, some from Frannie's, etc. If it weren't for Max's "I'm hyped on sugar and love words just for their sake alone" mental voice and Kit and Frannie's use of different kinds of job-related jargon, the various perspectives, particularly Kit and Frannie's, would have been indistinguishable. Someone should have helped Patterson out and headed each chapter with the name of the person from whose perspective it is. Plus, Patterson bends over backwards to avoid letting readers know pertinent details while still writing from these perspectives - all readers knew, for the longest time, was that Kit was pining over some event that happened several years earlier and crushed him emotionally, but it's not until much later that we learn that he's upset over the plane crash that killed his family. Patterson took the unnatural-feeling route of making Kit avoid thinking about such important details as "what happened" and "who it happened to," in order to up the level of suspense - unfortunately, it just comes across as bad writing.

This story wasn't very good, it was longer than it needed to be, the characters weren't enjoyable, and it held no real thrill and suspense.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • The Angel Experiment (book) by James Patterson - Like I said, as flawed as this book was, it was still better than When the Wind Blows.  Try reading about Max all over again.
  • Maximum Ride: The Manga (OEL manga) by James Patterson and NaRae Lee - For those like me, who will try anything if it's presented in visual form, this OEL manga (or manhwa?) might be worth looking into.
  • Dark Angel (live action TV series) - If you'd like another story starring a girl named Max who's been genetically engineered, has escaped the lab where she was born, and wants to find and save the genetically engineered kids she grew up with, you might want to try this.  I think there's even one point where it's explained that "Max" is short for "Maximum"...just like James Patterson's Max.
  • The Maze (book) by Catherine Coulter - This is the second book in Coulter's FBI series.  If you'd like another thriller with an FBI agent and a bit of romance in it, you might like this.  It's been a while since I read this, but I also seem to remember that some aspects of Coulter's writing reminded me of Patterson.  Or maybe not.  Like I said, it's been a while.

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