White (Strands, 2016) examines the narrow difference between justice and revenge in this paranormal thriller.
This novel’s reluctant antihero is Trevor, a blacksmith and family man living in a dystopian Western land. Trevor’s happy life is upended when his young son, Jake, contracts a terminal illness. Traditional medicine fails Jake, so desperate Trevor resorts to consulting with the mysterious Coma Witch. She heals Jake, but her price is that Trevor must kill another young boy, Kyle. When Trevor can’t bring himself to do that, the witch murders his family in the most gruesome way possible. This sets the ill-equipped Trevor on a path to retribution: “The souls of his family could not rest until he took vengeance upon the witch, and he could not contemplate how to accomplish that while haunted by their ghostly presence.” The witch taunts Trevor as she draws him across a spectral landscape littered with technologies past. During his pursuit, he meets a shaman, Rakesh, another victim of the witch, who trains him in the use of dark and light forces. His only requirement: “You never give up. You kill her or she kills you. Those are the only two outcomes.” Imbued with the darkta power, Trevor fights the witch’s many surrogates before confronting her in a final battle in her home territory. White admirably chronicles Trevor’s journey from innocent to someone possibly as ruthless as his quarry. As the witch explains, all is not as it seems: “The truth and power of the darkta? There is nothing to fear in it. Its chaos is that which allows light to shine and it is powerful at stripping away facades and illusions.” White’s strength lies in his descriptions of the scarred landscape that Trevor must cross in his quest (“At the road’s terminus stood a white church, black shutters hanging askew like broken teeth in a crooked grin”). But the drawback here involves the book’s grim plot, starting with familicide, then never getting any lighter, and ultimately conveying the message that revenge remains a double-edged sword. In addition, the story lacks a satisfying conclusion, after pages of doom and gloom.
A cautionary dystopian tale about the redemptive qualities of retribution.