White Space by Ilsa J. Bick

February 6, 2014 Reviews 1 ★★★

White Space by Ilsa J. BickWhite Space (Dark Passages #1) by Ilsa J. Bick
Published: February 11 2014 by Hardie Grant Ergmont
Format: eARC, 560 pages
Genres: Fantasy, Horror
Source: Publisher
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3 Stars

Seventeen-year-old Emma Lindsay has problems: a head full of metal, no parents, a crazy artist for a guardian whom a stroke has turned into a vegetable, and all those times when she blinks away, dropping into other lives so ghostly and surreal it's as if the story of her life bleeds into theirs. But one thing Emma has never doubted is that she's real.

Then she writes "White Space," a story about these kids stranded in a spooky house during a blizzard.

Unfortunately, "White Space" turns out to be a dead ringer for part of an unfinished novel by a long-dead writer. The manuscript, which she's never seen, is a loopy Matrix meets Inkheart story in which characters fall out of different books and jump off the page. Thing is, when Emma blinks, she might be doing the same and, before long, she's dropped into the very story she thought she'd written. Trapped in a weird, snow-choked valley, Emma meets other kids with dark secrets and strange abilities: Eric, Casey, Bode, Rima, and a very special little girl, Lizzie. What they discover is that they-and Emma-may be nothing more than characters written into being from an alternative universe for a very specific purpose.

Now what they must uncover is why they've been brought to this place-a world between the lines where parallel realities are created and destroyed and nightmares are written-before someone pens their end.

White Space combines elements of Inkheart, The Matrix and Inception into a twisted, mind-boggling read. Although it is enjoyable, I found it rather difficult to read – I was conscious of always working at reading it, rather than it sweeping me away.

The protagonist, Emma, randomly blinks into different lives. Her blinks span anything from seconds to a few hours, and she usually keeps doing whatever she would normally do in the mean time (completing homework, doing chores etc.) The story begins with Emma blinking out of one of these experiences to find herself in a car, on a road trip with her best friend. Her car crashes in a mysterious storm that brews around them, and she is soon joined by those who were driving in the area and come across the crash: Casey, Eric and Rima, and Bode and Chad who live in a nearby farmhouse. This is where things get weird. A fog surrounds the crash site, and separates and attacks the characters. They each experience super-creepy stuff. Meanwhile Emma struggles to keep a grip on reality (literally, she can’t figure out what’s real and what isn’t).

It wasn’t until about 70% of the way through the book that anything even remotely began to make sense – White Space is a long slog through uber confusing passages to get some semblance of a resolution. Which may be the perfect kind of thing for some people, but I always felt exhausted every time I picked up this book. The ending of White Space solidified my dislike of the plotting: it is unsatisfying in that it answers no questions and leaves Emma in a horrible predicament. I guess we’re all waiting with bated breath for the sequel.

Emma is an interesting character because I found her very malleable throughout the book. What I mean is that I couldn’t pin her down into any stereotype or trope: she’s simply Emma. This comes into play much later in the book, but it intrigued me throughout. The other characters, by contrast, fit almost too neatly into well-known stereotypes. Eric is super-hot, super-nice and super-awesome, while his brother Casey is angry and troubled and weird. Rima hides dark secrets and has unique powers. Bode and Chad seem confused and poorly drawn throughout, but I think this is intentional considering the truth behind their appearance. I think the characters are well drawn for the story because there is so much going on and the cast is fairly large, so it would have complicated things if they were as detailed as the world they were in.

Which brings me to the world. I really don’t think I can say much because I still feel like I don’t understand what the hell went on. I liked the convoluted nature of the alternate realities and the Dark Passages. It even became kind of fun to piece together the clues about the book worlds and the Dark Passages that separate them. I suspect that lurking behind all the plot twists and alternate worlds is a message of making the most of everything and an examination of what being real actually means, but I honestly didn’t dedicate too much brain-power to that.

The writing in White Space is ambitious, and I wish it had been clearer. But that’s a futile wish because that confusion is exactly what the book is going for. I found it quite dense as well, as I mentioned before, I never felt like I was reading this book to enjoy it and reading it always felt like hard work. The book tended to segue into flashbacks every time a new character was introduced, to set up their sad backstory (they all had dark childhoods and horrible parents), which broke up the rhythm and detracted from the reading experience.

Another thing that annoyed me about the writing is the constant barrage of references to popular culture, especially The Matrix. There are very few chapters that don’t contain references to that trilogy, but on a larger scale, Emma frequently makes references to contemporary TV shows and movies. I didn’t like it because it feels very short-sighted because those references won’t make sense to every audience.

There are many readers out there who will enjoy White Space and sing its praises to the sky. But I’m not one of them. I don’t mind complicated plot lines and thinking while reading, but White Space takes it to another level. I’ve enjoyed all the other books I’ve read by Bick, so I’m sad that I haven’t loved this one as well. I won’t be able to get the world out of my head, however, and will definitely be reading the rest of the series, eagerly trying to understand this world, its characters and its message.

One Response to “White Space by Ilsa J. Bick”

  1. Rochelle Sharpe

    I haven’t read anything by Bick before. I almost have, her other books interested me, but just not enough to add to my huge TBR list. But this one intrigues me and I really want to read it. I’m not sure if I’ll love it, if it’s too dark I probably won’t, but I still want to give it a try. Great review, thanks for sharing 🙂
    Rochelle Sharpe recently posted…Writing Tip Wednesday: The Right Word.

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