Firstly, a huge thank you to Titan Books for sending me a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Publisher: Titan Books
Publication Date: 25/01/2022
Length: 592 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction | Horror | LGBTQIA+
CW: Graphic depictions of war and death, abuse, psychosis
In the wake of the First World War, Jonathan Morgan stows away on an Antarctic expedition, determined to find his rightful place in the world of men. Aboard the expeditionary ship of his hero, the world-famous explorer James “Australis” Randall, Jonathan may live as his true self―and true gender―and have the adventures he has always been denied. But not all is smooth sailing: the war casts its long shadow over them all, and grief, guilt, and mistrust skulk among the explorers.
When disaster strikes in Antarctica’s frozen Weddell Sea, the men must take to the land and overwinter somewhere which immediately seems both eerie and wrong; a place not marked on any of their part-drawn maps of the vast white continent. Now completely isolated, Randall’s expedition has no ability to contact the outside world. And no one is coming to rescue them.
In the freezing darkness of the Polar night, where the aurora creeps across the sky, something terrible has been waiting to lure them out into its deadly landscape…
As the harsh Antarctic winter descends, this supernatural force will prey on their deepest desires and deepest fears to pick them off one by one. It is up to Jonathan to overcome his own ghosts before he and the expedition are utterly destroyed.
When this book landed on my doorstep, with a letter from the esteemed James Randall himself inviting me on the expedition, I knew that this would be the novel to break me out of my reading slump. Having been fascinated with the story of Captain Scott as a child, this novel was just shouting at me to pick it up and when I did I found myself falling in love with exploration all over again.
I just loved every aspect of this book: the characters, the creeping horror, the different pasts that haunted the present; everything just simply worked for me. The pacing of the novel was a little on the slow side, however, I think that the novel benefitted from this as it gradually built up the sense of dread and horror brilliantly. This pacing also allowed for the characters to be fully explored themselves, you begin to doubt whether the opinions you’ve formed of some of the characters are the right ones as the darkness, and the unknown, start to illustrate who these men truly are.
Jonathan was a great protagonist, I really liked how complex he was, not only was he trying to figure out his own identity and remaking himself to be the man he always knew himself to be, as well as trying to cope with the death of his beloved brothers and to always be living in their shadow. I also liked the fact we got to see him interact with Harry, who was a close friend of his brothers, as it was really interesting to see how their dynamic differed from everyone else’s on the expedition. I liked Harry from when we were first introduced to him, however, as the novel went on my heart broke for him more and more. There are a lot of tragic characters and heavy moments in this novel, however, the ones surrounding Harry hit particularly hard.
The way Wilkes handled the ‘hero’ James ‘Australis’ Randall throughout the novel was particularly interesting and refreshing. As the novel is from Jonathan’s perspective, when we first meet this formidable character, they seem so powerful and authoritative: it’s clear why Jonathan and his brothers idolised him and his previous expeditions so much. However, despite this, I liked that we still get moments where Jonathan’s belief in him wavers and you’re left with the reminder that meeting your heroes doesn’t always live up to your expectations.
Wilkes’ writing style was both beautiful and brutal, which also perfectly describes the world she has created in All the White Spaces. Although Jonathan and his brothers had always viewed these expeditions as exciting adventures, Wilkes most definitely doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities that would have been faced. Although the unknown figure stalking the group gives you a sense of unease as you read, the long dark nights and the isolation from the rest of the world were also very real horrors that would have been faced. Ones that I had never considered before, but has now put the expeditions that this novel was based on in a whole new perspective for me.
Overall, this novel is a wonderfully, unsettling, read. Reading it at night made me feel as though something was watching from the shadows. Whether you’re into historical fiction or ghost stories, this novel is definitely one you should be picking up in 2022! Wilkes has already set the bar very high for my reads this year…