Whoever could have thought that pairing issues of self-abuse with fantasy elements such as The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse would be a good idea? Jackie Morse Kessler did. Her series isn’t just good, either: It’s GREAT. Last year, I read and reviewed Hunger, which was about an anorexic girl chosen to become Hunger, the Black Rider. Her latest novel, Rage, centers around a cutter asked to take up the mantle of The Red Rider, War. The next book, Loss, will deal with a bullied boy who is tricked into becoming Pestilence, the White Rider. The final book, Breath, revolves around Death, The Pale Rider, though in what way, we don’t yet know. I love the way these issues are blended into fantasy novels. Teenagers suffering from such issues who wouldn’t read realistic fiction will find their way to the fantasy/paranormal books, find these books, and realize they aren’t alone. That in itself is powerful, because sometimes, this is the only way these issues can be heard. They’re written in such a way that the novels don’t seem “preachy,” which allows readers to better connect and feel for the characters. I also admire the way a portion of the proceeds from each book goes to support organizations such as the National Eating Disorders Association and To Write Love On Her Arms.
Rage is about a girl named Missy who has withdrawn from life after breaking up with her boyfriend. The only time she’s able to feel anything is when she cuts. She’s tormented at school; because she dresses in a lot of black, she’s called foul names such as “cutterslut” and “emo cutter girl.” Everything comes to a head at a major party, when life as she knows it is completely and utterly destroyed. Unlike in Hunger, there’s more of a balance within Missy. She actually wants to be War and takes up the mantle. She knows that she has issues, that cutting can kill her. She sees that her path leads to darkness. I liked how Missy was focused on more things and knew that what she was doing was wrong, but just...couldn't stop. I also like the way she embraced being a Horsemen right away, but struggled with the nature of what she had to do. Because Missy actually wants to accept her lot, we see much more of her journey. Some of the most powerful images come when she struggles to balance her own wants and needs with those of War, whom she now embodies. This was my favorite part of Missy’s journey in Rage. In Hunger, on the other hand, I most appreciated the way Kessler took us through the stages of a disorder, when Lisa didn't even know she had one. She was always denying it and couldn’t even recognize that she had symptoms such as a fuzzy tongue, lost hair, etc. that were slowly killing her. I liked different things about each novel, but both were powerful in their own way.
Death is still my favorite character, and I can’t wait until we get to his book. Kessler just finished writing Loss and has hinted that we get to see a completely different side of the Pale Rider. He’s her favorite character as well, so I can’t wait to see how he shines in book three (let alone his own). I’m so excited to read about his story and find out what makes him so interesting. I really enjoy reading about all the different Horsemen in each book and then seeing them again later on. While some Horsemen change, others stay the same, and it’s like returning to well-loved characters with each new book. I can’t wait to see where everyone is and how they have evolved in Loss.
I love these covers. They’re beautiful. They’re very symbolic and each one uses an image that represents each Horseman’s symbol of office. Famine has scales, so they dominate Hunger’s cover. War has a sword. The sword on the cover’s blade is stained red, which represents many things, from anger (‘rage,’ if you will) to death. The foil and swirls add shininess and beg readers to pick the books up because something exciting is inside. Plus, each book is only about 200 pages, making it a more practical buy for slower readers in addition to faster ones that eat books for lunch.