Written by: Gabriel Dylan
Published by: Stripes Publishing – Red Eye
Synopsis: Charlie hopes that the school ski trip will be the escape from his unhappy home life he so desperately needs. But there is something wrong with the remote ski village of Kaldgellan. Something is out there, something ancient and evil, among the pines and the deep untracked drifts, watching and waiting. And when the storms blow in, Charlie and his schoolmates wake to find the resort deserted. Cut off from the rest of the world far below, as night falls the few left alive on the snowbound mountain will wish they were somewhere, anywhere else. Only ski guide Hanna seems to know of Kaldgellan’s long-buried secrets, but whether Charlie can trust her is another question…
Whiteout is the debut novel from author Gabriel Dylan and the latest entry in the Red Eye imprint of horror novels from Stripes Publishing. Reminiscent of the Point Horror imprint from the mid-nineties, the Red Eye series targets a Young Adult audience with the promise of horror and unlike the rather tame and melodramatic Point Horror range, it actually delivers. Set in an isolated ski resort in the Austrian Alps, Whiteout focuses on the gory aftermath of a ski holiday gone wrong. Attacked by mysterious creatures with razor-sharp teeth and talons, Charlie and his fellow classmates have to survive the brutal weather conditions and the bloodthirsty monsters hunting them at night or face a fate worse than death.
The concept of teens stranded in the cold mountains reminded me of the brilliant PlayStation 4 videogame Until Dawn, and I saw a lot of parallels between the two stories. Both focus on the fractious relationships between the characters and how people have to put aside their differences in order to survive. While the actual threat may differ in origin, they were visually very similar and Dylan does a brilliant job at describing the sharp, jagged movements of the beasts as they feed upon their victims. While it may be a YA horror novel, Dylan doesn’t skimp on the gore at all, creating some genuinely unsettling moments in his action sequences and being surprisingly brutal in his death count. I was shocked at how sudden the novel switches from gentle foreshadowing to all-out horror, with a particularly violent night-time scene in the hotel.
Told from multiple perspectives, Dylan introduces us to a diverse cast of characters – not all of whom are guaranteed to make it out alive – and this uncertainty fuels that sense of horror. We spent most of the book with our two main protagonists, Charlie and Hanna, and Dylan does a great job at showcasing these tragic characters – both of whom have suffered trauma in their past which is brought to the forefront during this vicious attack. I became surprisingly invested in their “will they/won’t they” relationship over the course of the book, and they made for a strong pair of heroes.
I know very little about modern YA Fiction, often equating it to the likes of Twilight and The Hunger Games, but this novel doesn’t feel watered down or specifically targeted to a younger demographic at all. Aside from its millennial (or is it Generation Z now?) cast and the occasional pointed reference to an iPhone or Xbox, I would have assumed it was written for adults. Dylan doesn’t shy away from the violence or complicated moral decisions, with a cast of characters that are continually whittled down to a small group. One scene involving a trio of survivors attempting to make their way down the mountain is particularly harrowing with its bleak, nihilistic tone and is something I didn’t expect to read in a YA horror book.
Outnumbered and overpowered, the odds are stacked firmly against the surviving students and Dylan piles on the tension with each subsequent page. The sense of isolation is palpable, and equally as terrifying as the supernatural threat that stalks. The novel definitely feels influenced by Survival Horror videogames, creating that same feeling of unease when walking the streets of Silent Hill. There are plenty of exciting action set-pieces throughout the novel that evoke a cinematic quality, riffing off the best supernatural horror movies to create a vivid reading experience. The final sequence felt hugely reminiscent of the end of Aliens, resulting in climactic confrontation that is both terrifying and exhilarating.
Whiteout is a very impressive debut novel, demonstrating Gabriel Dylan’s knack for creating strong, three-dimensional characters and maintaining a tense atmosphere throughout. More than a brainless gore-fest, Whiteout focuses on that determination to survive against the odds, pitting characters against extreme weather conditions and cannibalistic creatures of the night. Perfectly paced, and filled with well-timed twists and shocks, Whiteout is a distinctive voice in YA Fiction. It’ll definitely make you think twice about taking a skiing holiday!