Elyse Springer’s Whiteout is very much a book of two halves, one of which I enjoyed a bit more than the other. The first half revolves around an amnesia plot, and the second around the resulting fallout; the first half is tense and terrific, but the second loses momentum and the principals are separated for most of it. I understand why, but having your leads apart for almost half a book isn’t a great idea in a romance.
When the book opens, Noah Landers is waking up with one helluva headache – and no idea of where – or who – he is. There’s a man speaking to him – a man who clearly knows him and has been taking care of him – who explains that they’re a couple, they’re holidaying at a cabin in the Colorado mountains for Christmas, and that Noah slipped on the ice and hit his head. Noah doesn’t recognise the man – Jason O’Reilly – although he does recognise that Jason is uneasy and holding something back – and that although he doesn’t know who he is, the name Noah feels… wrong somehow. Jason explains that because of the remoteness of the cabin and the bad weather conditions, it hasn’t been possible to get Noah to a hospital, but he’s speaking with a doctor regularly on the phone, and their advice about the amnesia has been not to tell Noah too much about himself and to let his memories return in their own time.
Over the next few days, Jason shows himself to be a kind and compassionate person; he’s clearly terribly upset at what happened to Noah and does everything he possibly can to ensure his comfort and aid his recovery. He’s very affectionate and loving, too, wearing his feelings for Noah on his sleeve and taking every opportunity to touch him – a hand at his elbow or his back, a touch to his face – but as random memories start to trickle back, Noah starts to see small things about the other man’s behaviour that don’t quite make sense. He begins to doubt what Jason is telling him about the doctor, and when Noah finds his cellphone buried under a pile of clothes in a drawer and listens to the messages that call him by a different name, he starts to think that something is very, very wrong.
We only get Noah’s PoV in this book, and the author uses the limited perspective brilliantly, creating a strong sense of menace and uncertainty, and conveying Noah’s palpable fear and growing paranoia in a way that cleverly plays with our expectations. Unfortunately, however, the single PoV isn’t so effective in the second half – which it’s difficult to talk about without revealing too much, but here goes.
Jason and Noah leave Colorado separately, and the story follows Noah as he returns to his life and career in NYC. But he can’t forget Jason or what happened between them, and this part of the story focuses on Noah’s desire to win Jason back as well as on his personal growth as he learns to properly examine the motivations for his actions and then works out what he wants and how to go for it. For the most part, I continued to be fully invested in the story; Noah’s longing for Jason is palpable and permeates the pages, although I can’t deny that some of my raison d’être for reading so quickly was because I was eager to reach the reconciliation! There are definitely some emotional moments here as Noah is knocked back and perseveres, but this part of the story would perhaps have worked better had it included Jason’s PoV. He’s not all that well fleshed out even when he’s a presence on the page; we know he’s handsome, rich and successful and that his long-term partner died and he was devastated. It’s clear that this relationship has a bearing on the one he forms with Noah, but it only gets some brief mentions and is never really addressed. And other than his professions of love for Noah, we know nothing further about his feelings. I can’t help feeling that a different king of structure – maybe interspersing the story of how Noah pursues Jason with flashbacks telling the story of how they got to that point – might have been a better way to maintain a consistent level of tension and interest.
So. While I would still recommend Whiteout, my final grade is a compromise. The first half is DIK-worthy while the second is… not. It isn’t horrible by any means, but I can’t deny it was something of an anti-climax coming after such a fantastic beginning.