cover image All the White Spaces

All the White Spaces

Ally Wilkes. Atria, $27 (368p) ISBN 978-1-982182-70-0

Wilkes’s debut distills 50 years of 19th-century adventure fiction—think Moby Dick, Treasure Island, Heart of Darkness—through the cataclysm of WWI, yielding a gripping narrative that is at once explorer’s yarn, trans man’s coming-of-age story, and a tale of a survivor grappling with horrors that defy definition. Jonathan Morgan’s two older brothers have become war casualties, and his method of dealing with grief is to convince their friend Harry to help him stow away on an expedition to Antarctica—the adventure his brothers had dreamed of before the war. Jonathan is soon discovered and earns acceptance among a grizzled crew scarred by ice and battle—unlike Tarlington, the expedition’s ostracized scientist whose credentials and conscientious objector status are equally derided. It’s a quarter of the way through before the ice closes in and the tone definitively shifts from gritty seafaring challenges to a desperate struggle with demons that blur the line between the supernatural and the subconscious. Wilkes takes on quite a lot, and not every thread is taut; Harry’s class consciousness, for example, is adequately described but remains unconvincing. The story’s heart, however, beats strongly throughout. Fans of historical horror will be enthralled. Agent: Oli Munson, AM Heath. (Mar.)