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? (Goodreads)

The Story:

Billy Ballard is bullied on a regular basis.  And when he gets home each day from that crapfest, he’s babysitter to his ailing grandfather, the man who is now only a shell of the guy who was once his hero, any distinguishing qualities of his old personality having long been stolen by Alzheimer’s.  Billy’s mother, dear and kind as she is, is always at work in an attempt to cover her father’s rising medical costs. And Billy’s dad? He skipped town years ago. The only bright spot in Billy’s life is Marianne, his best friend who somehow went from being his only friend to his biggest crush virtually overnight; the girl he’d like to kiss but he’s never had the courage to.

Enter Death.  Oh, yeah, Death. He comes around to inform Billy that when he was a child he was tricked into one day taking on the role of Pestilence, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. And One Day has arrived.  The only way to undo this is to find the original White Rider and bring him back.  The problem is that all those years of being well, Pestilence, has turned the White Rider into a bit of a crazyfest.  And he has some wicked plans.

My Take:

This book had some truly heartbreaking elements to it.  I mean Billy’s life just utterly sucks. He’s a bright boy, he does what is expected of him,  he takes care of his grandfather—but he awakens each day vomiting, he walks around with a painfully nervous stomach and he looks for ways to avoid his tormentors at school.  It’s terrible because it’s so real.  I could feel his dread.  Even remembering it now makes my stomach hurt.

Though I’ve not read the other books in this series ( she’s written Hunger and Rage ), I love the concept of writing about the Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse.

That being said—and I know this sounds crazy—I wasn’t expecting it to be quite as dark as it felt at times. I know, it’s Pestilence and apocalyptic themes and all, but I think combined with the elements of bullying and of Billy’s grandfather’s illness it was a lot to take in.  Each of those three ideas is huge unto themselves.  Kessler does a great job with the subject matter (be sure to read her beautifully honest author’s note at the end), however I would have liked to have seen a bit more of Billy’s real life (how he deals with being a Rider in his everyday life).  There was a great deal of time spent in “The White” (where Billy sees the other Riders, the history of Pestilence, etc) and those parts dragged for me.

All in all, I think this is a solid read and I would definitely pick up the other books in the series.

Crush Intensity: 3.5/5


I want to extend a huge thank you to the author, Jackie Morse Kessler for giving me the opportunity to read her novel. Thank you!

6 thoughts on “Loss

  1. Very interesting concept.. I’ll be honest and admit that I know NOTHING about the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse, but I think this is a really neat take on it. I can see what you’re saying about it being darker than you thought it would be – those subjects (bullying, death, etc) are dark alone. Combined? I don’t know if I could handle that! Great review!

    • Thanks Candice. This one was harder for me because it was tough material, but I really think the concept is good. I’ll probably check out the others in the series.

  2. It’s more or less the same concept with Hunger at least, because I did read that one. I thoroughly enjoyed Hunger and I have Rage on my shelf so I’m hoping to fall in love with the rest of the series as well. It’s great that, despite the dark tone, the emotion really hit you.


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