Tara Calaby

writer & editor

Tag: post apocalypse

Review: White Horse – Alex Adams

White Horse book coverI’ve been reading a lot of YA dystopian and post-apocalyptic books recently, so it was a nice change to pick up a more adult example of the genre. The trouble with writing for a teen audience is that you have to hold your punches a little when it come to the more horrifying aspects of a universe, whereas Alex Adams has been able to show the consequences of war and mass death with true clarity.

White Horse flits back and forth between present action and the past events that led to humanity’s demise. It’s a slow way of revealing the universe, but also a clever one. The reader is allowed to speculate upon events and to enjoy the gradual reveal, while the action of the present ensures that the novel remains a gripping read. I’m not sure it’s a technique that I would choose as a reader, but Adams carries it off well and I quickly adapted to the format.

Zoe worked well for me as a protagonist. She’s not superhuman, which I found important. The things she manages to do are prompted and powered by the survival situation she finds herself in, and her reactions generally feel realistic. Some secondary characters worked better for me than others. I found Nick quite likeable, although he was tainted somewhat for me by his enormously unprofessional and unethical pursuance of Zoe. Morris is a welcome presence during her parts of the novel, equal parts efficiency and warmth. Lisa, however, I was less convinced by. She reads a lot younger than her stated age and, for a character who is present for much of the book, I never felt like I got to know much about her. Instead, she seemed a personification of weakness and stupidity, with a large touch of shallow thrown in!

The Swiss is an interesting villain, if perhaps a little too obvious a one. I am not entirely sure about the reveal at the end, in terms of how it will sit with a group of often-maligned people (sorry, to say more would be an immense spoiler), but he is certainly a worthy – and creepy – opponent for Zoe.

White Horse itself, the disease that ravages human kind, is creative and interesting and raises all manner of questions about humanity and evolution and the costs of survival. There is a slightly paranormal feel to the effects of the disease, but it is much closer to horror than it is to the current glut of paranormal romance!

Given its genre, it’s interesting that White Horse makes such heavy use of figurative language. The vast amount of metaphor, simile and personification meant that I struggled a little to get past the language to the plot. I was heavily reminded of Mafi’s Shatter Me in this regard. There is a lot of pretty language, but it often seems to lack authenticity on the page.

Like most books seem to be these days, White Horse is the first in a trilogy. As much as I’m tiring of this phenomena, I appreciated the fact that White Horse felt complete as-is. Readers will not have to wait until the final novel for the resolution to conflicts introduced in this one. In fact, I am left wondering what other stories the trilogy will have tp tell, so I shall be very interested to see where Adams next takes her broken world. I found the ending to White Horse a little abrupt and easy, so perhaps that was a hint that there is more to come.

White Horse is a fast-paced and enjoyable read, with a clever concept and a likeable protagonist. It should be well-received by fans of its genre.

Warning: contains a non-graphic rape scene.

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Chasers – James Phelan

Chasers coverIn New York for a UN Youth Ambassadors camp, Jesse is on a subway with friends when an explosion and the subsequent fireball devastates their train and most of the people in it. They make their way above ground, only to find the city in ruins. The dead are everywhere, there is no sign of help and the other survivors have changed.

Wow, what a gripping novel Chasers is! It took me a couple of chapters to grow accustomed to Jesse’s first person voice but, once I got a little further into the book, it was extremely hard to stop reading. Now, having finished it, I’d be picking up the sequel right away if it weren’t for the fact that I have other books I’m committed to reading first.

In a lot of ways, the general storyline of Chasers is not particularly ground-breaking. It’s a fairly simple tale of post-apocalyptic survival (with added zombie-like creatures) and there isn’t a great deal that actually happens in the novel, but somehow James Phelan has managed to infuse his story with a power that goes beyond its surface appearance.

Chasers is more than the action-horror that it initially seems to be. Its strength lies in Phelan’s portrayal of the inner workings of his protagonist. The reader witnesses the changes that are wrought in Jesse by the situation he finds himself in – not so much through his own self analysis as through his interactions both with his companions and with the city around him. More than a tale of physical survival in a ravaged world, this is an exploration of the human mind and of the ways in which an individual, emotionally injured by a traumatising situation, constructs purpose and meaning in order to carry on.

Of course, Chasers is also a fast-paced novel, with plenty of suspense to keep the reader turning the pages until the mind-blowing ending. The reader is no more informed as to the circumstances leading to the destruction of New York than Jesse is, giving the book a constant feel of urgency. Chasers raises a lot of questions, few of which are answered in this, the first book in a series. Luckily, Phelan’s world and characters are interesting enough that I am more than happy to read the subsequent books in order to get some more answers.

Jesse is a sympathetic protagonist, with an authentic teen voice. He is supported by the carefully diverse characters of Dave, Mini and Anna. While it is Anna who Jesse is most enamoured of, she is possibly the least-defined of his friends. Dave is complicated and sometimes confusing, but he makes perfect sense in the end. Of the three, Mini is the most likeable. Her quiet presence adds much-needed warmth to the (necessary) bleakness of the novel.

The one thing that I struggled with while reading Chasers was the absence of quotation marks throughout most of the book. There was a reason for their exclusion, but I’m unsure as to whether the stylistic choice was clever enough to warrant the confusion it sometimes allowed.

That said, I’m willing to forgive a lot from a novel that gave me such a perfect punch to the stomach in its closing pages. It’s the ending that makes Chasers as good as it is. Once you get there, you realise just how artfully constructed the entire work is – and want to go right back to the beginning to read it all over again.

Chasers is Phelan’s first YA novel. In a growing teen market, he is definitely an author to watch.

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