The White Road: (to Nowhere)

The White Road by Sarah Lotz science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe White Road by Sarah Lotz science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe White Road by Sarah Lotz

I’ll admit it — I’m pretty scared of Mount Everest before you populate it with ghosts. Ever since I read Jon Krakauer’s riveting nonfiction book Into Thin Air, I’ve felt a little shudder at the very thought of climbing it. So when I heard about The White Road (2017), a horror novel set on Everest, I figured it was guaranteed to freak me out in epic fashion.

Simon and his friend Thierry run a website dedicated to creepy things. The White Road begins with Simon teaming up with a sketchy older man, Ed, to explore a Welsh cave system. Some spelunkers died there years ago, and their bodies are still in the cave; Simon hopes to get footage of the corpses for the website. Simon and Ed get into trouble in the cave. Simon nearly dies, and in his most desperate moments, feels a malevolent presence at his side. Against the odds, he survives, and Thierry’s next idea is for Simon to climb Everest and film the dead bodies preserved there.

The narrative shifts gears then to the journal entries of Juliet Michaels, a mountain climber who felt a similar presence during her ascent of Everest. We then switch back to Simon as he joins a party climbing the mountain; his story will intersect with Juliet’s in a way that becomes clear later.

The White Road by Sarah Lotz science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe White Road is at its best when describing the physical dangers of the caves and the mountain. This is genuinely scary stuff! Simon is pretty unlikeable, but the situations he gets into are so riveting that I was still rooting for him.

The metaphysical horror is more vague, intentionally so; the reader is never quite sure whether it’s supernatural or psychological. Characters are drawn in broad strokes. Sarah Lotz gives Simon a tendency to liken people to celebrities, which in turn gives Lotz a shortcut whenever she needs to describe someone — Simon will immediately tell us what actor or character they resemble.

Simon’s struggles against nature, and against the presence that haunts him, culminate in an ending that left me deeply disappointed. Highlight here to view spoiler:  This is, it turns out, a Shoot the Shaggy Dog story. I felt like I’d followed this guy, whom I didn’t even like, through a harrowing series of events … for nothing. It all just seemed so pointless.  I think Lotz was trying to say something about survivor’s guilt and/or what drives people to keep risking their lives in these extreme hobbies, but the result was an anticlimactic ending.

Published in 2017. From the earth’s bowels to its highest point, he’s chasing danger…What chases him home is even more terrifying. Simon Newman thinks he’s ready to leave his mountain-climbing and caving days behind him. But to get his new website venture off the ground, he needs video. Thrilling video. Exclusive video. He chooses to tackle the Cwm Pot caves in Wales, a notorious site long since closed to the public following a tragic event. Unfortunately for Si, his guide’s as unpredictable and dangerous as the watery caverns. He escapes by pure luck. Even luckier, the gruesome clip of his near-death experience goes totally viral. Eager to capitalize on his Internet fame, Si disregards all warning signs of mental trauma and quickly embarks on another clickbait adventure — a trip to Everest. But up above eight thousand meters, in the infamous death zone, Si’s dubious morals and wits won’t be enough to guide him as he — and his camera — uncovers the horrifying truth behind a decade-old mystery. A truth that will change him — and anyone who views the footage he captures — forever.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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One comment

  1. I think I’d like the cave stuff, but that’s about it.

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