Kate’s Review: “White Horse”

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Book: “White Horse” by Erika T. Wurth

Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, November 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Heavy metal, ripped jeans, Stephen King novels, and the occasional beer at the White Horse have defined urban Indian Kari James’s life so far. But when her cousin Debby finds an old family bracelet that once belonged to Kari’s mother, it inadvertently calls up both her mother’s ghost and a monstrous entity, and her willful ignorance about her past is no longer sustainable

Haunted by visions of her mother and hunted by this mysterious creature, Kari must search for what happened to her mother all those years ago. Her father, permanently disabled from a car crash, can’t help her. Her Auntie Squeaker seems to know something but isn’t eager to give it all up at once. Debby’s anxious to help, but her controlling husband keeps getting in the way. Kari’s journey toward a truth long denied by both her family and law enforcement forces her to confront her dysfunctional relationships, thoughts about a friend she lost in childhood, and her desire for the one thing she’s always wanted but could never have.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book!

It is such a good time to be a horror fan right now. I’m sure I’ve said that before, but it remains true. We are getting so many varied stories with so many different perspectives and voices right now, and it makes for such rewarding and interesting reading. I saw “White Horse” by Erika T. Wurth on a few different platforms, and it took me a few times to really look into it. Once I did, however, I knew that I needed to read it. The buzz was promising and the premise really caught my eye. And once I started reading I slowly began to realize that this was going to be an awesome reading experience. “White Horse” is a fantastic horror novel from a new Indigenous voice in horror literature.

The horror elements in this book are some of the most unique moments and beats that I have read in recent memory. Wurth takes a concept that sounded pretty straightforward (a haunted bracelet that brings protagonist Kari visions of her dead mother as well as some kind of monster), but it never feels hokey and it feels fresh and original with the way she approaches it. The visions she has are unsettling bordering on scary, with the imagery of her mother Cecilia being both eerie but also filled with a deep sadness that permeates the pages. Kari, who is of of Apache and Chickasaw descent and lives in urban Denver, is realizing that her missing mother Cecilia didn’t leave, but is actually a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman, and that Kari’s visions are going to haunt her and drive her into despair if she doesn’t find out what really happened. It is clear that Wurth has a very clear idea of how she wants to construct these supernatural and real life horrors, and it works very, very well, especially since so much Indigenous culture and spiritual aspects drive the story themes. Whether it’s visions or the story of the Lofa, Wurth uses these mythologies and beliefs and fits them into the story at hand perfectly. We also get a love letter to a more familiar horror icon, as Kari’s love for Stephen King connects to her journey as she finds herself at the Stanley Hotel, where King was inspired to write “The Shining”, and this part of the book was so jovial AND creepy that it was one of the horror highlights I’d experienced in my reading this year. Wurth really captured the Stanley, from the descriptions to the history to the way that it can make a Stephen King fan feel just be stepping foot inside (as someone who visited a few years ago, it was like going back and experiencing it all over again). I loved all of these elements so much.

And Kari herself is a very compelling protagonist, for so many reasons. She is wry and funny, for one, and I loved the way she gives no fucks about how other people think of her. I love her complicated relationship with her cousin Debby, how she clings to her and loves her fiercely, and I ached over her relationship with her father, whom she cares for after he was in an accident that left him with some pretty significant brain damage. Kari is rough and tumble, but she has endured a lot of trauma and loss in her life, which also enters into the horror themes of this book. So much of the foundation for this horror story is rooted in generational and communal trauma, specifically towards Indigenous women living in modern American society. From the MMIW aspect to microaggressions Kari endures here and there to the way that addiction can strain a person and make them do monstrous things, to even aspects of the magical and supernatural systems at hand, this story is from an Indigenous lens and perspective, and it make the book stand out all the more.

“White Horse” is a must read horror novel. I urge horror fans to pick it up, because it’s phenomenal.

Rating 10: Dark and soulful, “White Horse” is an effective horror story that also examines modern Indigenous life and the trauma that can come with it.

Reader’s Advisory:

“White Horse” is included on the Goodreads lists “Magical Realism”, and “Colorado”.

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