ARC Review: White Horse by Alex Adams

Brooke Banks | 12:00 PM | | | | | | | | |

White Horse (White Horse #1)

by Alex Adams
Format: Paperback, 306 pages

Source: Won a Goodreads First Reads giveaway in order to give an honest review
Published: April 17th 2012 by Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Genres: Adult, Science fiction, post-apocalyptic, dystopian, horror, thriller, mystery,
Rating:  3.5 Stars.
Continue the series? Yes, high on my TBR list.
Recommend: Yes, for those who want a dark, realistic post-apocalyptic dystopian

 B&N Amazon
Opening Line:
Look at me: I don’t want my therapist to think I’m crazy.
When I wake the world is gone. Only fragments remain. And then I remember...

Her life may have taken a couple of wrong turns but thirty-year-old Zoe is trying to make the best of what she has. A part time cleaning job to pay for college, a weekly appointment with her therapist to straighten out the problems in her life. The same problems that any thirty-year-old girl would have. Nothing major. Nothing too life threatening. A few bad dreams. It's all going to be fine.

There is no other thought but survival. And so begins a treacherous post-apocalyptic trek across a desolate world in search of a life for her unborn baby.Through the remains of what was once civilization, Zoe crosses continents strewn with fellow survivors, knowing the only thing that can keep her sane is normal human decency. But acts of kindness are few and far between in a world where untold horrors exist around every corner, where food and water is in desperately short supply, and the only chance of happiness is half a world away.

*Note: This is actually the AUS Cover and blurb. I prefer this cover and think the blurb is better. There's been comment on how the US blurb is misleading and I agree. I had a whole part of dissecting the US blurb but then I found the AUS blurb, which doesn't have the same problem. I don't like the 30 year old girl bit but I think it fits generally better than the US blurb. Goodreads and most other links takes you to the US cover and blurb. 

Author Bio: (from Goodreads)

 Alex Adams was born in New Zealand, raised in Greece and Australia, and currently lives in Oregon--which is a whole lot like New Zealand, minus those freaky-looking wetas. Her debut novel, White Horse (Emily Bestler Books/Atria) hits shelves April 17, 2012. Her fingers are crossed that the world won't end before then.

Links: WebsiteTwitterFacebookGoodreads


Because brevity is not my strong suit..

  • Realistic portrayal of post apocalyptic society. Not the happy band of travelers looking out for one another, good finding it’s way through. This is sheer dumb luck, good people dying and those without scruples living another day. As dark, gritty and grim as an apocalypse would be.
  • I liked the writing style, though it could get heavy handed at times
  • I liked the characters, especially Zoe, in both Then and Now. I got a good sense of who they were, their personalities and found them personable.
  • Was hooked and intrigued by the mystery of  the jar
  • Thought the unreliable narrator was well done and I liked the journey with this extra bit of mystery.
  • LOVED the last line so much

  • Misleading Blurb. This didn’t affect my reading enjoyment but it has for others.
  • The events on the tail end of the middle, leading up the the climax are pushing it. Convenient, contrived, convoluted, and flies in the face of how realistic and grounded the rest of the book it is.  Of course, it might make sense in later books, being a trilogy and all, but I was annoyed with it while reading.
  • The villains are lackluster. Standard, bland, 2-D. Can’t even say they are the worst characters, because they are caricatures.  There’s a star missing just for this.

First,  a word of warning. There’s graphic scenes of death, murder, DIY abortion, and rape. This is not a book for the squeamish or faint of heart. The violence style isn’t the gratuitous horror/action movie type though. Often it’s described in pieces, parts, vagueness or clinical detachment - which makes what happens all the more haunting. There’s also a really misogynist douche of a bad guy and insults about weight in the beginning of the book.

Most other reviews call it hopeful and like White Horse or call it depressing and don’t like it. I didn’t see much hope, just a lone person clinging to a piece of driftwood during a hurricane , but I still enjoyed the book. Maybe I’m just more pragmatic and reserved in jumping from joy for Zoe since I immediately thought how much it would suck dying the next day. At least she made the journey worth it though. I loved how realistic it is. This book delves into the worse  side of humanity and doesn’t let us forget as repulsive as we find it - it’s still human. White Horse  is more about what’s acceptable, what ideals, what morals do you hold on to when everything else goes to hell but the reminder is there - evil is still human. It’s an intense internal struggle to deal with how one was raised when that world no longer exists and there’s the external struggle of learning to survive in a new world.  

The graphic scenes not there for shock, awe or gore factor (though it does up the ante) but because it’s being realistic. There’s terrible things going on now even with laws, prisons, and societal expectation. It’s all part of being human, as much as we try to shun and other such actions as unhuman. I love how Zoe brings this up and doesn’t go all “Slaughter the abominations!”. That viewpoint is in the book but it’s not seen as good thing. Sure, we’d all like to be noble, brave survivors saving the day and Zoe tries because she wants that too. She wants to cling to something good in a world gone dark, it’s just pesky reality gets in the way. We go on because we can, because we must, because of instinct and sometimes being a survivor really fucking sucks.  

I love how it brought up the issues of rape and abortion in a post-apocalyptic world. Hell, I worry about such things now living in a country that doesn’t respect, protect or uphold women’s rights.  I may have  problems with improbability during the  events right before the ending but the last line in this book is killer. Seriously, it’s awesome, impacting and unexpected. The villains are another sore spot for me. I found them 2-D and stereotypical. They just made me sigh, and want more instead of the stupid standard in speculative fiction.

I loved the alternating time line of Then and Now. I love the mystery and suspense of the jar.  It’s tense and things goes wrong.  Terribly wrong with little things we cling to for comfort as well as survival. Shit happens. It’s  dark, gritty, deadly and grim. What else could you expect from the apocalypse? And I was reading for the story, not a How to Survive the End of the World guide because that depends so much on how the world ended anyways. There’s plenty of other places to get that survivalist information if you want it, I just wanted a good story. While there’s a few issues with White Horse, I got what I wanted.


I liked Zoe.  Particularly her conversation moments and thoughts. I liked her sense of humor. I know others have complained about how she doesn’t accept the reality of what it takes to survive, but I don’t feel the same way. I don’t know how much it would take, how soon I would break but I don’t think I could’ve left that girl there to be abused either. I’m a survivor of abuse and rape so knowing what I’d be leaving that girl to live with would be too much to handle. If I died for it, I think it would be worth it. I know I’ve been driven to the brink of suicide because of what I went through. I’m no hero or savior but the nightmares and guilt would probably do me in if I left someone to that form of hell. So it’s die trying to do something good or die from the aftereffects of leaving her.

A lot of people don’t realize how hard it is to fight back or attack until they are put into a life and death situation. A lot of people still can’t do it, even if they want to at the time. It’s a hard thing to kill or maim, even in self-defense. Easy to say and boast about, but unless there’s training and experience it’s hard to do usually. (I do get why people question Zoe’s physical abilities but I don’t personally.) There isn’t much in depth of what Zoe went through Way Back Then, it’s just Then, which is right before everything went to shit. All things considered, like Zoe’s home defense system (I wish I had that kind of security), it’s not hard to imagine Zoe went through some stuff in her life. Or at the very least is keenly aware of the risks. We don’t get told she’s been trained to fight or anything but, again, I have no problem imagining this. We aren’t told she’s not interested in such things so it’s totally possible. Especially since on page 12 it mentions how Zoe does, well did, lifting. I just took what was there and ran with it, because I connected so much to Zoe’s character.

Villains -  This is part of the book that bugged me. Really, seriously bugged me. One of the big factors why this book lost stars. I want better villains! These villains aren’t really delved into much, just the basic coating of Evil Scientist driven to villainy and “Oh, no we’re playing God and paying the price!” crap.  I’m tired of the Vulcan Scientist trope, where anyone in science thinks the ends justify the means and don’t have empathy or feelings. Like they see emotions as a weakness. WTF?!? Am I the only one who knows actual scientists?  If this was more fleshed out, it would also help with understand the villains. With the reveal at the end, and not getting a better, fuller picture of the villain, leads some people (myself included) to question whether or not it’s phobic against a certain marginalized group of people. While I can understand the motivation of the villain and actually felt some sympathy  for them about certain things ( I’m apparently in the minority on that point) though I don’t like them and don’t support what they did. The questioning about values comes in because there’s hardly any positive portrayals of this type of character and there’s nothing good coming from this character in White Horse. I understand the villain a bit but there’s no doubt they are, as Zoe says through the book, “a crazy, murderous monster”.

To stop myself from ranting I’m just going to quote from TVTropes on my big issues here:
Whenever an Evilutionary Biologist appears on the scene — they are the most common form of villainous biologist in many games and Speculative Fiction media — be on guard for a Science Is Bad aesop to rear its ugly head.
This is especially ironic because in real biology, one of the core precepts of the theory of evolution is that it does not "improve" a species, because there is no such thing as an ideal form for a species — only what is best at surviving and reproducing in current conditions. If the environment changes, the species must adapt all over again, which is why genetic diversity (Nature's way of "hedging her bets") is usually a good thing. Moreover, assuming that a species must evolve if subjected to imposed selection pressures (or Phlebotinum-induced mutations) overlooks the harsh fact that most organisms don't adapt in the face of such challenges: they simply go extinct, which is why we're not rubbing elbows with mammoths, sauropods and trilobites today. Deliberately applying such selective forces to humans may let us join them in extinction, not improve upon our current state. Finally, evolution is conservative, and a species which is thriving (you know, like Homo sapiens) is unlikely to evolve new traits, because it's doing fine the way it is. Sharks, for example, haven't changed much since before the first dinosaurs appeared, and they're just as successful as ever...making the entire mania of the Evilutionary Biologist suspect at best. Examples of this trope will probably be German, and possibly one of Those Wacky Nazis, if we want to be really obvious.

The Writing Style

I get how the writing and style isn’t for everyone. I liked it though. All the similes and metaphors felt right to me because it’s Zoe trying to wrap her brain around the new world. She keeps thinking back how it used to be and frame what’s around her now by comparing it to how things were in the before. I found it enlightening not just for a mental picture, but also Zoe’s frame of mind and her life before. It’s not spelled out like that in the book, but that’s my feeling of it.

Because of how heavy it is in flowery, metaphors it doesn’t really sound like how some one thinks, especially not all  the time.  There are also moments that really do come off like it’s straight from Zoe’s head. So what to make of this mix?

It’s like Zoe’s head was cracked open only to find it riddled with holes like swiss cheese. A string is  weaved between these holes- whether random, fitting, forced, thoughtful, weak, strong, doubled down or stretch too thin - to make the battered brain of Zoe come to life. Humans like connected the dots, even when the dots aren’t related. It’s a natural pattern finding we all do. Zoe isn’t a reliable narrator in the first place and the events she has to deal with could crack the Earth’s core.  Zoe is in control though and her thoughts meander down the string maze of what is and what used to be. It sounds weird and disturbing. It’s not Zoe or her thoughts that are disturbing though, it’s what she’s had to go through. Reading about the worst case scenario made me mentally reel back from the horror and with the facts delivered straight or through purple prose, it gave me something to cling to.

We walk until the buildings part and then we see her: the Mediterranean. This is not the sparkling blue sea in travelogues but a dull gray cummerbund concealing the seam between a dismal sky and a cement floor. She’s no longer herself --but then neither am I.
-----pg. 112
(Talking about ships in the harbor)
    It’s a strange thing to claim kinship with objects crafted from steel, but there’s a heaviness in my bones that’s mirrored in their  submission to the sea. Although, in essence, metals are born of the earth and our bodies become earth when we’re finished with them, so perhaps there is some common ancestor. Some people are more resilient than others, some metals as pliable as flesh.

------pg. 262


Hope & The End - I don’t see this as hopeful. Apparently I’m missing something. I see it as realistic. Except for the incidents right before the ending, the climax, which pisses me off. Like really? After all the shit Zoe has been through and done she couldn’t figure out/deal with the last leg of journey  on her own without the ridiculousness?  It’s so convenient and...well, pathetic that this is how the story was forced to go. Ugh. It turns everything we know on its head and really flies in the face of everything before it. On the other hand, while I didn’t like the events right before the climax, the climax itself leaves me curious to what’s going to happen next, the implications of it all and the big picture. I’ll be reading the next books in any event.

The World Before - This is soft science fiction  with a layman protagonist. Usually, I’m more of a stickler  for details but the technology isn’t really talked about. I was enjoying the story and Zoe so much that it didn’t really matter. The focus is on the personal, the day to day, and the characters. Since it was more background, I just accepted it. There’s no doubt the speculative , so sure I’ll buy the improbable here like this cancer plague and controlling the weather. The other thing that went awry and cause readers to question is - would countries really go to war with this shit going down? Sure, I buy into that idea.

After all, how many conflicts are being fought now?  With fewer resources, people get desperate and will often risk what they have to get more so I can see going to war at such a stupid time. What you expect countries to band together and sing kumbaya? That’s far too optimistic in my opinion. In history class, we’re told how WW2 got America out of the Great Depression by taking young men off the streets leaving jobs for those left behind, the new jobs created, the funding for new and more needs for the war and all that. During the war there were regulations and restrictions (reflected in White Horse as well) but after the war we were much better off. Economists and historians have a more detailed flush out image of what actually happened and the debate is still on going on this complex subject. But I can see people supporting the war effort in any event. I mean America is already has a buffed out military complex, why not use it? I don’t want it or agree with it but hey, it’s not my finger on the red button.

Zoe’s world went completely clusterfucked in a lot of ways quickly and the citizens seemed oblivious/unprepared/stupid. However, Zoe’s an unreliable narrator. She describes the World Before at large with general sweeps, focusing more on her day to day. Her life was rather insular and uninvolved - like most of our lives. So to her to seems like the world went off the deep end and everyone was taken off guard. Now I’m sure there were some more clued in than others, and some more prepared than others. Afterall, we already have the doomsayers, the stockpilers, the conspiracy theorists, the hate groups, the nativist extremist groups, and the Patriot organizations all  prepared for various forms of The End and The Enemy but I doubt anything they have is going to make a bit of difference in the White Horse world.

Graphic Content & Age - My opinion.

I’d classify this as adult because Zoe is 30. My view about young adult content and age warnings are different than most. I don’t actually do age level suggestions since it depends so much on the individual anyways. If a 16 year old reads this book and it’s their thing, what’s the problem? That would probably be me, if I was 16 now. I read The Stand when I was 13/14. I do warnings for anyone who can’t handle content like rape. There’s plenty of adults who understandably can’t so I don’t see the need for age requirements.It’s an individual maturity, mind set and preference. Yes, I’ve mention how dark it is several times already. I just really want to get this across because a lot of low ratings mention the book being vulgar, a chronicle of death, disease and destruction, etc. So fair warning, again, because picking the right book for yourself is important.

I also bring this up because there’s a lot of talk about the abortion scene being too much. I just find it funny there are people who are okay with violence, rape, and murder, yet draw the line of “too much for young adult” with abortion. Why not? It certainly makes you think about what happens when there’s no safe options, which a lot of women are dealing with currently anyways. Funny how so soon people forget the back alley abortions that were rampant (not to mention deadly or debilitating) in America before Roe V. Wade. It’s a sickening thing being forced to go the dangerous illegal route, especially when it can be safely done. There are still women today unable to get a hold of drugs used today instead of Pre-Wade options. Does the instrument used really make a difference?

~~~~~Reality of Illegal Abortion~~~~~~~~~~

The Other

Okay, this is seriously bugging me. Not with the book, but with what people are saying about the book. If they didn’t finish it, haven’t read it, or whatever the reason then let me clarify. There are no zombies here. It is not a zombie apocalypse. This is not a zombie book. Recommending this book by saying those who like zombies/zombie apocalypse will probably like this book is one thing, saying there's a lot of zombie action in this book is another thing. It's similar, but this is a mutant plague, not a zombie one. And yes, I think it's important to know the difference. Not just to get your supernatural creatures right, but also specifically for White Horse because of the speculation about what makes us human. If The Other are mutants, not The Living Dead, it makes a difference for that point. After all, if they were zombies, then The Other are dead and the question becomes stupid. There's no question about the difference between the living and the dead, but there is questions about what's the difference between humans and monsters.

Mutants VS Zombies
These are mutants.
These are zombies.

Can you spot the difference? 

This Review is brought to you today by the letter

The sneaky snake character slithered silently into place. When found, shock rocked through my system  causing my jaw to drop, while my mind staggered back from the effect a spectacularly placed letter S.  

I was a little disillusioned with some events that just happened a few pages ago but I thought the ending was going to at least be good. Then a little letter changed EVERYTHING. 

It went from “Okay, yeah. That’s nice.” to “HOLY SHIT!”. From I’ll follow through on the next book soon enough to MUST FOLLOW NOW. One of, if not the, best part of the book. Without that letter S this book would be 3 stars. That’s a powerful little letter pulling the book up a notch.


Good, want to call it great but can't.

3.5 bats (rounded up to 4 where there are no halfies)
It would have been higher if the villains were better done and if it didn’t twist into convenient scenes  to make the ending work. It may be justified and explained in the next book but these things really bugged me while reading, which caused the my enjoyment to waver and the rating to drop.


  1. White Horse is one of the best pandemic based apocalyptic books I've read in a very long time.

    The Equation book

    1. Agreed. I just love the genre so much and while reading I thought I'd be giving 5 stars. My expectations were high so the issues I brought up were really disappointing to me. It's still a great read and I recommend it.

      I'm glad you like the book too. =)


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