Holla, readers! Where have I been, you ask? Why, I’ve been lurking in the darker corners of the internet, hoarding all of the Vikings gifs I can get my greedy little hands on. It’s been a very productive fortnight. My entire hard-drive now consists of variations of this:
I regret nothing. YOLO and so on.
This week I’m reviewing White Horse by Alex Adams.
Try to look at that cover and not imagine an ornery Gandalf the White stamping his foot and shouting “Shadowfax, come back here at once! We’ve got to go find the Sex God of Rohan and then ride to the rescue everyone at Helm’s Deep! Shadowfax, DID YOU HEAR ME? Bad mearh*! No oats for you!”
No? It’s only me? Okay then.
Here’s the deal: Zoe is thirty years old, working as a cleaner at Pope Pharmaceuticals. It’s not a perfect job, but it pays the bills. Life goes on, tugging Zoe along with it, and for a while, she walks that ideal line separating awesome from awful. Her biggest problem is figuring out a way to get out of her sister’s dinner party… until the jar appears. She arrives home from work one morning to discover that someone has broken into her apartment. Except instead of finding anything gone, Zoe finds something that has been left, something that wasn’t there before. An opaque, stone-coloured jar that looks old, ancient, even, like something that belongs in a museum. She tries to understand why the jar terrifies her, and why she can’t bring herself to open it, but even the help of charismatic (and kind of hot) therapist, Dr. Nick Rose, isn’t enough to convince Zoe that something is about to go horribly wrong. Then, as though some sort of switch has been flipped, everything goes straight to hell. People start getting sick, sick people start dying, and the people who are left stop acting like people. The world is ending, and all Zoe can do is run.
This book was INTENSE. Because I am incapable of ambivalence, I loved it, even though it wasn’t perfect. Let’s start with the good. No, let’s call it great, because when this book was good, it was hella good. First, the subject matter. I am a sucker for anything apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic, maybe because I know that it is only in a Mad-Maxian dystopia populated by creatively-costumed bikers with a thirst for vengeance that I will truly shine, reigning as a blood-thirsty and merciless warlady known for a strict adherence to lex talionis justice and favouring creative epithets. Wait, did I lose you there? Sorry. I tend to get carried away once I get started on my post-apoc plans – er, I mean, fantasies. Yes, fantasies.
Sooo. Where were we? Oh, right, the good stuff. The structure of the book was brilliantly done. Going back and forth from the past, before the apocalypse, or then, to the present, now, the split heightened the suspense to an almost unbearable degree. It also caused me to lose several nights of sleep while I devoured the book like a kid reading Harry Potter for the first time. The unusual structure not only increased the narrative force of the numerous mysteries at the centre of the novel, it also emphasized the true extent of society’s deterioration following the pandemic that effectively ends the world. Very well done, Ms. Adams.
I also loved the writing. I’ve read some internet comments that critiqued the abundant use of metaphors and similes, but I actually found the writing quite beautiful and engaging. The use of rhetorical devices never drew me out of the story, as bad writing is wont to, but merely struck me as a stylistic choice of the author’s that, if I noticed it at all, impressed me rather than annoyed me.
And I must admit that I did like the [spoiler, maybe?] love story. I thought it was very well done, never over-shadowing the primary woman vs. post-apocalyptic world plot. Yeah, I’m a romantic. Sue me.
Now, the not so good. I didn’t really ever feel a connection to the narrator and hero of the story, Zoe. I think she could have been more fleshed out, more interesting, and less of a blank slate. That can be a problem in novels told in the first person, though, and it wasn’t a huge complaint. At least it let you project yourself into the plot, if that’s your thing. I had a bigger problem with Zoe’s – how should I put it? oh, yeah – IDIOCY. You might know by now that I am a rabid realist, even when it comes to fantasy. I need to believe, people. If, for example, a kid witnesses her father’s head getting chopped off because he didn’t realize that you should ever cross a Lannister, I am so not going to believe that she, say, jumps up and grabs her father’s sword and cuts of stupid Joffrey’s head and then live happily ever after, now, am I? No, that little girl is going to sneak away and suffer a lot and nurture a serious grudge against a long list of people while experiencing some serious PTSD. Now that is believable (and I doff my cap to you, GRRM).
Not believable is Zoe trying to adhere to some stupid pre-apocalypse code of morals (or is it ethics? I never know). No, Zoe, you don’t help people after society collapses. YOU TRAMPLE THEM INTO THE GROUND WHILE CLAWING YOUR WAY TO SURVIVAL. Duh. And that is why I will be HBIC.
I also felt the story was a bit sluggish at times. I mean, I get that you’re walking everywhere, Zoe, but can you hurry it up a little? Also, the explanation for the pandemic was either amazing or ridiculous. I still haven’t decided. One word: cats. (???) Discuss amongst yourselves. And then come back and tell me what the hell I should think.
Verdict: Read it. It’s not The Road, which is the king of all apocalypse fiction, but then again, maybe that’s a good thing because that means it will not terrify the living daylights out of you and make you want to rip out your own heart because all of the feelings are just TOO MUCH, MAN.
Best lines: Lots to choose from, but I liked: “These fringe people are smarter than the rest of us. Forced to exist on the periphery of society, they’ve developed skills suburbanized people allowed to devolve. They grow what they eat. Each member of their clan performs tasks to help the whole. While the rest of us were mourning junk food, they kept doing what their people have done for generations. Cogs in a simple, elegant machine.” (p. 206). Woo-hoo, Roma pride!!
Rating: Three and a half out of five post-apocalyptic mutant people.
Book Cat, why are you on top of the bookshelf?
Silly kitty. Later gators!
*Mearh is the singular of mearas, the preternaturally intelligent and strong breed of horses ridden by the kings and princes of Rohan. And I just out-nerded myself there, didn’t I?