Anne's Reviews > White Horse

White Horse by Alex Adams
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May 17, 12

Read from April 26 to May 08, 2012

Pandemic disease is only part of Adams' apocalypse. It also involves war and pesky shifts in global weather. What's more -- and to me most fascinating -- "White Horse" is a pathogen that wreaks its havoc by changing the victim's genetic structure, turning off certain switches and flipping on others. The effects of this sudden evolution range from miserable death (most of the population) to horrific somatic mutations.

A very few people seem to be immune to the plague. One is our heroine Zoe, who arrives home one day to find an enigmatic jar (or urn) in the middle of her living room. Pandora's box, anyone? The giver of this gift is one of the mysteries she must solve as the world starts collapsing around her and her interest in therapist Nick deepens from the professional to the personal.

I came to view the structure of this book as a sort of double helix, the past and present spiralling around each other, joined by causal and provocative links. Far from ruining the pace, this scheme enhanced it. The narrative drive of both "Then" and "Now" is propulsive -- I felt it might have become overwhelming without the braking that frequent switches in time provided. The frequent switches also enhance suspense and avoid abusing the reader's patience by lingering too long (or too briefly) in either narrative line. This aspect of the novel is masterfully handled.

Adams also succeeds in juxtaposing her stalwartly humane narrator with an antagonist who's chillingly beyond humanity. The Swiss consistently creeped me out while keeping me asking with Zoe, "What the fuck's WRONG with you?" Many secondary and minor characters also won me over, including a seemingly invulnerable Army officer, an autistic cub reporter looking to prove himself different in a good way, and the mythically altered Irini whom Zoe meets in the wilds of Greece.

Back to the mutations. Some mutants are truly monstrous -- I was especially terrified by the wolf-like post-humans Zoe and companions find in Italy, often locked into abandoned churches. Others, like Irini's sister, are more pathetic (yet, maybe if you think about it, awesome.) Still other mutations are subtle in their enormity, as we learn near the end of the novel. I get the impression that some mutations will be for the good, will allow for a true rebuilding of the toppled ecosystems.

The overall action is gritty without prurient dwelling on the violence and nastiness. Even so, this isn't a book for those with delicate sensibilities or a cheerful outlook on the extent to which humanity under dire stress can retain the civility bolstered by, well, civilization.

Not to give anything away, but there may be some patches of sunlight in this dark world. If so, Zoe's determined to find them, and what reader can't get behind that?

I have minor quibbles with some of the figurative language, which is noticeably pervasive. For the most part, it works, but it can also draw too much attention to itself, to the detriment of the narrative flow. A couple of Zooey's interactions with prominent figures also strained my credulity, as did a few of her "this I believe" speeches.

But overall, a read I'd recommend to all of us mutant-loving cynics with a sneaking streak of optimism. I think there will be sequels? I hope so! This world's got a lot more to show us.
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Courtney the second book, red horse, will be released in april 2013. :)


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