Review: The White Road by Sarah Lotz
Also by this author: The Three
Published by Mulholland Books on May 30th 2017
Genres: Horror, Horror & Ghost Stories
A cutting-edge thriller about one man's quest to discover horror lurking at the top of the world.
Desperate to attract subscribers to his fledgling website, 'Journey to the Dark Side', ex-adrenalin junkie and slacker Simon Newman hires someone to guide him through the notorious Cwm Pot caves, so that he can film the journey and put it on the internet. With a tragic history, Cwm Pot has been off-limits for decades, and unfortunately for Simon, the guide he's hired is as unpredictable and dangerous as the watery caverns that lurk beneath the earth. After a brutal struggle for survival, Simon barely escapes with his life, but predictably, the gruesome footage he managed to collect down in the earth's bowels goes viral. Ignoring the warning signs of mental trauma, and eager to capitalize on his new internet fame, Simon latches onto another escapade that has that magic click-bait mix of danger and death - a trip to Everest. But up above 8000 feet, in the infamous Death Zone, he'll need more than his dubious morals and wits to guide him, especially when he uncovers the truth behind a decade-old tragedy - a truth that means he might not be coming back alive. A truth that will change him - and anyone who views the footage he captures - forever.
The White Road will creep under your skin, fill your mind with all the ghastly things and make you leery of participating in activities like, oh, let’s say caving or mountain climbing. I was totally going to go climb Everest next year, really! Never mind that I have a bum knee, a bum ankle, and maybe I’m scared of heights and also am a wimp, maybe I could have considered it anyway. But nope. Not now. None of my more rational reasons for never climbing Everest are nearly as convincing as reading this book. My knee may hurt, but it doesn’t haunt me night and day and give me the creeps. Maybe this is fiction, maybe there really aren’t haunted caves or mountains, either way, I am very content staying planted on the ground (not beneath or above) letting other people figure that out. I will bask in the experience vividly given to me via Lotz’s book. Kind of like how I felt about cruises after reading Day Four.
Lotz has cemented herself as one of my favorite horror authors with this book. The characters are real and fascinating. The book is just downright creepy! I love it! The dark sense of humor that is layered through out is one of the things that makes her work so memorable and enjoyable for me. The vast majority of this book is from Simon’s perspective. He is blessed with this dark sense of humor, he is self deprecating, irreverent (at least in his inner thoughts), and just absolutely wonderful to read. There were a few sections from another perspective and while I did like these sections, and do think they are critical for the book, I did not love them in the same way as Simon’s perspective and it was definitely because I missed the humor. Keep in mind, this is not a criticism, those sections are necessary and good, I just missed the laughs that I was having with the rest of the book. Those types of things that you think “oh, I shouldn’t really be laughing, but damn! That is so funny! So wrong, yet hilarious!”
The story all starts because Simon and his friend want to drive more traffic to their website. It is full of lists whose titles start with things like “Top 10 most disgusting things…”. The type of lists that are all about shock value and can be summed up in one amazing click baity title. It was decided that Simon should venture down into a dangerous (and closed down) cave system, not because the descent would be scary enough, but because deep down in those caves are the bodies of three boys who became trapped and died there. With the cave system being so hard to traverse, there was just no way to recover the bodies. So why not send Simon down and film them for the website? Yeah, this is the type of disrespectful stunt they are willing to pull to gain page hits. Added bonus, Ed, his random tour guide found off a forum on the internet, is about the creepiest fucker I have ever read. Just thinking back to him makes me cringe and shudder.
In terms of traffic to their website, the caves were a hit, however, the trip down Simon’s life forever, haunting him. And wow, it’s changes in some creeptastic ways. His partner in crime decides that his next big venture (to renew interest after the traffic boost gained from the caves starts to taper) is to pull a similar stunt on Everest. Once again, sending Simon to do the dirty work. And in addition to any supernatural type of horror you might find in this book, I have to say, just the description of the vividly harsh conditions on Everest are enough to scare me away from the mountain.
Another thing I love about Simon, is he does have a conscious. He is actually quite conflicted by all of this, and it may be part of why the story really spirals for him. He just does not seem to have the energy or backbone to stand up to his friend. It is often this internal conflict that would give moments of levity as he could see the absurdity of his “mission”. Maybe this could be a lesson to listen to your conscious (and maybe choose your friends wisely). So while, Simon may do some questionable things, I found him extremely relatable and very likable.
I really can’t recommend this book enough. Seriously, I never want to meet a person named Ed. I never want to go caving. I never want to climb Everest. Just to make sure I add something positive, this book may also have shown me the appeal of curling up in a ball. All kidding aside, this is one of my favorite horror books in quite a while. I know this story will stick with me because of how much it got under my skin while reading. Absolutely loved it!!