“Adams’ fantasy is brilliant! It’s McCarthy’s The Road on hope steroids. Adams’ narrative is the prose of the world’s destruction, beautiful yet horrible. Her amazing characters are full of both hope and hopelessness in the face of death—and worse. This is what apocalyptic fiction will aspire to be from now on.” (RT Book Reviews)
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Alex Adams was born in Auckland, New Zealand, and currently lives in Portland, Oregon, with her family. Visit her website at AlexAdamsBooks.com.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
I received this Advance Reader's Copy for review from the publisher. I did not receive any compensation for my review, and the views expressed herein are my own.
Zoe Marshall is a 30 year-old woman who has been working as a janitor for Pope Pharmaceuticals in Italy. When a strange jar is left in her apartment, she is plagued with what to do with it. Because she doesn't know how to explain how she came to possess it and does not want him to think that she is crazy, she relates the story of the jar in a dream episode to her psychologist, Nick Rose. He encourages her to "take action" during her dream and turn the jar over to look at the bottom.
Zoe takes the jar to the museum to have it analyzed by curators. She soon finds that every person that has come into contact with the jar has contracted a lethal virus. Yet, Zoe remains unscathed! The virus spreads worldwide, and a televangelist has dubbed it "White Horse" after one of the Biblical Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Ninety percent of the world's population dies from the virus. Of the remaining ten percent, about half appear to be immune, like Zoe. The remaining five percent has contracted the virus and survived, although the virus has mutated their genes and they wind up anatomically different, developing such oddities as a tail, gills, or two hearts.
There is a bit of a romance between Zoe and Nick, and then Nick leaves for Greece to track down his parents to determine whether they are still alive. When Zoe discovers that she is pregnant, she sets out to find Nick. Along the way, she encounters a man referred to as "the Swiss" who is out to destroy the abominations that haven't been killed by the virus.Read more ›
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My secret passion is dystopian fiction. I usually indulge myself with young adult offerings, but the opening lines of Alex Adams' adult debut novel White Horse drew in and had me settled into my favourite reading nook (for a very long time)
"When I wake, the world is still gone. Only fragments remain. Pieces of places and people who were once whole."
I am always intrigued by what authors imagine our future might be.
Our protagonist is Zoe - a young widow who works as a cleaner at Pope Pharmaceuticals. Zoe's story is literally told in a Then and Now fashion. (which really worked for me) We start at the beginning with a mysterious jar appearing in her apartment, then cut to Zoe already on the move, trying to get to what she believes will be a safe place. The narrative cuts back and forth, from people getting sick, sicker and the world we know slowly disintegrating to almost two years in the future as Zoe makes her way across a world hardly recognizable. Ninety percent of the population is wiped out, five percent are mutating in horrific ways and the remaining five percent seem to be immune. Zoe has no idea why she hasn't succumbed to the plague, named White Horse - a reference to one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.
White Horse was a very different read. I was horrified, yet mesmerized, repelled, yet drawn in by Adams' tale. She paints a brutal, raw picture with her prose. But those prose completely capture a world turned upside down. Fair warning to gentle readers - there are scenes and descriptions that may offend some.
I'm still not quite sure how I feel about Zoe. She comes across as a very strong character, both physically and mentally and we know that she will survive.Read more ›
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Not great, but not dreck eitherDec 18 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
Others have done a synopsis of the plot, so I'll leave that out of my review. There probably are still semi-spoilers though.
I'm not sure what to say about White Horse. Was the writing good? It was decent, even though there were entirely too many similes and metaphors for my comfort and at times the writing verged on pretentious . (Seriously - metatarsals instead of toes?) Were the characters interesting? Yes. Did I care about them? Not in the least.
It was just such a dark and disturbing tale, with bits and pieces that left you going "Say what?" at various points, that I found the novel nearly impossible to finish. Yet it's hard to pin down exactly why.
For instance -the jar. A metaphor for Pandora's box? A way to get Zoe involved with Nick? A symbol for humanity? Presented first as a dream, then as reality, it simply made no sense in the context of the novel.
The sub-plot with Lisa - pregnant and then not? Was Lisa just yet another way for Lisa to show that she hasn't lost her compassion and humanity?
If 90% of the population died quickly, why the difficulty in scrounging for food?
Why was the Swiss so damned insistent on killing everyone he ran across? If he wanted Zoe, he could have taken her at any point. A lot of those scenes felt like filler - something to make the book longer and to make the Swiss appear more evil and Zoe more noble.
Add in a near-mythological trip through Italy and Greece to find Nick and things wind up seriously muddied along the way. I did finish the book, however I did so only to discover the twist at the end that other reviewers had spoken about. Otherwise, I would have tossed the book aside at about the 50% mark.
This is the first in a trilogy. Will I read the rest? No. I don't think I could wade through some of the unnecessarily flowery prose to find the meat of the story again. For my own analogy, reading this novel was like eating a peanut butter sandwich at a 5-star restaurant. You invested a lot in the sandwich yet, at the end, come away feeling vaguely dissatisfied.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
A stunning debut!April 20 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
I'm not quite sure what I expected when I started reading White Horse, but I sure didn't expect to get sucked in so much that I stayed up until 3am to finish it. Yeah, it's that good. Why is that good? Well, let's start at the beginning. Zoe Marshall seems to be your typical single, slightly aimless, 30 year old, cleaning floors at a pharmaceutical company while sympathizing with the lab rats and planning to attend college in the near future. When she comes home one day and finds a white jar in her apartment (that she didn't put there), things start to get very, very scary. People are getting sick, and Zoe's friends are dying. Environmental wars are brewing, and a plague is spreading, and if it doesn't kill you, it just might change you, in terrifying ways...
White Horse goes from Then and Now flawlessly, and told in Zoe's voice, offers one of the most chilling looks into a post apocalyptic future that I've ever read. As Zoe journey's across the world to find the man she loves, the secret of the plague's origins is unfolded (slowly and expertly), while at the same time a ruined landscape unfolds in a weather ravaged new world. You'll feel every chill, every shudder, that Zoe feels, and you won't be able to peel your eyes from the pages.
Alex Adams writing is lyrical, vivid, and chilling, and her observations on human nature are spot on. Zoe struggles to maintain her humanity in an environment that doesn't exactly foster warm and fuzzy feelings. There are things waiting in the shadows, things that used to be human, and Zoe is never safe. As steeled for survival that she is, however, she never loses sight of her compassion and her desire to help others. As good hearted as Zoe is, though, the author gives us her counterpart in a villain so nasty, so evil, the term "sympathetic villain" goes right out the window. I haven't hated a villain with quite as much venom in a long, long time. Hate's a strong word, yes, but it definitely applies with this one (this guy is deplorable.)
Make no mistake, dystopian fans, be prepared for a brutal, roller coaster ride with White Horse. There are some seriously horrifying, downright scary moments, and the author absolutely does not hold the readers hand. You will most certainly flinch, and squirm a bit, but there is nothing gratuitous here, and these moments do exactly what they're meant to do. Trust me on this one. There are messages here, too, most notably about the environment and human scientific experimentation, but they're delivered in a way that you won't mind taking your medicine. As uncomfortable as parts of this book may be, White Horse is a very realistic look at a possible future. Alex Adams takes some pretty fantastical concepts and makes them absolutely plausible, and that's what makes it so damn scary. Zoe is a heroine that we can all identify with, she's the kind of person that we should all strive to be, and her hope in the face of horrendous circumstances is brilliant to behold. The little moments of pure compassion in this book are nearly painful in their honesty, and made me want to be a better person, be just a little nicer to everyone in my life, and made me thankful for everything that I have.
White Horse moved me on many levels, and is frankly one of the best books that I've read this year. Read it, love it, then make it your mission to immediately hug everyone that will hold still, and cherish the ones you love. Yeah, I got a little sappy there, but White Horse hit me right in the soft spot. Don't tell anyone, ok? Our secret.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Decent novel, flawed by absurd coincidences.June 10 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
This is a sort of dreamy, female-focused version of The Road and, while competently written, it never particularly comes together as either a dystopian genre novel or as some sort of literary allegory. The author makes no effort to really ground the action in the physics of the world she creates; our main character just sort of drifts along, magically arriving at each successive destination despite the enormous obstacles in her path. I cared about the protagonist and was interested in the events described, but not so much that each successive logic gap didn't jar me right out of the dream world.
**light spoilers ahead**
Traveling largely by herself, in a world that has been struck by a virus that has either killed or biologically altered almost every person on Earth, our heroine manages to board what is presumably one of the last working flights, a plane that is conveniently flying from the US to Italy, and successfully navigate her way, on foot, from the Italian airport to a Greek island using only a map and a compass. Huh. I don't know that most people could successfully navigate their way out of state park with only a map and a compass, let alone get halfway around the world, walk across a country, find a working ferry and locate a tiny, unfamiliar, rural village on an island they've never seen before. And all this while scavenging food, dodging hostile survivors and avoiding a psychotic stalker. What is the statistical likelihood of this happening? What is the statistical likelihood of another person doing it too? The other hugely problematic coincidence; Whom should our heroine meet in the Italian countryside, but a close relative of her own employer. Double huh. Especially considering most of the world's population is already dead.
The author clearly intends this voyage to feel Odyssian, and the novel is laden with parallels to mythology. The effort here seems to be on building a sort of tone poem, with the novel's strongest concept that of navigating by feeling in a absurd world. And, no doubt that's a really interesting and evocative idea. Unfortunately, the manipulations necessary to make the plot work cause the book's reality to feel contrived and render the character's personal efforts meaningless. The journey ends up feeling preordained by the author rather than predestined by some sort of greater force.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
TerribleMarch 26 2013
- Published on Amazon.com
I've read a lot of books in my time and I think I have a very open mind when it comes to fantasy/paranormal/horror or whatever genre this book is trying to adhere to but there have been only TWO books that I have ever felt compelled to write a review for due their abysmal lack of anything noteworthy. Side note - As terrible as this book was (I almost expected something of this caliber to be self-published) it still doesn't top Dean Koontz's Breathless. That was the first and only (so far) book I've ever thrown across the room upon completion. But I digress. What's wrong with this book you might ask? In sum, it suffers from the worst plot structure I have ever seen. The plot jumps from 'before' to 'present' sections every two or three pages. If 'Memento' and 'Flash Forward' had a bastard child, this would be it. Moving beyond that, the plot seems constricted by what almost seems to be a story composed completely from an outline, the end result of which was a progression of events that left absolutely zero breathing room for letting the novel develop. And there was enormous potential here. I think that's what bothers me the most. One dimensional characters, 'absurd coincidences' as one reviewer studiously notes, a convoluted mess of mutant creatures, a pointless war, and a pandemic that seems like a bad joke (one minor character actually shoots herself in the head after sneezing - literally). I tried to give this a chance, I really did. But when the first chapter starts off with the incestuous rape scene of a young girl (purely for shock value it would seem) one has to wonder it there's any more substance to this than meets the eye. There isn't. Don't be fooled by the four and five star reviews - I'm still left in the dark as to how there are so many of those (friends, family maybe?). If so, you aren't doing the author any favors by promoting this. Not at all.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Tangible horror written beautifullyMay 8 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
It's hard to believe a book so beautifully written as Alex Adams' debut novel White Horse is actually about one woman's day to day survival in a world entering the Apocalypse. Her creative prose and creative imagery allows the reader to not only see, but hear and taste the horrors the protagonist, Zoe, suffers through. It's a world brought to it's knees by a multi-pronged assault created by humans: weather, technology and an insidious virus. It's aftermath leaves the few remaining humans with intact buildings and canned goods. And the threat of succumbing to the virus is constant; it has the ability to kill or horribly mutate.
Throughout the novel, the author infuses this hell with hope as Zoe desperately travels the world searching for the last person she knows and loves. It's a slim chance she will ever find him, but it drives her, and the reader, through the detritus left behind by the virus known as White Horse, so named for it's parallel to the four horses of the Apocalypse.
As Zoe travels, she meets people along the way who bring her a different perspective on her life now and the life she had then. Some are sympathetic, others bring her peace, but there is one who is pure evil. Every move this vile man makes is malicious and contemptible. He is a brutal reminder that people had to evolve to survive. Even Zoe has to make choices that appall her.
I have read a few complaints about the timeline of the story: it moves back and forth between the Now and Then in Zoe's life. But I felt it made the book richer and gave it more depth because the events in Zoe's previous life bring a better understanding of her actions now.
Like I said, it's beautifully written; it is also engrossing, intelligent and the first of a trilogy that I will definitely follow. Although it is composed in a way that could make it a stand alone novel, it's bittersweet ending opens the door for the next book.