The White Road by Sarah Lotz
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Published: Out Now
RRP: £16.99 Hardback
Adrenaline-junky Simon Newman sneaks into private land to explore a dangerous cave in Wales with a strange man he’s met online. But Simon gets more than he bargained for when the expedition goes horribly wrong. He emerges, the only survivor, after a rainstorm traps the two in the cave. Simon thinks he’s had a lucky escape
And then the video of his near death experience goes viral
Suddenly Simon finds himself more famous than he could ever have imagined. Now he’s faced with an impossible task: he’s got to defy death once again, and film the entire thing. The whole world will be watching. There’s only one place on earth for him to pit himself against the elements: Everest, the tallest mountain in the world.
But Everest is also one of the deadliest spots on the planet. Two hundred and eighty people have died trying to reach its peak,
And Simon’s luck is about to run out
Human beings seem to have a desire to out ourselves into the most dangerous places often because they are just there. The drive to visit the unknown, to possibly become famous or just to prove to yourself you are not afraid can drive us into fascinating places but it can also place us in great danger. In Sarah Lotz’s latest novel we travel from the darkest and deepest caves to the top of the world and find that there are some things you really cannot escape from easily.
Our main character is Simon who when we first meet him is a coffee shop barista and in his spare time trying to create with a friend a pop culture website (it’s initially set in the early days of the net when Buzzfeed was unheard of…..cries with nostalgia). The would be media magnates have discovered that people’s love of the macabre and creepy is always a hit with the ratings so Simon is sent to investigate an abandoned cave system where three young men lost their lives ; using only a camcorder and a strange, drunk and bad-tempered guide.
What follows is an absolutely terrifying trip into caves, tunnels and underground rivers where you feel each slip, squeeze and jam in the darkest of places where death is literally waiting for one mistake. Lotz brings to life the sensations of cold, isolation and panic when Simon finds himself in a nightmare once the rain starts to flood the system. It’s paced extremely well and we follow his decsent into the earth and without spoilers his escape becoming a changed man. Now Simon is a media sensation as his video tape moves the small site into the big league but now his company needs a literally bigger mountain to climb to keep those webpage hits coming.
Alongside this story we meet Juliet a successful mountaineer recently recovering from a disastrous expedition the previous year to climb Everest. Julia is one of the rare mountaineers who scales mountains without oxygen packs and is seeking a successful climb that can restore her reputation and give her family a future but as we see she finds herself increasingly feeling to be climbing the mountain with unexpected company.
Simon and Juliet’s stories cross in the land of Nepal in an unexpected way which I will lead for you to uncover. But Lotz gives us a small supporting cast of Everest Mountaineers who have varied reasons to climb with Simon. There is an interesting split almost along class lines with many of the team members being wealthy people who are doing this as an accomplishment yet seem to ignore that their sherpas are doing all the heavy lifting and that the mountain these days is almost a conveyor belt (albeit still a deadly one if mistakes are made). There is an exploration of sexism. Juliet is pilloried in the press for daring to have a career and a child while a younger woman named Wanda is getting ogled and leered yet is easily the most technically gifted of the group. You get the sense of a pressure cooker as personalities rub against each other, secrets start to spill and bodies start to effectively die in extreme cold yet all are being pushed towards the summit.
Simon who is an interesting mix of a lost child and dreadful website guru who would sell his soul for fame yet also recognizes his flaws. He realizes the similar terrifying experiences he and Juliet share which both gives him some sense of humanity and also a drive to make money. The consequences of this being an increasing sense of no longer being alone at any time and the final third of the book ratchets the tension as he feels his mental strength wearing down and making him follow some desperate paths to be free. Lotz ability to make us feel Simon’s hidden vulnerability ismakes you want to encourage him to make the right decisions and also be terrified of the consequences if he cannot find a way out of these extreme environments he finds himself in.
As with any horror tale the journey and atmosphere are key and Lotz has a unique ability to make these far off or well hidden places come alive but also add a human dimension (who sometimes can be even scarier than anything else). It’s a very intimate tale but still with mysteries to uncover and you will find yourself feeling cold and dark even in spring time so I’d really recommend this trip…just don’t forget to bring a light.