Loss
by Jackie Morse Kessler, fantasy (2012)
Graphia, $8.99, ISBN 978-0-547-71215-4


The third book in Jackie Morse Kessler's Riders Of The Apocalypse series, Loss is about the Horseman of Pestilence and not, as you may think, the Horseman of Death. This is also an interesting book because, while it retains the same concept, plot-wise, as the previous two books in this series, the direction of this book is a departure of sorts. The previous two books are akin to pages from a troubled teenager's diary, the fantasy elements often coming in second to the angst. Here, however, the fantasy elements are in the front and center, and the lore is very developed compared to that in the previous two books. The end result is a far more whole and satisfying read.

Billy Ballard, at fifteen, is someone whose life could be better. His mother works around the clock to make ends meet, his grandfather has Alzheimer's disease, and Billy is the favorite punching bag of the bullies at school. The sole bright spark in his life is his friendship with Marianne, whom he'd like to kiss but doesn't have the courage to pucker up. If that isn't complicated enough for a kid to handle, he discovers one fine day that he has, due to a vow made to a scary person in his younger days (it's a long story), he is now the new Horseman of Pestilence. As the White Rider, he now has the ability to inflict deadly diseases on his enemies. A tempting gift, yes, but it's not one without a price to pay. And if Billy wants to make things right, he has to enter the fantasy woo-woo dimension and discover what happened to the previous White Rider.

This synopsis is brief and, trust me, it doesn't give you a full picture of the story within the pages of the book. It's one of those things that you have to read yourself to fully experience the whole story. Let me just say that the story is an interesting one, made even more compelling by a sympathetic and realistic protagonist and a vivid and fascinating glimpse into the lore of the setting. Instead of giving me merely a look into what makes Billy tick, I also get a good look at the dynamics between the four Horsemen, their personalities, and the world in which they live and wreak havoc in. The pacing is fine, and the pay-off is pretty good. All in all, this is a solid angst-filled tale with a good balance of teen introspection and fantasy elements. In fact, I think this is the first book in the series to date to achieve that balance.

Still, a part of me hesitates to give this book a keeper grade. I admit, this hesitation is entirely due to me. You see, I know and feel that this book is a far more solid read than the previous book, Rage. The balance of fantasy and teen angst is better, and therefore, this story should get a higher score than that book. But Rage provoked a far stronger visceral reaction in me, mostly because I recognized myself in the wounded protagonist of Rage. It's like Loss is Lana Del Ray's Born To Die ("Fear don't fail me now...") while Rage is Tori Amos's Little Earthquakes ("And I hatehateHATE disintegration, watching us wither..."). Both appeal to the little girl lost in me, but Loss never resonates as strongly as Rage. It's not this book, it's me.

The strengths of Loss also make me feel somewhat disappointed that the previous two books in this series do not showcase fantasy elements as strongly as this book. As a standalone book, Loss is sublime immersion into a teenage boy's raw angst. As part of a series, this book makes the previous two books feel even more incomplete in comparison.

I'm giving this book an 89. My brain tells me it deserves a higher score, so yeah, it's not the book, it's me.


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