I’m beginning to clear through my poor neglected Netgalley shelf, and kicking it off with a review of The Last Whale by Chris Vick.
Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.
From killers to conservationists, Carnegie-shortlisted Chris Vick tells the story of three generations of the Kristensen family, their history as whale hunters and later their mission to save the great whales and our planet.
Summer, the Present
Fiery and fierce, computer geek and eco-activist, Abi is holidaying with her grandmother on an island off the Norwegian coast. Having developed and befriended an AI device, Moonlight, she hopes to organise a global protest. On the island, she learns her great-grandfather rejected the family’s whaling livelihood, instead creating the first whale song recording. Inspired by him, Abi and Moonlight translate the whales’ songs and discover their stories. Whales are under threat, their numbers rapidly dwindling. Abi is determined to help.
Autumn, 30 years later
The world’s ecosystems are collapsing. There is no sight or sound of whales. Abi, her daughter, Tonje, and a now almost conscious Moonlight live on an isolated island in the Atlantic. They search for any sign of whales, but so far there is only silence.
Winter, the Future
Tonje’s search was not in vain. Despite climate crisis and the threat of extinction, there is always hope for the future, as nature and technology combine in a captivating, action-packed adventure with a powerful environmental call to arms.
The Last Whale is ultimately a story about connection and hope.
I will admit that it took me a little while to get into this book, and I think it was more the AI element that I struggled with at first – not because it wasn’t well written or executed, but because I wasn’t quite expecting it in this story. However, that was my only hesitation with this book and it was short-lived as Vick took that element, and unfolded it into something I couldn’t have imagined at the beginning.
This is cli-fi made accessible to a younger audience. Vicks could have left it at that, because he has taken the complex and sometimes bleak outlook, that can be seen in the news, in the nature shows and everywhere today, and turned it into a clever, through-provoking and exciting story that doesn’t gloss over the topic, doesn’t pretend there is an easy fix, but ultimately offers hope. It shows that there are still steps that can be taken. That people can still make a difference. And I think that is an incredibly important message for the target audience, especially in a time where we see younger people being the loudest voice.
That would have been enough, but…
Instead, what we are given is a multi-generational family story, that shows us the power of human connection – to one another, whether in the present or across time-periods, and to nature itself. It’s a fantastic reminder of that connection, and the different ways in which we can connect to and reach out to nature – we see it in the past, with a whaler realising that there are more to the magnificent creatures they are hunting, and in the present with Abi who learns that while her activism is one tool, more is needed, to the future where we see Abi and her daughter Tonje trying to find a solution while living isolated with nature. This element is one that will resonate across the generations, just as the story crosses the generations.
Another element I found interesting is the role of technology in this book. It took me a while to warm to the AI ‘moonlight’, but what I liked was that it was a tool in the arsenal, but Vicks didn’t paint it as either the enemy or a fix-all. Climate Change and all the issues that derive from it, are not something that can just be fixed, it will take time, it will take innovation and technology…and it will take people, and their connection with both technology and the natural world. It’s a challenge, one that intensifies as the future rushes towards us – as it rushed towards Abi and Tonje in the book – but not one without hope, as Vicks shows us at the end of the book, and I think that is the most important message of this book.
This is a fantastic and important book, that takes something vital and complicated and opens it up for its audience, while delivering a story full of hope and heart, adventure and sci-fi. It was a great read, and I look forward to checking out more of Chris Vick’s work in the future.
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.