The White Road by Sarah Lotz

Posted On 29 May 2017

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The White Road is the second book that I’ve read by Sarah Lotz and has definitely cemented her on my list of authors I will automatically pick up.  She has a knack for writing the sort of things that just give you the plain old creeps.  A wonderful way of wording things that make your skin prickle and give you the feeling that you’re being watched.  I simply loved this book.

At the start of the story we meet Simon Newman as he embarks on a journey through the notorious Cwm Pot caves.  Simon and his friend Thierry run a blog called ‘Journey to the Dark Side’ and in a desperate attempt to gain more traffic and turn the site into a going concern they’ve come up with a plan to go filming inside caverns that have been closed to the public following a tragic accident involving flash flooding. The TLDR is that things go wrong but the footage Simon manages to take turns the blog viral and Thierry comes up with a new plan for the next venture.  Everest.  Basically the two are taking footage of the dead and Everest is a perfect opportunity.  Not the nicest or most sensitive way to go about things but the two think they’ve hit on something and they’re not going to let morals or feelings of sensitivity get in the way.

Basically, if I hadn’t already read Miss Lotz I might have hesitated about picking this up as caving and climbing are not my usual type of read but I found this absolutely fascinating and I don’t know whether that’s down to the level of detail and descriptions or the element of fantasy realism that accompanies the adventures.  The story uses a strange phenomena now known as ‘the third man’ factor.  Shackleton was the first explorer to mention a feeling he had of being accompanied when in situations of extreme hardship and following his revelation other adventurers came forward to relate their own similar experiences.  The third man became immortalised in a poem by T S Eliot and Lotz has taken this idea and given it a dark and ghostly twist.

I won’t delve any further into the plot but let you find your own path.

What did I love about this?  Primarily it boils down to the writing.  I have no idea about caving or climbing so how well researched or believable either of these two tales are is unknown to me – but, whilst I might not know all the hard facts what I can say is that the story comes across, without doubt, as plausible and well constructed.  The first part of the story where Simon is caving – I didn’t want to leave that story at all, it was so intense I could have kept on reading – and this isn’t the primary focus of the story.  It was packed with drama and tension.  The darkness, the claustrophobia, the fear – they’re palpable.  Reading it made me scared and I was sat on a comfy chair in the living room.

Then we move onto Simon joining a team of climbers making an attempt on Everest.  Like I did, you may be thinking ‘no way would he get away with that’ – and why would he even try.  It’s dangerous enough for highly trained and experienced climbers let alone relative newbies who stopped climbing after one fall.  But again, Lotz pulls this off.  She creates a brooding atmosphere that is so believable that you’re sat on the edge of your seat reading, barely able to put the book down.  The cold, the fear, the hunger, the frost bite, the extreme exhaustion, the struggle to breath at high altitude.  Reading this certainly gives you this whole new sense of wonder and respect really for those who undertake it and Simon certainly doesn’t get off lightly in fact he pretty soon comes to realise just how much in over his head he really is as each day becomes a fight to survive.

In terms of characters – the main character is Simon.  He’s not a bad guy really.  Okay, he’s made some choices that might not be totally endearing and he’s currently climbing up a mountain with a group of people who he has lied through his teeth to.  But, I didn’t find that I disliked him.  More I felt sorry for him because he seemed unable to step away from his choices even as he was making things worse.  The climbing team is only thinly sketched really, apart from one character who shares a little page space sharing with the readers similar experiences to those that Simon is going through.  Simon does steal the show but it was interesting to read the other POV.  Then we have Ed – Simon’s original guide down through the caves.  Oh dear – what an unusual, weird and incredibly creepy guy.  Well, I say that, but maybe he was just a little unhinged.  One thing for sure – I would not have wanted him as my guide.  In point of fact Simon wasn’t overly keen on the idea but again his inability to step away, make excuses or simply say no stepped in.

Now lets talk about the whole ‘realism’ aspect of the story.  The whole issue of whether Simon is being accompanied by an ‘other’.  An apparition or maybe an hallucination caused by trauma?  What Lotz manages to do is manipulate your own fears in an expert way.  Whether you believe there is something sinister stalking Simon or whether there’s a scientific explanation underlying it all what is really clear is that his story is scary, its gripping and it will hold you until the end of the book where you’ll actually find yourself wanting more.

Okay, that’s it for me.  I had no criticisms for this at all – or at least nothing that springs to mind immediately.  I thoroughly enjoyed this, it surpassed my expectations and has pretty much cemented Lotz on my ‘go to’ list of authors.

I received a copy through Netgalley courtesy of the publisher.  The above is my own opinion.

“Who is the third who walks always beside you? 
When I count, there are only you and I together. 
But when I look ahead up the white road, 
there is always another one walking beside you”  T S Eliot, The Wasteland
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10 Responses to “The White Road by Sarah Lotz”

  1. sjhigbee

    Thank you for a great review, Lynn. This looks like another author I need to check out – in due course.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I’ve only read this and Three but I really enjoyed both – she has a great way of creeping up on you.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    You were right, I picked this one up and was immediately sucked in. I swear the first part in the caves had me short of breath and my heart racing – and I’m not even claustrophobic! Any interest I might have had in caving has been completely snuffed out. Good thing I never had any aspirations to be a mountain climber either, because nope nope nope nope nope. Just nope. The weekend I finished this novel, there was the news that 4 people had perished on Everest – reading the article chilled me to the bone.

    • @lynnsbooks

      The funny thing in – the scenes in the cave were like a bonus – I was only expecting the climbing. And yeah, I don’t know whether to be totally in awe of people climbing Everest and the like or to think they want their heads feeling! No way – not that there was ever going to be ‘a way’ but having read this give me a comfy chair and a book any day of the week.
      Lynn 😀

  3. Tammy

    Excellent review! I can’t wait to carve out a little time to read this. I don’t have a review copy but I plan to buy one.

  4. Carmen

    Oh, I love your review! I’m putting this book on my wishlist. Sooo good!

    • @lynnsbooks

      It was excellent – and it would make an excellent adaptation.
      Lynn 😀

  5. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    While I was reading your description of the harrowing atmosphere the author creates in these two environments I felt my shoulder muscles contract – and I was not reading the actual story! – which means you managed to convey the high levels of tension in this story. Indeed a book one should read while sitting in the open, while the sun is shining…
    You truly grabbed my attention – hook, line and sinker! 🙂
    Thanks for sharing.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I thought this was so tense – definitely a book to read whilst sat outside in the sun.
      Lynn 😀

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