All the White Spaces by Ally Wilkes is a survivalist horror novel set in Antarctica around the time of the First World War. After the death of his two brothers on the front, Jonathan Morgan is drawn to join the expedition of the great explorer James Australis Randall to the South Pole – though things start going awry rather quickly. It is situated squarely in the middle between historical thriller, focussed on keeping the main characters alive until the end of the story, and supernatural horror story, concerned with the strange and uncanny events that occur as part of the ordeal. This means All the White Spaces is likely to appeal to both a traditional horror/SFF audience and one that may come to this through other avenues.
Apart from the many other things I liked about this book, my favourite element was how casually queer it is in a time where this was much less commonplace than it is today. Jonathan Morgan, the main character, is a trans man. He is generally not out to the rest of the crew, and spends much of his energy worried about discovery – but being trans is only one aspect of his character, far from being his whole story. Oh, and he also happens to be gay. Which is just as much a taboo in the context of the book’s setting, so there’s that. This is handled really well, and made All the White Spaces a very positive reading experience for me.
However, the book as a whole is far slower paced than I expected from where it fits in terms of genre, and I felt that it dragged a bit in the middle parts. The story ultimately focusses more on character and the space where survival, grief and madness might interact than driving the mystery forward in a systematic way, and that is a strong factor in how well this story will work for you. The characters are well-developed and shine, especially as they are put in situations where they can only rely on themselves and their own wits for survival – which always brings out the true depths of someone’s personality. As this is set in a military and exploratory environment, the story features only male characters, which is quite unusual these days, but makes for interesting dynamics between the individual characters. And these dynamics and interactions are the strongest feature of All the White Spaces. So all in all, not a perfect book, but a very interesting one that I think will appeal to a lot of readers!