Title: The White Oak
Author: Kim White
Publisher: Story Machine Studio
If you enjoy nightmares and Greek mythology with a modern twist, you’ll love The White Oak. It’s dark, imaginative and creepy.
The main character Cora falls through a sinkhole into the underworld, but she’s still alive in a world of the dead. The question is, how can she get out? Not only is the way out not obvious, but also her living presence threatens the tyrannical rule of Minos, who keeps souls trapped in a computer controlled city at the core of the earth. Minotaur, an artificial intelligence built by Minos, becomes her guide, but he’s not exactly trustworthy. Sybil, the writer of each person’s book of life and librarian for the underworld, and the ghost of her dead brother, a genius computer programmer, help her out, but mostly she stumbles blindly though this dark and incomprehensible world, trying to avoid the ‘authorities’ and find anything that will help her escape.
Aspects of Greek mythology like the River Styx and the Ferryman, appear as you would expect, but others are modernised into something quite different. For example Minotaur is something like a hologram who can read computer data on a person and recreate them, so he can appear in a myriad of different forms, often flickering like a badly tuned television set.
This strangely mechanical underworld is expertly portrayed. White’s words give us a sense of the light quality and feel of the place for all our senses, but it’s dismal. If that’s what waits for us after death then we’d better find the secret to eternal life quickly, because Kim White’s underworld is a place of torment where free will is simply out of the question. My favourite scene was the trial held by the infernal judges, a powerfully written farce, but there is no hope anywhere.
The writing was good, the characters well portrayed, the plot, pacing etc, I couldn’t fault, but the lack of hope or light in the book limited my enjoyment. I don’t enjoy nightmares, no matter how imaginative they may be, but a lot of people do, so if you’re one of them then I recommend this book. I give it 4 stars.
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