White Horse by Alex Adams

Zoe is trapped in a nightmare reality. She used to be an extremely intelligent, recently bereaved woman moonlighting as a janitor at one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the city. Then a jar suddenly appears in her apartment. Two things happen simultaneously: she feels a growing, irrational fear of the jar, and the people around her start to get sick. And all the cats nearby start to behave strangely. As readers, we know the jar is in reality a menacing item. For Zoe, her fear of the jar causes her to seek therapy. Although frustrated by Dr. Rose’s questioning and tough love approach–she pretends the jar is a dream when speaking with him—she values his perspective. As the world starts to crumble around her, Zoe thinks she may just be going mad. And Dr. Rose urges her to open the jar and face her fears. That was then. The narrative flashes back to the time before the world ended, but the main story takes place in Zoe’s terrifying present: most of the world’s population has succumbed to a strange disease dubbed White Horse (after one of the horsemen of the apocalypse), a disease that starts out like the flu and either kills the patient or irrevocably alters their DNA. As a scientist, I find any story suspect that suggests an alteration of the genetic code can so profoundly change an organism who then continues to live, but I am a sucker for a great post-apocalyptic tale, particularly those involving main characters battling nature, other people, and their own natures in order to survive. The story shifts from past to present frequently, as the revelations of the past inform the current plotline, in a measured and suspenseful way. As Zoe’s struggles reveal she is pregnant, the plotlines of both past and present take on new meaning. In the present Zoe finds herself traveling in the company of many interesting characters: the blind, abused Lisa; the menacing, stalker Swiss, whose enigmatic character provides many surprises for the reader and for Zoe herself; and a strange, prophetic oracle and her unfortunate sister. Zoe’s desperate odyssey unfolds slowly, and all those questions of where, why, how, and who eventually come to light. Although she doesn’t realize it at first, Zoe may hold the key to the survival of her entire species, just as she once unknowingly wielded the key to their destruction. Adams’ novel reads like a warped Homer, with the ever-patient Zoe journeying to find her heart’s desire rather than waiting for fate to tear it from her. What an excellent, exhilarating journey it is.

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