The White Road by Sarah Lotz

The White Road

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,...

Title:The White Road
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0316396605
Number of Pages:272 pages

The White Road Reviews

  • Mogsy (MMOGC)

    4 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum

    I’ve always held a bit of a fascination for mountaineering stories, which is really ironic considering my deathly fear of heights. Certainly I’ve never harbored any desires to scale anything more extreme than a steep hill, which is why when I first picked up Sarah Lotz’s latest novel about death and danger on Everest, I thought there would be little chance of her “ruining” mountain climbing for me the way she put me off fr

    4 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum

    I’ve always held a bit of a fascination for mountaineering stories, which is really ironic considering my deathly fear of heights. Certainly I’ve never harbored any desires to scale anything more extreme than a steep hill, which is why when I first picked up Sarah Lotz’s latest novel about death and danger on Everest, I thought there would be little chance of her “ruining” mountain climbing for me the way she put me off from cruising for a whole year after I read her shipbound horror-thriller Day Four. And yet, books like The White Road still have this way of sending chills down my spine, even when I’m reading them from the warm, cozy comfort of my living room couch.

    Our story begins in the winter of 2006, and protagonist Simon Newman and his roommate Thierry are a couple of slackers whose ambitions amount to nothing more than throwaway barista gigs at the local coffee shop and running their clickbait website on the side. At this point, YouTube stars and listicles are just starting to become a thing, and the two friends are hoping to grow their following enough to score a sweet advertising deal of their own. The idea for their big break comes when Simon first learns of the Cwm Pot caves in Wales, where several years ago a group of spelunkers had gotten trapped and died. Their site “Journey to the Dark Side” would become an internet sensation if Simon could go down there and come back with actual never-before-seen footage of the dead bodies, Thierry insists; it is the perfect material for their morbid audience.

    Unfortunately for Simon, his venture into Cwn Pot ultimately ends in disaster. But while the incident leaves him traumatized, the salvaged footage from his harrowing experience along with the ensuing media attention does propel the website into the top ranks. Eager to take their newfound popularity to the next level, Thierry proposes the idea for another attention-grabbing stunt: Now that Simon has gone deep down underground in search of corpses to film, why not go the other way this time, and do the same thing on the highest point on earth? Mount Everest is said to be the final resting place of more than 200 people; the shocking reality is that there’s very little anyone can do for those who lose their lives at such altitudes, and their remains are often unrecoverable and left where they fell, sometimes for years and years. Surely it wouldn’t be too hard for Simon to go up there and capture more footage of a couple of dead bodies, which would undoubtedly bring even more traffic to their website.

    But up above 8000 feet in the Death Zone, anything can happen. And the reality is, Simon did not emerge from Cwn Pot the same person. He is a haunted man now, after the things he’d seen in its terrifying depths, and he’s brought some of that darkness with him to the world’s highest open grave. The White Road is a story divided into three distinct sections, with the first focusing on Simon’s misadventures in the tight, twisty tunnels of the Welsh caverns. This, in my opinion, was the best part of the book. I read these first fifty pages or so feeling like my heart was stuck in my throat, the fear practically choking off my breath—and I’m not even a claustrophobe. If I had to go through even a fraction what Simon did, I would never turn a single light off in my house again, soaring electricity bills be damned. Sarah Lotz’s descriptions of the oppressive darkness and unbearably cramped spaces stirred up some of my deepest fears, and I couldn’t help but put myself in the protagonist’s place, losing hope as the underground water rose higher and higher.

    Compared to that, the rest of the book almost seemed tame, even in Part II when Simon jets off to Nepal to climb Mount Everest. There are certainly plenty of frights in this section, though in a much different way than Cwn Pot. Here, we get to see the cold, merciless nature of the mountain, dispassionate about the fates of those who attempt the summit. A few years ago, I became obsessed with Everest-related history and literature after reading The Abominable by Dan Simmons, which was one particularly dark rabbit hole I fell into. I found plenty of amazing true accounts of great feats accomplished by great people, but just as plentiful were the traumatizing stories of death and disaster. Most of the fatal incidents on Everest occur in the mountain’s oxygen-starved Death Zone, which not only pushes a climber’s body to their physical limits, but also threatens to push their minds to the brink of madness. This is where some of the vagueness in The White Road comes into play. Are the strange things experienced by the characters merely the symptoms of altitude sickness, or are there supernatural shenanigans afoot? It could go either way, and the ambiguity contributes much to the suspense.

    But while I really enjoyed The White Road, with perhaps the exception of the first section, I thought the book failed to pack the same punch as the author’s two previous novels, The Three and Day Four. This might have something to do with the structure, since the three disparate sections can make the story feel a little disjointed, especially in the beginning of Part II when we are introduced to an incidental character through a series of journal entries. There’s also an anticlimactic resolution, along with a few plot points that seemingly went nowhere and which I felt were implemented too awkwardly to be mere red herrings. Furthermore, Simon is not a very sympathetic character, and just when you think there’s hope for him yet, he pulls a reversal that makes you hate him all over again. Still, it’s hard not to feel bad for the guy, and Lotz makes getting invested in his story worth your time.

    Is it any wonder why I’m such a big fan of the author and why every new book by her automatically gets added to my must-read list? A master of the horror genre, Sarah Lotz’s talents were especially in clear evidence in this novel with its atmosphere of tangible suspense and pure, icy terror. Thoroughly entertaining and astonishingly realistic, The White Road is a gripping, high-climbing thriller which will creep its way under your skin and stay with you for a very long time (…like fingers in your heart).

  • Lisa

    Review from Tenacious Reader:

    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 r

    Review from Tenacious Reader:

    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!!

  • Blair

    Simon Newman is described as an 'adrenaline junkie' in the blurb, but really he's more of a drifter who lets himself be persuaded into risky stunts by his best mate Thierry. (The two of them run a website, 'Journey to the Dark Side', a pre-clickbait-era 'geek' forum which has attained moderate popularity due to Simon and Thierry's penchant for adding their own commentary to creepy video footage. Due to being the fitter of the two and possessing some climbing experience, Simon tends to be the gui

    Simon Newman is described as an 'adrenaline junkie' in the blurb, but really he's more of a drifter who lets himself be persuaded into risky stunts by his best mate Thierry. (The two of them run a website, 'Journey to the Dark Side', a pre-clickbait-era 'geek' forum which has attained moderate popularity due to Simon and Thierry's penchant for adding their own commentary to creepy video footage. Due to being the fitter of the two and possessing some climbing experience, Simon tends to be the guinea pig for their expeditions.) At the beginning of

    Simon is heading to Wales to explore a dangerous underground cave system – closed to the public for years after the death of a group of young cavers – with a dodgy guide he met online. Predictably, it all goes pretty badly wrong; Simon barely makes it out alive, and the trauma he experiences there will prove to be indelible.

    But then the resulting footage goes viral. Journey to the Dark Side explodes, and suddenly its creators are minor celebrities. Thierry (who's one of those friends ex machina whose parents have bucketloads of money) convinces Simon they need to go big for their next stunt: Simon should attempt to climb Everest. So – partly because he doesn't have much else to do with his life – Simon dutifully heads off to Tibet to start training for the climb. Can he escape the spectre of his terrifying experience in Wales? (What do you think?) And what does his expedition have to do with the journal, written years earlier, of a professional climber named Juliet?

    is a tale of perseverance and endurance, and it is a horror story. It inevitably reminded me of Michelle Paver's ghost stories

    and

    both of which revolve around similar expeditions. The challenges and conditions of mountain-climbing – the isolation enforced by a hostile environment, the confusion of altitude sickness, the darkness and cold and the frozen bodies left scattered across the landscape after failed expeditions – naturally lend themselves to ideas of shadowy figures, optical illusions, the mind playing tricks. If you've read anything else by Lotz, it will come as no surprise that such a master of atmosphere is adept at conjuring up incredibly eerie images and exploiting the full potential of such an inhospitable setting.

    I spent the best part of Easter Monday curled up with

    and some Creme Eggs. I knew from the start that I'd want to read this book in one go, and it was the perfect accompaniment for a duvet day – gripping, chilling and absolutely absorbing. You're thrown into the action from the very beginning; it hits the ground running and never really stops. A welcome return to form (and first-person narration!) from Lotz after the lacklustre

    I was so engrossed I didn't even mind the fact that the black page edges on the paperback proof left ink stains all over my hands.

    The White Road

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  • Laura

    If you've read

    , you know that her books sometimes get a little off-kilter in the best of ways. This one goes a bit in the direction of, I guess the best way to describe it would be: ghost story. It has an eerie horror feel where you'll end up thinking is creeping up behind you. Plus Lotz's usual atmospheric feel is present. When Simon explores the caves, I felt like I was venturing into the narrow caves with the cold rising wate

    If you've read

    , you know that her books sometimes get a little off-kilter in the best of ways. This one goes a bit in the direction of, I guess the best way to describe it would be: ghost story. It has an eerie horror feel where you'll end up thinking is creeping up behind you. Plus Lotz's usual atmospheric feel is present. When Simon explores the caves, I felt like I was venturing into the narrow caves with the cold rising water. I really felt like I was there. And when we're going up Mount Everest, I felt the cold air, the high altitude, the struggle to breathe. There is something so vivid and real about her writing that just takes you to the setting working perfectly to make readers feel the fear the characters are feeling. It's really quite brilliant. And this is why I will never stop reading Lotz.

    In

    , there are two different stories that come together later in the book. For a while, I was wondering how the two would be connected besides the fact that they're both adventure type stories. Eventually it becomes quite clear before the author even spells it out to the reader. You'll know what I mean.

    It's 2006. Simon Newman is an adrenaline junkie. He has a click-bait type website with his roommate Thierry. And in an effort to get clicks, Simon is going into the Cwm Pot caves to film dead bodies. The trip goes catastrophically wrong leaving Simon with PTSD and footage of his near-death experience. It goes viral. But to keep their website popular, they need more. Someone suggests Simon go film dead bodies on Mount Everest because it's essentially the opposite of the previous location in altitude.

    Somewhere along the line Simon's story connects with Juliet's story which is told through her journal. I can't give any more details on the plot. In regard to the formal, there are emails in addition to the journal entries interwoven in. Interestingly enough, there are connections to a poem by T.S. Eliot.

    While I was creeped out at times and live for the atmospheric setting, I still am left wishing there was more. I'm just not sure what. Certain plot points lacked resolution, which I know I should expect to some extent. It just left me feeling unsatisfied.

  • Liz Barnsley

    I just love Sarah Lotz. I've loved them all even the often maligned Day Four.

    I loved this whilst being inordinately disturbed by it – you know those times where you read something or watch something and it plays on your mind for days even weeks afterwards, leaving you feeling slightly perturbed for no reason you can put your finger on. I’m a fan of books that do that – means they really have gotten under your skin.

    ‘Who is the third who walks always beside you?’

    Yes. That.

    So with “The White Road”

    I just love Sarah Lotz. I've loved them all even the often maligned Day Four.

    I loved this whilst being inordinately disturbed by it – you know those times where you read something or watch something and it plays on your mind for days even weeks afterwards, leaving you feeling slightly perturbed for no reason you can put your finger on. I’m a fan of books that do that – means they really have gotten under your skin.

    ‘Who is the third who walks always beside you?’

    Yes. That.

    So with “The White Road” then, Sarah Lotz gives us a kind of a ghost story, with an edge of horror and a side of creepy “look behind you” vibe. Simon is not particularly likeable and falls into things – after a caving expedition goes awry he finds himself somewhat of a You Tube superstar. Trying to cash in on that his friend sends him off to climb Everest – the narrative jumps between Simon and Juliet, a previous climber, its not until much later that their two stories come together.

    Sarah Lotz as she always does writes with an atmospheric, darkly twisted tone that just gets right to the heart of things. I shivered my way through this, I was living on that mountain with Simon and with Juliet – I couldn’t look away and the night in between the two days I read this over was full of those weirdly incoherent dreams that you only half remember when you awake. For me, that’s clever, beautiful writing right there.

    I don’t want to talk about the actual plot much – there are many levels I could dissect for you but let’s not do that – Just know that if you are a fan of creepy, intense and authentic feeling stories then The White Road will tick every box for you. The author walks the line between the real and the imagined so beautifully, the mythology that she builds The White Road from – the third man factor – is enough to make you nervous to begin with. The tension and the sense of unease build inexorably over the course of the storytelling, the setting is wild and uncontrollable and that comes across brilliantly. By the end, an end that haunts, I was so involved that it was hard to leave behind.

    The White Road is chilling, in more ways than one, it is also intelligent, wonderfully written and has an enigmatic, mysterious other sense about it that will dig deep into your consciousness. From the opening claustrophobic and downright scary set up to the strangely even more claustrophobic mountain, you will get hook line and sinkered into this one – when a novel literally heightens all your senses as you read it you know you’ve got a good one.

    Highly Recommended.

  • Edward Lorn

    This wasn't terrible, but certain parts were fucking annoying.

    For one, the entire cast is garbage. All throwaways. Nobody you haven't read about a million times. In fact, these people are so generic the main character, Simon (or Si), thinks of them as Depressed Harry Potter and Hannibal Lecter, or other famous people. The cast? Nothing to see here.

    The plot is all over the place. You start out the book with a prologue that lasts 20% of the whole book. I thought the novel was gonna be about Si in

    This wasn't terrible, but certain parts were fucking annoying.

    For one, the entire cast is garbage. All throwaways. Nobody you haven't read about a million times. In fact, these people are so generic the main character, Simon (or Si), thinks of them as Depressed Harry Potter and Hannibal Lecter, or other famous people. The cast? Nothing to see here.

    The plot is all over the place. You start out the book with a prologue that lasts 20% of the whole book. I thought the novel was gonna be about Si in that cave and then I'm thrust into a different scenario and made to get to know new people. Okay. Whatever. Moving on.

    Sarah Lotz doesn't do scary well. She seems to have a very old school sense of horror: seeing things from the corner of your eye, eerie presences, hair raising on the back of your neck... That would be all well and good if she could pull it off. She doesn't. Here it comes off as cheesy and she ends up looking like a try-hard.

    Can we please stop with the goddamn blogger characters in horror fiction? The only thing horrifying about them is how unsuitable they are for horror novels. Paul Trembley proved as much in his godawful

    . They kill the terror with their text-speech.

    4 real #nojoke tl;dr but this book is totes meh

    My final complaint is the godawful formatting. I hope they fix that shit before publication because

    I did like the way Lotz wrote and the mixed up structure. That's probably the only reason this isn't a one-star review. It wasn't like everything else, and I commend her for trying something different. That being said, you need to leave epistolary style where it belongs, in the 19th century.

    In summation: I was hoping for a chiller and I got a decent mountain adventure. No big loss, as the book was provided free of charge in return for this here review.

  • Zuky the BookBum

    This is the first book I’ve read by Sarah Lotz, plus it’s the first I’ve read to do with natural, mountainess horror… and I have to say I really enjoyed it! It instantly pulls you into the story, and the writing and setting instantly creates such an atmospheric, creepy and chilling feeling.

    You do have to suspend belief for this novel. A man going down to do some caving is plausible, but the idea that Simon could climb Mount Everest after no professional training is just not believable. This didn

    This is the first book I’ve read by Sarah Lotz, plus it’s the first I’ve read to do with natural, mountainess horror… and I have to say I really enjoyed it! It instantly pulls you into the story, and the writing and setting instantly creates such an atmospheric, creepy and chilling feeling.

    You do have to suspend belief for this novel. A man going down to do some caving is plausible, but the idea that Simon could climb Mount Everest after no professional training is just not believable. This didn’t bother me an awful lot as I was so involved with the characters stories and encaptured by the fear of the situations, but I know it can be an issue for some people.

    I’m stunned at how claustrophobic and breathless this book made me feel. When we’re down in the caves with Simon, straight off, I found myself squirming and panicking as we made our way deeper into the abyss. Then those feelings were brought back to me again as we were scaling Everest and the air was getting thinner and thinner. Lotz really has a way of writing horrifying experiences! She’s also good at adding in humour to parts of the story that others would make severely intense, and I liked that we had that chance to have a bit of a mental break from all the dramatics.

    I won’t lie and say this was the most perfect book in the world, because it isn’t. I was disappointed by the final climb up Everest. It all happened to quickly, I was stunned to turn the page and find we were back down at ABC camp. It wasn’t at all as climactic as what had happened down in the caves, which seemed weird, as this was our main event!

    , the climb up Everest feels like much more like a

    to an end.

    Lotz is a master at getting you attached to characters. Simon was witty and he was tragic, by the end I felt like I knew him completely and to be honest,

    When we get to the end, that chilling, haunting end, I very nearly shed a tear. I was so attached to his character, I felt like he was worth crying for, but somehow I kept my wits about me (very unlike me!)

    Like I just mentioned, the ending is one of the best I’ve read. For me, it was everything I wanted it to be, and everything I didn’t want it to be. It was raw and terrifying. I felt a little choked up by it all.

    Overall, I think I’ve discovered a new type of book I like! I like this horror-in-the-wilderness feel so I’m definitely going to be checking out more books like this!

    Please, if you read the synopsis and thought “hmm, that sounds like it could be good”, rush out to get this! I know Lotz’s other books have garnered pretty average to poor reviews, but after this, I’m going to have to check out her other stuff.

  • Maureen

    3.5 STARS

    *Thank you to Shotsmag for my paper copy for which I have given an honest review *

    “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

    Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded

    I do not know whether a man or a woman

    -But who is that on the other side of you?”

    T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land and Other Poems

    Simon Newman is described as an 'adrenalin junkie' (though in realit

    3.5 STARS

    *Thank you to Shotsmag for my paper copy for which I have given an honest review *

    “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

    Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded

    I do not know whether a man or a woman

    -But who is that on the other side of you?”

    T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land and Other Poems

    Simon Newman is described as an 'adrenalin junkie' (though in reality he's a bit of a slacker, a drifter) His friend and colleague Thierry (with whom he runs the creepy website' Journey To The Dark-Side') persuades him to take on risky pursuits in their desire for fame and fortune.

    The story begins in the underground Cwm Pot cave system in the heart of Wales. Simon has enlisted the help of experienced caver Ed (a somewhat dodgy character) he met online. The cave system has been closed to the general public, following the deaths of a group of cavers some years previously, and their remains are still down there.

    Herein lies the real reason that Simon and Thierry have chosen this particular cave system - they want footage of the dead bodies for their website. Insensitive to the feelings of the victims’ families, they plough ahead with their mission. However, things go disastrously wrong and Simon barely escapes with his life. Internet footage goes viral, and gives them a taste of the fame they crave, but what happened down there will have lasting repercussions for Simon.

    Following on from Cwm Pot, and eager to capitalise on their internet footage, Thierry decides to send Simon to Mount Everest, to obtain video footage of the remains of climbers who'd died in their quest to reach the summit. Thierry manages to acquire the money needed for Simon to join a team who are about to climb Everest, but of course he has to keep the real reason he's there to himself.

    This was an unusual storyline, but the author captured the claustrophobic feel of the Cwm Pot cave system particularly well, ensuring that the reader experiences Simon's panic at being trapped, his desperate struggle for breath in the tiny confined spaces. Ditto his experience on Mount Everest - the sheer physical effort and determination needed to achieve success on such a difficult climb, whilst fighting altitude sickness at the same time, is to be admired. However, both in the cave systems, and on Mount Everest, Simon has experienced the 'third man' syndrome, whereby a person senses an unseen presence, usually thought to bring comfort in times of trauma, and it's this that really sets this book apart, giving the narrative a very dark feel to it.

    I found this to be quite an absorbing, though creepy tale, and the author created plenty of tension. The characters however, left a lot to be desired, there wasn't a single one with whom I felt an affinity. I still enjoyed it, and for the most part it flowed well, but I thought the story lost it's way towards the end of the book.

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