Simon Newman works part time and runs a blog – Journey to the Dark Side – with his friend and flatmate, Thierry. Wanting to promote their blog and hopefully start to earn an income from it, Simon visits a closed off cave in Wales called Cwm Pot. Rumour has it that the remains of three cavers are still inside the cave, and capturing footage of their remains and displaying it on their blog is exactly the kind of macabre, attention grabbing stunt that they think will attract more visitors.
Simon manages to contact Ed, a caver who openly admits to having been in Cwm Pot, and who, for a fee, would be willing to take Simon down there, despite it having been closed for twenty or so years. Unfortunately for Simon, Ed proves to be somewhat unhinged, and the trip ends disastrously. But, Simon gets the footage that he and Thierry need, and it has the desired effect.
Looking for their next stunt, a comment on the blog results in Simon travelling to Mount Everest – the highest graveyard in the world. Hundreds of people have died trying to reach the summit, and the bodies are often not recovered. Simon is reluctant, but Thierry persuades him, and Simon joins a party heading up to the summit in order to the film the remains of those whose lives were claimed by Everest…
The above synopsis may sound a little spoilery, although it doesn’t cover anything that the blurb doesn’t tell you. The first part of the novel – 60 pages or so – covers Simon’s experiences in Cwm Pot, whilst the rest of the novel is focused on the Everest attempt.
I thought that Lotz brilliantly captured the claustrophobic nature of being underground, and this is enhanced by Simon’s nervousness of Ed, who proves himself to be more than a little unhinged. He’s an experienced caver, however, and his knowledge of Cwm Pot is essential to Simon’s endeavour. Things take a disastrous turn, however, and whilst Simon achieves the objective of filming the cavers’ remains, the footage of which soon goes viral, he only just makes it out of Cwm Pot alive.
The subsequent parts of the novels are a little different, although Lotz proves herself to be equally adept at creating tension on the vertiginous heights of Mount Everest. I won’t say too much about this part of the novel, as it’s difficult to do so without spoilers, but there are two interlinked threads to this part of the tale, which added an interesting and unexpected twist to the story. And Lotz does tell a great story – I loved The Three, and whilst The White Road is a very different story, I really enjoyed this, too.
In terms of the characters, I didn’t like Simon all that much, although I expect that this is deliberate and it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the novel at all. He’s young and lazy and comes across as a bit of a jerk if I’m being completely honest about it. I thought that I might warm to him after his Cwm Pot experience, but it didn’t happen. The other characters in the novel weren’t quite as well developed, although there is enough information about them to ensure that they aren’t just cardboard cut outs.
The White Road is likely to be compared to Michelle Paver’s Thin Air, although I thought that The White Road was the better of the two novels. If you enjoyed Thin Air, then I expect that you will also enjoy this. I didn’t find it to be scary, although it is definitely creepy and chilling in places, and I really enjoyed it.
The White Road will be published on 4 May 2017. Many thanks to Veronique Norton at Hodder & Stoughton for providing a copy for review via BookBridgr.