{review, giveaway} LOSS by Jackie Morse Kessler

A Backwards Story is happy to be a part of Jackie Morse Kessler's official LOSS Blog Tour!  Check out the tour schedule to see the list of events.  Be sure to check out my previous post to read my interview with Billy Ballard from LOSS, as well as prior reviews of both HUNGER and RAGE, not to mention last year's author interview! Earlier this week, I also talked about the Mythological Aspects of LOSS!

Title: LOSS
Author: Jackie Morse Kessler
Release Date: Out now (March 20, 2011)
Publisher: Graphia/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Received: e-ARC courtesy of Graphia/NetGalley/Jackie Morse Kessler; also purchased a finished copy this week


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?

From Goodreads

Bookworms, don't forget to check out today's interview with Billy Ballard from LOSS, as well as previous reviews of both HUNGER and RAGE!  I also interviewed Jackie last year on her RAGE Blog Tour.  Earlier this week, I also talked about the Mythological Aspects of LOSS!  Check it all out to find out more about this unique series!

LOSS is the third book in Jackie Morse Kessler's Riders of the Apocalypse quartet, though you don't need to pick up the previous two novels in order to read it. Not only is it the longest book in the series to date, it's also my current favorite (though all bets are off when BREATH comes out because, um, I LOVE Death's character!).  While both HUNGER and RAGE focus more on disorders, LOSS is more a story of circumstance.  It also explores the history of Pestilence the Conqueror in ways not previously seen in the series.

Unlike HUNGER and RAGE, which feature two girls harming themselves and in danger of dying, their disorders closely linked to their roles as Horsmen, Billy Ballard is tricked into becoming Pestilence.  He makes a deal he doesn't understand early on that comes back to haunt him later as the current crown-bearing Horsemen Pestilence lays on his deathbed.  That isn't to say that LOSS isn't without social issues at its heart.  Billy is badly buried at school, sometimes so badly beaten that I could see him dying in an encounter one day.  When he's first given Pestilence's bow with its quiver full of disease-laden arrows, Billy finds out that he can strike back at the bullies who have taunted him for so many years.  The scene where he snaps and teeters on the edge reminds me of what a student on a killing spree at school might think.  In particular, it brought Lionel Shriver's WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN to mind, a book with a scene so horrifying, I still try to forget it.  At the same time, Kessler maintains balance and shows the goodness in humans despite all the trauma we go through in life, the resilience that brings us back from the edge.  On top of the bullying issue, Kessler adds in an issue at home:  Billy's grandfather has dementia and Alzheimer's, so Billy knows a thing or two about illness when asked to be Pestilence.  People who have watched loved ones suffer from these diseases will connect with Billy, who both loves his grandfather and wishes he'd get well, but sometimes wishes he no longer suffered in such a fashion.  In my opinion, LOSS has the deepest themes running through it of the three books in the series released so far.

In addition, LOSS is heaviest on the mythology--and I don't mean Rider mythology.  Pestilence is all about insanity, the way disease can creep in and turn your mind inside out until you can't tell left from right.  When diving into the memories of the current Horseman, Billy must determine what is real and what is false, even as he feels himself going crazy in the process.  The segment is a whirlwind that, at first, can be incredibly confusing, but is designed that way on purpose.  Kessler deftly pulls the readers into Billy's mental frame of mind, which can be hard for author's to do.  The White Rider has lived for centuries, ever since he lived as King Mita, the real-life form of the legendary King Midas.  Rather than turning everything he touched to gold, however, the King can bestow life or death.  The White Rider also spent time hiding from death and shirking his duties as Pestilence in the Greenwood as Robert Hode, whose tales would later become those of an outlaw named Robin Hood.  A couple other scenarios, such as the Children’s Crusade in France, are mentioned as well, fleshing out the the fact that the Riders of the Apocalypse are not mere legend, but bound up in the stories of our everyday life.  I was always so anxious to see what story Kessler would weave into LOSS next, and never disappointed by the results.  Combined with a captivating story and a satisfying resolution, LOSS is my favorite book in the RIDERS OF THE APOCALYPSE series to date.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of LOSS will be donated to the Alzheimer's Association.  If you are planning to purchase a copy of LOSS, thank you for helping to make a difference!


I always love the cover art for his series.  For one thing, it's SHINY.  I love shiny things (maybe I was a dragon in a past life...?).  For another, the covers always feature the symbol of the novel's Horseman.  In the case of LOSS, Pestilence has both a crown and a bow (with arrows full of disease).  Finally, it's got a bit of grunge going on.  the cover isn't perfect, even though it IS shiny.  It shows that perfection doesn't exist, and adds grit, showcasing that the book has harder issues than what one might expect picking it up blind.  The books manage to retain a glossy fantasy look.

I can't wait to see what designer Sammy Yuen does next with BREATH!


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