by Gabriel Dylan
Published by Stripes Publishing (Red Eye)
Available in paperback and ebook on Amazon
A school trip sees a class from Bristol taking to the Austrian slopes for a skiing holiday. When a storm rolls in, the school kids are warned that they’ll likely be snowed in for a couple of days with skiiing and any outdoor activity strictly off the agenda. What they don’t expect is to be trapped at their Austrian retreat, fighting for their survival from blood-thirsty beings in the night.
Author Gabriel Dylan puts his experience as a secondary school teacher and keen snowboarder to good use in his debut novel, WHITEOUT. Inspired by his own experience of taking a sixth form class to a remote Austrian skiing resort and getting snowed in, the young adult novel explores that very scenario but with an added threat in a fictional piece that’s reminiscent of 30 Days of Night.
Many novels find it hard to juggle a large number of characters but here Dylan does so with ease, giving each a believable persona and their own characteristics to easily identify whilst reading the story. The book opens with teenager Charlie, an outcast who doesn’t appear to have any friends in Bristol never mind in the class he’s travelled with. Unlike his school ‘mates’, he seems to be well-versed with the slopes, armed with a worn snowboard from the 90’s, suggesting that he’s been snowboarding many times before. However, he seems to be at a point in his life where he just wants to end the pain, hinting at problems back home. What better way out than with a stunning view and crisp, unridden snow – a slope in which not even the most experienced skiiers would risk their lives riding… Not even Hanna, the Austrian native and ski instructor who we first meet as wayward Charlie attempts a risky route off-piste.
Not appearing to have much time for the foreign school kids who spend time in the resort, Hanna’s description paints her as a bit of a punk rocker, if only in appearance, with her partially shaved head, black hair and nose ring. Stieg Larsson’s heroine Lisbeth Salander comes to mind, especially so a little later on in the story as she must put her social aggravations aside as the group look towards her for guidance amidst the bloodshed. Other characters in the story include a variety of personalities such as jock type rugby players Ryan, Malachi and Jordan, fitness enthusiast Shiv, comic book movie nerd Nico, quiet girls Ellie, Leandra and Poppy and the drama queen toff Tara. Whilst some could be judged as stereotypical on the surface, Dylan has made their characters that more realistic thanks to his experience working with teenagers and knowing their personalities amidst the stresses of peer pressure, social interactions and puberty.
Dylan’s story plays out quite innocently as a group of modern day teenagers sink into the comforting glow of their mobile devices at news that their skiing trip has been cut short by the weather. Surrounded by their classmates and teachers, it’s an all-too familiar scenario for those who remember staying away from home whilst on a school trip. Usually though, you’re not stuck halfway up a mountain in the middle of nowhere with the prospect of being snowed in for a few days. Dylan intensifies this idea with the exit of the locals who seem to harbouring a reason other than the storm for their hastily retreat from the remote village Kaldgellan to the valley below. The kids and the instructors, oblivious to their keen departure, simply prepare for two-to-three days indoors, unaware what waits for them in the stormy night.
Action-packed realism floods the following pages as blood splatters the crisp white snow and the kids fight for their lives. You never know which way the story is about to turn nor who will become the next victim in the seemingly never-ending night. I often wondered what I’d do in their situation if faced with the same choices as the teens. Would you stay silent and try to hide, waiting for an eventual grisly death, or would you go out and risk your neck in order to stay alive? The reactions of the characters feel true as the story develops, with Hanna remaining quite the sharp, acid-tongued individual when faced with immature questions or superficial accusations from the likes of pretty, rich kids who have no sense of hardship. Using only the tools around them that they have access to, the teens attempt to survive what lies within the storm, the book dripping with tension as their quest for survival becomes a struggle as time progresses.
As a young adult novel aimed at the older end of the spectrum, WHITEOUT hits all the right notes. It’s an enjoyable breeze to read and I found myself growing attached to the different personalities and their backstories. A little romance is thrown into the proceedings but it doesn’t feel forced whilst Dylan explores the fickle nature of teens – their choices and their squabbles.
When it comes to the villains of the piece, Dylan isn’t afraid of describing their terrifying attacks or hideous appearance. He paints a vivid picture of the monstrous creatures and their deadly actions, enough to make you glad you’re not stuck up in the Alps yourself. He manages to find a balance though between the bloodshed and the retaliation of the students so as not to dwell too much on the horror side of things.
At 359 pages, WHITEOUT is a fantastic read for both teens and adults with its fresh approach to a familiar enemy. Fast-paced and unrelenting, the book very rarely comes up for air and culminates in a thrilling ending that will surely satisfy readers. Astute author Gabriel Dylan shows he understands his target audience and by utilising his knowledge and experience, as he has done here, will only prove fruitful for his writing career.