Like a dark horse in the jam-packed alternate reality subgenre, The White List by Nina D’Aleo snuck up on me and delivered an entertaining tale. With an espionage undertone, we are introduced to a reality where people are not what they seem. Nina D’Aleo brings to life an eerie premise where some people are genetically evolved past normal and those same people are monitored from birth to death. This couldn’t have had better timing, capitalizing on the growing fear of government in the modern age. Whether you subscribe to that fear or not, The White List brings a world that is quite believable.
Chapter 11 is watching you.
Silver is an intelligence operative working for an agency that doesn’t officially exist—beyond any government and above the law. Chapter 11 is the kind of place a person can join but never leave. And it keeps a third of the world’s population under constant surveillance. At work. On the street. In their homes.
Why? Because of Shaman syndrome.
One in three people are born with Shaman syndrome, which endows them with abilities they cannot control and do not even know they have. It is Chapter 11?s responsibility to cap and surveil these walts—as they are known—to ensure their talents don’t turn ugly for the ordinary people around them.
D’Aleo has an effortless ‘eyes wide open’ approach which brings to life the entire story, creating the fear and confusion that comes with finally awakening from a reality which has been hiding in plain sight. For me, this approach makes the story believable and makes the naivete of the main character genuine. Though predictable, the plot moves forward in a way that transports the reader into an observer role, being smarter than the protagonist but still invested in her journey to enlightenment. This tactic can leave the story feeling tired and underwhelming but D’Aleo managed to let the reader enjoy the role of spectator. For me, it was like a book version of a far game show where the audience knows what is happening but the contestant fear is genuine.The spectator feel would have been moot without the characters D’Aleo created. One of the best things was that the reader never knew which characters were in on the secret and which ones weren’t.
The story starts out with us assuming it’s a regular buddy law enforcement story with Dark the ruggedly handsome yet obnoxious guy and Silver, the neurotic yet good-hearted chick. This is all immediately turned on its head when Dark is injured and we are introduced to a host of characters. D’Aleo has a unique skill of describing characters with few words but letting the reader instantly equate that with someone they know. One of my favorite examples of this was a minor tech character who is referred to as nerdy and girlishly slim yet Silver remarks on how he’d be datable if it weren’t for his scraggly beard. At least I assume it’s scraggly because I know precisely the dorky hipster guy that D’Aleo creates. Like any good thriller, there are no bad guys or good guys. This makes everyone well rounded, from Silver’s mentor the elderly General to Feng, Silver’s gal pal who has a knack for awkwardness in body contact. Silver herself is an odd cookie. She is one of those few characters who I really want to dislike but can’t because she’s just so genuinely naive. Silver is man-crazy and has wedding on the mind despite being utterly single and can’t stand living on her own, choosing to move back in with her parents. Perhaps even more annoying is her insecurity. Despite all of this, her drawbacks are what make her point of view so interesting. She’s kind of a mess before anything happens and it’s interesting to see what happens to her sense of self when things start going to hell.
Though the overall premise is interesting, the predictability is just shy of unbearable. There were several times where I felt annoyed at Silver and wondered how she could be so blind to everything happening around her. The fact that I didn’t put The White List down is a testament to D’Aleo’s ability to ride the line of annoyance but never cross it. I kept being thrown back into the story and not think about how the way things unfolded could be seen from a mile away. In fact, the only thing that really had a lasting irritation on me is that D’Aleo kept the long held stereotype of females being healers. As someone who resents this stereotype, it stuck out like a sore thumb.
The White List is another great example of how one person’s science is another’s magic. With the introduction of an inherent mutation among the population, D’Aleo makes superpowers merely seem like the next step in evolution. She makes the reader question the definition of safety or privacy and most importantly how they can compete with each other. Ultimately, I found The White List to approach superpowers in a way that fits in well with lore of the DC and Marvel universes while appealing to fans and newcomers alike. This fast- paced story drew me in and makes me eager to see what D’Aleo brings us next.