White Horse ★ ★ ★
Atria/Emily Bestler Books, 2012
Bottom line, this book has a lot to recommend it: it is a dark, dream-like, post-apocalyptic landscape with sharp turns and compelling plot twists. I experienced a few moments of genuine shock (remarkable for a jaded reader like myself) and not once did I ever want to stop reading. I just had to know how it was all going to come out. The only way to really know if this book is for you is to go on this journey with Zoe, our narrator, and see for yourself.
This is one of those books that when I finished it, I sat for a moment and didn’t know quite what to do with myself, pondering “what the hell did I just read?”
Zoe is a difficult narrator to get to know. She speaks and thinks in metaphors and similes (more on that later). Part of her story is constructed of remembrances of things past — the THEN — the other half is told in urgent tones of events unfolding in the moment — the NOW. While Zoe’s story is sympathetic, it took me a long while to warm up to her, even when the only religion she has in this dead and deformed new world is to hold on to the last remnants of her humanity. This means rushing in to “do the right thing” even when the choice to do so is stupid, dangerous or even meaningless.
But her compulsion brings some interesting people into her fractured life, and some monsters as well.
About those metaphors and similes? This is probably what irritated me the most about the book, for if a strong-willed editor had cut half of the flowery phrases from the myriad of thousands to choose from I could see myself giving the novel four stars no problem. Unfortunately, all of the “like a” and “as a” sentences often took me right out of the story, standing out like heavy oak coffee tables that you stub your toe on in the middle of the night (see what I did there?)
Not all of the language in this book makes you want to howl and curse in pain. Some of it is quite beautiful, poetic, startling even. It creates a pall over the story, a tension and a mystery. Zoe’s dreamlike narration made me feel like I was moving through heavy water. When the jolts come (and they do, trust me), they really bite you because you’ve been lulled into a state of complacency.
I did warm up to Zoe eventually, and I keened for a happy ending. White Horse is the first book of a planned trilogy, but the good news is, it ably stands as a complete and satisfying story for those readers wary of committing to yet another series. I’ve also just discovered that the sequel – Red Horse – follows the story of a completely different character.