All The White Spaces by Ally Wilkes

All The White Spaces is a historical horror story about isolation, selfhood, and the impacts of the First World War, as a young man sneaks onto an Antarctic adventure. Jonathan Morgan stows away on the ship of famous adventurer James ‘Australis’ Randall, hoping to chase the Antarctic dreams of his two older brothers who died in the war. With the support of family friend Harry, he has to prove himself amongst the ship’s men, but as they reach their destination and disaster strikes, the crew find themselves fighting to survive the Antarctic winter in a place that seems beyond all maps, and fighting against a force that wants them dead.

Historical adventure isn’t a genre I would usually read, but the horror elements and trans man protagonist drew me in, and I’m glad they did. This was an incredibly eerie read, deeply immersive and haunted not only by a supernatural force and Antarctic isolation, but the profound impact of the First World War upon those who survived it. Split into sections based on the expedition, the novel starts slowly, building up a picture of the characters and the plans before things start to go very wrong. I did find it hard to keep up with the large cast of characters early on, maybe because this isn’t the sort of narrative I’d usually read, but I managed to keep up enough to still enjoy it, and slowly some of the main characters became apparent.

The horror is a clever combination of the mind and some kind of supernatural force, with ambiguity around what exactly is going on, and it really captures a terrifying sense of whether people are being driven mad by the situation or whether something is out there after them. There’s also a lot about masculinity in the book, not only through Jonathan getting to live as the gender he is, but in the ways all of the characters deal with different things, like reputation and betrayal, as well as emotion.

Set in a horrifyingly harsh landscape, All The White Spaces explores human nature whilst providing a tense, slowly-unfolding story of a fight for survival against something unknowable.