Kessler’s first entry in her new Horsemen of the Apocalypse series is an engaging, quick reading, emotional punch in the guts. Or at least it was for me. The story stars 17 year old Lisabeth, an anorexic slowly staving herself to death. On the verge of suicide, she is named by the Pale Rider Death as Famine, the Black Rider, and loosed upon the world.
In just 180 pages, Kessler is able to build a story of incredible depth and personal struggle, mixed with an intriguing element of fantasy. Her interpretation of the Four Horsemen is unique to say the least, especially her Kurt Cobain-channeling Death. For anyone who has ever struggled with their inner daemons, especially as a teenager, this book will ring painfully true. Her depiction of Lisabeth’s fight with the “Thin Voice” is both enlightening and gut wrenching. I had to walk away from this book three times before I could get myself to finish it. I would argue that’s a case for how effective the writing is, not a knock.
Many of the secondary characters (and truly everyone is secondary other than our heroine Lisabeth) read as two-dimensional and static. That said, the struggle within Lisabeth and her attempts to understand and control her powers as Famine are compelling enough to make up for the lack of depth in the other characters. Kessler gives Lisabeth an ironic sense of humor which is both dark and laugh-out-loud funny, and the other horsemen, though seen only briefly, are each fascinating in their own right.
I would recommend this book to any young adult age 13 and up with a taste for fantasy, though I would caution parents and educators to be ready for some complicated emotional reactions. I would also recommend this book to adults, especially those who work with teens, as a good reminder of what it’s like being a teenager and how alien the world can feel when you’re 17 years old.