Book Review | White Space by Ilsa J. Bick

White Space Review Paige's PagesTITLE: White Space
SERIES: The Dark Passages  #1
: Isla J. Bick
: Egmont USA
: February 11, 2014
: Young Adult, Fantasy, Horror
: 560

White Space is the captivating first book of Ilsa J. Bick’s young adult fantasy series, The Dark Passages.  What starts as a cool concept evolves into a scary and unputdownable epic.  

When Emma woke up yesterday morning, life had still been pretty normal.  Well, as normal as it got for a kid with a head full of metal, killer headaches, visions that appeared more or less at random, chunks of lost time, and nowhere to go over Christmas break – page 31

17-year-old Emma is no ordinary teenager.  Her random blinks into other people’s minds are disorienting but harmless.  That is until she writes a short story about kids trapped in a mysterious house during a blizzard – which she unknowingly plagiarised from a dead author’s unpublished manuscript.  Now Emma finds herself trapped in a blizzard with a bunch of strangers, all with secrets of their own.  How are their pasts connected?  Will they survive to find out whose story they’re trapped inside?

Told from the intersecting viewpoints of the eight main characters, White Space is a fast-paced fantasy thriller with horror influences.  It revolves around the magic of reading and writing; how authors pull stories seemingly out of thin air.  But what if writing characters gave them life?  Or a dark and hungry force demanded your blood in repayment for the stories you wrote?  Most importantly, would you know fact from fiction once trapped inside a book?

The plot is a mind-bending maze of smokescreens and alternate realities.  In this intricate narrative, Bick’s insanely imaginative mind is always one step ahead.  I loved Bick’s commitment to developing her idea to its absolute limits.  A lot of fantasy books and films I’ve read and watched failed to push ideas to their full potential, but White Space left my expectations in the dust.  Admittedly, the plot is tricky to mentally map since so many narrative threads run alongside each other.  (Not to mention all the alternate realities and timelines.)  However, the great pacing helped me to follow along whenever the structure was jumpy.

Bick has a fantastic vocabulary.  For a 560 page book packed with action sequences, I expected to get bored.  However, she repeatedly surprised me with vivid descriptions that brought these scenes to violent life.  I enjoyed the scattered literary references throughout, especially repeated nods to Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There.  Not only did these help build layers of meaning, but also added to a gothic, eerie atmosphere in parts.  Bick’s word choices and literary references felt deliberate and well-edited, showcasing her genre diversity.

My God.  It’s moving.  Rima’s stomach turned a slow, gurgling somersault.  On the windscreen, the glistening, shredded, oily chunks of the thing that had been Father Preston pulsed and quivered in a slow, shambling creep.  Ropy clots of black blood peeled like inky water snakes … She could hear them, too; a high-pitched SMEEE-smeee, SMEEE-smeee, a sound of fingers smearing steam from a bathroom mirror.  Horrified, she watched as two pieces met, their seams thinning and mending, the bits of raw stygian flesh sewing themselves together into a much larger chunk that squirmed off in search of another mate.  The entire windscreen was alive with shivering, creeping flesh laboriously knitting together bit by bit – page 323

Dialogue is the only aspect worth noting that fell short of Bick’s high standard.  I felt that Emma and Rima were by far the best developed characters with the most believable voices, while Bode’s and Lizzie’s characters sometimes didn’t match their dialogue.  In Lizzie’s case, this was because Bick needed a five-year-old girl to explain the complex lore of “White Space” and “the Dark Passages”, resulting in Lizzie sounding like a 30-something Time Lord rather than a child.  Granted, Lizzie is by no means naive.  I totally forgave these dialogue/character inconsistencies because I was much too immersed in the story to care.

 The ending left me panting to read the sequel.  White Space isn’t the sort of book I typically pick up, but I’m so glad I followed Bick through the looking glass into her incredible world.  

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