30 July 2012

Loss by Jackie Morse Kessler

Fifteen-year-old Billy Ballard is the kid that everyone picks on, from the school bullies to the teachers. But things change drastically when Death tells Billy he must stand in as Pestilence, the White Rider of the Apocalypse. Now armed with a Bow that allows him to strike with disease from a distance, Billy lashes out at his tormentors...and accidentally causes an outbreak of meningitis. Horrified by his actions, Billy begs Death to take back the Bow. For that to happen, says Death, Billy must track down the real White Rider—who is lost in his memories.

In his search, Billy travels through White Rider’s life: from ancient Phrygia, where the man called King Mita agrees to wear the White Rider’s Crown, to Sherwood Forest, where Pestilence figures out how to cheat Death; from the docks of Alexandria, where cartons of infested grain are being packed onto a ship that will carry the plague, to the Children’s Crusade in France—all the way to what may be the end of the world. When Billy finally finds the White Rider, the teen convinces the man to return to the real world.

But now the insane White Rider plans to unleash something awful on humanity—something that could make the Black Death look like a summer cold. Billy has a choice: he can live his life and pretend he doesn’t know what’s coming, or he can challenge the White Rider for his Crown. Does one bullied teenager have the strength to stand his ground—and the courage to save the world?

Loss is another great Horsemen book. This one concentrates on bullying, and has another layer of dealing with Alzheimer’s disease. At the very beginning I was a bit confused as to which problem the book was dealing with just because the other books had only one issue to deal with, but I quickly resolved that and got thoroughly absorbed into the book. Billy is a very well developed character, and has a very realistic way of dealing with all the issues that are piled on him. Later on the book changes a bit and veers away from the prior two books by becoming even more fantasy with psychological time travel, which is not something I enjoyed as much as the rest of the book. I would rather that Billy dealt with his problems in the way that the prior books did, with introspection and demonstration of his problems and how other people deal with them and reassurance that the sufferer is not alone. I thought this led to a resolution that wasn’t as punchy as the other books. I did, however, enjoy the fantasy aspects and the more thorough explanations of how the horsemen worked to not only cause their designated problems but also to moderate them, doing good as well as evil. In all, this was a more complicated but worthy successor to the series that I read in a day and I will be anxiously awaiting the final book.

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