I bought ‘White Horse’ as I’d loved books like Justin Cronin’s ‘The Passage’, Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ and Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam series. From the description, this book seemed to combine aspects of all of the above, so it seemed like a safe bet.
White Horse flits back and forth between times, revealing Zoe’s story before and after the outbreak of a deadly disease that kills off a large amount of the population and causes random and extreme genetic mutations in others. Together, these two narratives weave together to build up a greater picture of events and Zoe’s role in them.
In the past, we follow Zoe’s everyday life in the run-up to the outbreak. In her therapy sessions, she obsesses over a sealed jar, unable to decide whether or not to open it. This jar comes to represent a sort of Pandora’s Box – and the pervading question left hanging for most of the novel of whether this jar truly represents something evil, or whether this is all simply in Zoe’s mind?
In the present, Zoe is making her way to the coast, hoping to find a man that is almost certainly dead. He is also the father of her unborn child. Along the way, she encounters a motley band of characters, each severely damaged in their own way, some of whom pose a very real threat in a world that is now entirely without rules.
The premise behind this was good and I felt like the story had real potential, but some parts of the plot were just a bit bizarre and I couldn’t quite make myself believe in them. I think having more of a focus on explaining the background to events, the details of the disease and the state of the physical world that Zoe finds herself in would have helped to make things seem more plausible.
The way that White Horse is written is also very different from other books in this genre. Zoe’s desperation to hang on to her sanity and her morality while her life is falling apart is a constant feature. The therapy sessions in Zoe’ past meant that she came across as quite an unreliable narrator, and I could never really be sure whether things were true or just her beliefs. This really added to the feeling that this was a place where the world has been turned upside down. However, for me, the language and descriptions were a little too woolly and passive for my liking.
This also meant that I really struggled to connect emotionally with any of the characters. I didn’t always completely understand their actions, which meant that I couldn’t truly empathise with them. I know that this is now part of a planned trilogy, so maybe characters will be given a bit more depth in later novels.
If you like apocalypse fiction, give ‘White Horse’ a go – but be prepared to be taken out of your comfort zone a little.