Loss, by Jackie Morse Kessler

Another week, another review. This time it’s Jackie Morse Kessler‘s YA book Loss [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy]. This is the third book in her Riders of the Apocalypse series, but I picked it up without having read the others, and had no problem jumping into the story.

This is a book about Billy Ballard, a fifteen-year-old who is tricked into taking up the bow of Pestilence, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. But first he must confront the old Pestilence, also known as the Conqueror, who … well, let’s just say that centuries on the job have done bad things to his sanity…

It’s also a book about bullying. Because Billy is that kid. The one everybody picks on. The one who gets teased, tormented, and beat up on a regular basis. The one the teachers ignore. The one the other kids avoid so as not to become targets themselves. The one who’s learned perfectly well that platitudes like, “Just ignore it” don’t do a damned thing.

Billy’s home life isn’t much better. He lives with his mother and grandfather, where most of the energy attention goes into managing his grandfather’s Alzheimer’s, keeping him from wandering into the street, cleaning up after him, and dealing with verbal and physical outbursts.

The Four Horsemen aren’t a new idea for fantasy. Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality was probably the first horsemen series I read. But Kessler’s take is more grounded, treating both the real world and the fantastic more seriously. These are real people with real conflicts and struggles and pain.

Except for Death. He’s not a real person. He’s just a badass.

I only had two complaints. By the end of the book, I wanted to know more about the horsemen, about their magic and origins and purpose in the world. But this might be something that’s covered in the first two books, so that could be my own problem.

Secondly … well, with a book like this, you know there’s got to be some sort of resolution between the bully and the hero. Without going into detail, that resolution didn’t really work for me.

Overall though, I think Kessler has done an admirable job with Loss. Billy’s struggle with bullies, his dread of walking into certain classes, the way he plans out his schedule every day to give him the best chance of avoiding certain tormenters, it feels real and at times all too familiar. And I loved Pestilence’s horse.

The short version: I read the book in a day and a half, and I hope to go back and read the first two.

You can read about all three books on Kessler’s website.