The apocalypse, for Zoe Marshall, starts very mysteriously. One day, when she returns from her job as a janitor at Pope Pharmaceuticals, a jar waits inside her locked apartment. While it looks innocuous enough, the terrible sense of foreboding it inspires drives her to therapy where she discusses the possible opening of the jar as if it were a dream with a therapist who, if things weren't going downhill fast, she could have a relationship with that goes beyond the professional. Unfortunately, romance is the last thing on Zoe's mind because people are dying, and the ones who aren't are changing in disturbing ways. Even as the human race dwindles, Zoe discovers a hope inside herself that sends her on a perilous journey across the world.
White Horse is a promising debut and start to a post-apocalyptic trilogy that has a winning main character fighting against all but impossible odds who is determined to maintain the goodness in her humanity despite its near extinction around her. Zoe's first-person narration features a distinctive voice that is seasoned with unexpected dark humor born of desperation. Despite the constant danger and struggle, Adams' novel doesn't give way to the soul-sucking hopelessness that runs rampant in books like Cormac McCarthy's The Road, but it doesn't shy away from the terrifying realities of a world that is coming apart at the seams. Zoe's narration alternates between the past, revealing the slow downward spiral of civilization through sickness and war, and present, as she navigates the post-apocalyptic nightmare in search of the lover she has to believe is still alive.
White Horse is packed with vivid characters, disturbing visions of a planet in the throes of a slow apocalypse, and twists that readers won't see coming. Having the "stories" converge as Zoe's past meets up with her present is a perfect plot device for keeping the pages turning. Best of all, White Horse tempts you to read its sequels without the cruel ploy of a major cliffhanger on the last page. The ending manages to walk the very fine line of being fully satisfying while also keeping readers hungry for more.
If there's any downside to White Horse, it's the occasional overblown description. Sometimes it's a little over the top to say, "Smoke is a voluminous, billowing, high-fashion cloak framing the fire, enhancing its dangerous beauty," when a simple, "the smoke billowed" would more than suffice. Adams' propensity for dramatic metaphors might take some getting used to, but once the story picks up, they become considerably less glaring and often seems to be called for in a world where nothing is like it was, and everything seems dramatic. Ultimately, White Horse is a page turning thriller of a book that paints a terrifying picture of the future but leaves room for the hopeful possibility that goodness in humanity can still win out.
Thanks to Atria Books for sending me a copy for review.