Author: Jackie Morse Kessler
Genre: YA contemporary, paranormal, tough stuff, magical realism, AWESOME, PNR
Publication Date: April 16, 2013 (HMH – North America)
Source: Publisher-provided ARC
Summary: Contrary to popular belief, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse aren’t just harbingers of doom—they actually keep life in balance. But what happens when their leader and creator, Death, becomes suicidal?
Before the first living thing drew its first gasping breath, he was there. He has watched humanity for millennia. And he has finally decided that humanity is not worth the price he has paid time and again. When Death himself gives up on life, a teenager named Xander Atwood is the world’s only hope. But Xander bears a secret, one that may bring about the end of everything.
This heart-pounding final installment of the Riders of the Apocalypse series looks at the value of life, the strength of love, and how a small voice can change everything . . . forever.
☆: 4.5/5 stars – a fantastic end to one of my favorite new YA series within the last five years!
Review: While a little slow to start, “Breath” is a fantastic end to one of my favorite YA quartet/series in the last five years – utterly original and unforgettable. I think I can honestly say that this book is my favorite in the quartet – everything has been building to this book, and boy, was the wait worth it. If you’ve started your journey with “Hunger”, you simply must end it with “Breath”.
While a little slow to start with Xander’s story grounding us as to how he’s important as more than just listening to Death’s life story (no pun intended), once Death starts speaking (once again wearing the guise of Kurt Cobain) – it’s off to the races and it’s a non-stop rocket ride until the very final page, where you’ll find yourself breathless. The best part? This series feels FINISHED by the last page. Like you have closure, and though there are still a few lingering questions, Kessler lets the audience have a little imagination room, which is always appreciated.
Death’s origin story brings in the many-worlds theory into effect – and mixes it with the paranormal. Where did Death come from? Is he an angel? Is he god? All of these questions are presented as possibilities as to where Death came from, and what he is. While Kessler (and Death) coyly don’t really answer this one important question, it’s still presented really well, and we get hints of other universes aligned with ours, where other beings like us just might be a little (okay, a lot) more advanced. We also get the origin story of how life here on earth began (and the implication of how without Death being there before, the idea of “death” or apoptosis might never have existed), along with that of the Horsemen, and how various important pieces of human history have influenced by the Death and his Horsemen. I have to hand it to Kessler – she really rewove all of what we as humans already know into something dazzlingly original. I was kind of starstruck during these origin story pieces of the book.
We also get to see all of our previous Horsemen – Missy (War), Billy (Pestilence), and Tammy (current Famine) with a cameo appearance with the original Famine we were introduced to, Lisabeth. We also get a good fix in terms of time since we last left these characters taking up their offices as Horsemen. It’s been 4-5 years since we last left them, and we get to see how their lives, both as Horsemen and as semi-humans have developed, and I was so, so gratified to see that they were included. Since this is Death’s book, we don’t get a huge infodump on the rest of the Horsemen – just enough to go on, and how they’re handling things 4-5 years into their jobs as Horsemen. We also get glimpses of the original Horsemen, and how the office as Horseman works (inheriting the knowledge of one’s predecessors, etc), which I thought was pretty great. We see how they’re healing, and how in some areas, they’re a bit stuck – and how Death’s suicidal actions bring them together long enough for them to stop bickering. The scenes involving the Horsemen and Death all together are some of my favorite of the book, if just to see everyone together again.
Just as Death’s origin story further expands the world that Kessler has built over the past three books, we also get yet another new piece of this world – the Slate. I won’t spoil things, but it’s a place I would love to visit, even if it might be slightly depressing at times. It sounds like an incredible place, and I can see why Death would want to take refuge there – why, if anything, it’s the ONLY place he can take refuge when he needs to lick his wounds. While I wanted more on the Slate and its description, what I got was enough to go on.
Finally, there is the mystery of Xander, which once again brings up the many-worlds theory/parallel timelines/universes theory (M-Theory). His secret, at the end, is a very small one, but very important. It’s thrown off everything within his own life (though I won’t say how), and it’s helped Death get onto suicide watch in its own way. The way this was teased and teased throughout the book was great, as was the increasing tension that came with each tease of what this secret might be. With it, we also see Death’s endgame – and the question – has Xander (and Death) been a reliable narrator throughout this book? If you’ve been reading the blog, you’ll know that the unreliable narrator trope is one of my favorites, and to bring it in right at the climax is a move that authors, I find, almost never use. And it was brilliant. Furthermore – it worked in everyone’s favor.
Final verdict? Definitely the best in the quartet and one of my favorites of 2013 so far, “Breath” is a great ending to a wonderful series. So let’s say a fond bittersweet farewell to the “Horsemen Quartet” with “Breath”, which drops tomorrow, April 16, 2013 in stores from HMH in North America. Definitely worth the read and highly recommended. Man, am I going to miss this series.