Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The White Oak by Kim White #review

Title: The White Oak
Author: Kim White
Publisher: Story Machine Studio, 2012
Buy link

From the outset, the premise of Kim White’s The White Oak grabbed me but, as I read, I found myself a bit torn over how I felt about the style of the storytelling. The gist of the novel is that the main character, Cora, falls into the Underworld through a sinkhole during her father’s funeral. This understandably upsets the order of things for the despotic ruler, Minos, and Cora, aided by the many-faced Minotaur and Sybil, the librarian, embarks on a journey to escape.

What would have improved the narrative for me vastly would have been additional layering. I needed to have more insight as to Cora’s motivations and emotions. Also, it is hinted that her brother, Lucas, a genius computer programmer, takes a more important part but if he’s to be more than a secondary character, I’d have liked to have seen him get a bit more of a proactive role from the outset.

White certainly has given much thought to her world-building in this tale that offers a nod at the legend of Persephone. And for that alone, for the bizarre and very much surreal landscape, the story kept me turning the pages. White’s vision is reminiscent of a Dali-esque landscape with a whiff of Neuromancer thrust in. At first I wasn’t quite sure I could suspend disbelief for the cyber theme, but White handles this well, and it added an extra dimension I found quite enjoyable once I got used to it.

The pacing lagged a bit once I got past the initial start, and while I can see White intends for this to be part of a series, I myself as a reader wasn’t sufficiently motivated to want to invest myself in what follows. I feel she could have written a longer story and concluded with better resolution, even if she wanted a cliff-hanger. Yes, the vision is nightmarish, and will probably stay with me for a long while, I just never truly engaged with the telling. The story flows like one dream sequence into another, and at times it felt like I was reading someone’s journal as opposed to really immersing myself in the adventure.

There could also be parallels to Alice’s journey through Wonderland, and for White’s supremely inventive imagination, The White Oak is worth reading. I just felt I needed a bit more oomph from the text to truly make me care about the protagonist, Cora. I give her five out of five for concept, but The White Oak falls down in execution. Still, I enjoyed this story a lot more than some of the YA offerings that are currently trending as bestsellers.

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