No Victory for Rage

Rage is about the Horseman of the Apocalypse known as War.  But if I were the author, I wouldn’t declare victory for this book.  There were issues.  And I am still wondering what the point of the series is.  I wonder if the author isn’t just trying to tackle a few of the issues facing teens today, without any other real purpose to the series.  I know have pages on both of the first two in this series.  Now I need to go give the publisher who kindly let me have a galley of this know that my review isn’t exactly a 5-star endorsement…

Second of the Rider's Quartet by Jackie Morse Kessler

Where to start? The author has a wonderful way with words. The turns of phrase are so often beautiful. The dialogue between Death and Missy or Death and the other Horsemen reflect this so often. I found myself sometimes reading the same phrases agin, not because I needed to, but because the sentence was so wonderful I wanted to.

But… (and here it comes) I kept hoping as I read this that the purpose of the series would become apparent. That the overall story arc would reveal itself. Unfortunately, I am left concluding that while this is being presented as a series, there is no overall story arc. The books within this series are related, as in the books share some characters, but there is no overriding goal to the set of books, just a goal within each book.

The plot here is that we have a teenager who is terribly misunderstood; she thinks no one can understand. Death comes to appoint her as War (since the last incarnation of War was killed in Hunger) because of all the rage that is inside her (go figure, given the title). She expresses her rage through cutting. She battles the idea of becoming War – but she feels the power that comes with it. And control seems to be a big element of the decision/expression as War, and as a cutter.

Then things get kind of crazy. She is pranked. In an awful, awful (let me say it againawful) way. And, understandably, she freaks out. The girls on the soccer team punish her even further by peeing on her clothes and bag (yep, you read that right). And, to boot, when the soccer coach finds out she’s a cutter, he cuts her (definitely no pun intended there) from the team. And again, she freaks.

But, here’s where I get lost. She is so very angry she could kill. But she doesn’t. Instead, she simply decides she’s not going to let War destroy. There’s a leap there that I missed. At least in Hunger, the catharsis came when the character almost killed her mother. Here, we just see the character go from being as angry as one could be to not accepting the anger in the same heartbeat. I was left thinking how the heck did that happen? What did I miss? And she beats War but takes up the post anyway. **scratches head**

I have not read any of the author’s other works besides the two in this series so far. I hope that she isn’t as repetitive in her other works. Having just finished Hunger, I often felt like I was re-reading the same book. There are a few minor plot differences – here she takes up the post where in Hunger the character rejects Famine (yet, we have a woman who is Famine in this book, but we know nothing about her, and yet he reminds us that her prior incarnation killed the prior War. Again, confused…). But, so very much is similar. In both books:

  • the horses, and Death, are surprised that the character names the horses (in fact, the dialogue here gave me deja vu)
  • the horses themselves are puzzled when the character’s thank the horses
  • both characters think about the physics of Death’s bag
  • both are met by another Rider who sort of tells them what to do, but doesn’t really either
  • both characters comment on the horses’ lack of grooming needs
  • both, at one point, think everything that’s happened so far is a dream
  • both have absentee, albeit loving, parents
  • both have a battle with War

Do I need to go on? The sense of deja vu when reading this was overpowering. I had urges to look a the books side-by-side to see if the dialogue was identical in places (which I resisted for lots of reasons). So, having read one, I felt that there wasn’t really a need to have read both.

Despite those flaws, however, I give credit to the author. She didn’t shy away from things that other authors in the YA category often do. Let’s face it, society knows teen sex happens. So why are most of the books filled with teens who don’t even know how to spell the word s-e-x. Here, we get the harsh truth that sometimes it happens and then doesn’t work out. We get a good look inside how awful clicks and teenagers can be to one another. It’s not sugar-coated. The prank, while it made my stomach turn, was something I could totally believe happening. We’ve all heard about kids committing suicide because of hateful facebook posts and bullying so this felt very real.

The one element that didn’t feel real to me was how weak she was trying to make Missy out to be, and coupling that with Missy’s love for and ability as, a soccer goalie. As a very long time soccer player, I have never encountered a weak goalie – or one that is so hated by teammates. Despite any oddities, quirks, or differences, the goalie on the team is always loved and supported. At least in my experience. Because when it comes down to it – the goalie can make or break the team. So, I had a little trouble picturing her as the weakling and total outcast at the same time. But, that’s just me. There’s no way for me to prove that my experience is more typical than what the author wrote.

And the opening scene where Missy thinks she killed her cat? Wow. It was so well written it was hard to read. I can’t begin to express how relieved I was to read the conversation with Death later where we learn she didn’t actually murder her cat. More kudos for not shying away from something hard to read.

I am finding it hard to balance (yes, that’s a nod to Famine) how I feel about this book. The author can write prose wonderfully and beautifully. The book needs some work on the plot front however. I wouldn’t claim victory based on the plot of the book, or the lack of a story arc for the series.

I will read the next one, I’m sure. If for no other reason then I want to see if the author can turn things around and find a purpose for the series. And I did so thoroughly enjoy and appreciate her ability to craft a beautiful sentence. But, this is definitely just a 2.5 star book for all the other reasons I noted.

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