The Four Horsemen series by Laura Thalassa is perhaps one of the most original storylines I have encountered in a long time.
You know those almost daily emails that you get from Amazon, trying to hook you into another book? That is how I first discovered Pestilence, the first book in the series. I almost never click on any of the links in those emails. But I simply had to this time. I was just too intrigued. The four horsemen from the Book of Revelations? As romance heroes?
Confession time: I was brought up in the church. I am a former preacher’s wife. And I hate Revelations. All that doom and gloom, disease, famine, war, and death! I could never reconcile that with a loving and forgiving Jesus.
But I was curious about the premise of this book. I clicked the link and read the blurb. I noticed that it was available on Unlimited. So, I downloaded it. I was expecting either a really cheesy sci-fi romance or some preachy Christian thing like Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness. I got neither.
What I discovered was a well-developed story with deep, rich characters, and salient commentary on our society. I devoured it in the space of a couple of days. And looked forward to the next in the series, War. Which I also loved…mostly.
So, let’s break these down too:
1) Characters – This one is a mixed bag for me, perhaps my biggest disappointment with the series. Don’t get me wrong, Thalassa is excellent at developing realistic characters. Perhaps a bit too much so. I liked Pestilence. I loved War. It is her heroines that I cannot stand.
This, though, is a feature of the genre. These are Young Adult or New Adult stories. It is a genre that as a mature woman I find frustrating and do not generally read. But as I said, I was hooked with the plot premise.
Sara, the heroine, in Pestilence was not so bad. While young, a bit confused by all that was happening, she dealt with it admirably for the most part. Miriam, the heroine in War, I wanted to strangle. She was herself a soldier in this ongoing apocalypse, why then did she have such trouble identifying with War? With accepting her role as his wife? Especially, in light of War’s openness to her, speaking of which…
One reason that I loved War so much is that he epitomizes my ideal romance hero: a man, who from the beginning recognizes what he wants, does not futilely fight that Fate, and does not have some macho hangup about sharing his emotions with his partner. Which is perhaps another reason, I could not identify with Miriam’s whiny, immature, and destructive attitudes – which I should add are completely realistic for someone her age with little to no experience in relationships.
One of the biggest flaws with readers and reviewers who are also writers is that we too often focus upon what we would have done differently. I am guilty, especially with this one. Don’t get me wrong; I love this series. But I can’t help but think…how can any YOUNG woman manage such a complex, ancient being as a horseman of the apocalypse?
Yes, I recognize the popularity of YA/NA…and the complete dearth of its opposite – quality romance for a mature audience. But my writer’s mind can’t help but wonder…how might a mature woman, one who knew her own power as a lover, friend, and partner, have handled things differently?
Okay, off my high horse. Did I mention…I LOVE this series, right?
2) Pacing – This is a true strength of these books. Though they are long, that is a feature of the complexity of the storyline. Trust me, a reader never gets bored. Given that the time span of the books covers weeks and months, the pace and length are completely appropriate.
3) Point of View – These stories are told from the first-person viewpoint of the heroine only. This limits the readers access to knowledge to only those things which Sara or Miriam feel, see, or hear. For me, given my affinity for the heroes over the heroines, this compounds my frustrations.
4) Theme – The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as romance heroes? How could you not be hooked? But as I said, rather than being cheesy or preachy, these books are insightful commentaries upon our society and the problems we face, especially environmental ones. I can totally get into a god that sends disease, war, famine, and death upon mankind not in retribution for not worshipping him, but instead for damaging his other creatures and the beautiful planet we were given. That is my kind of god…goddess.
“Why did you have to ruin the world?” the horseman retorts. “I didn’t.”
“You did. Just as I don’t have to touch each man to kill him, nor do you have to personally light the world on fire to be the reason it burns.” Pestilence
“Humankind has been so dead-set on stopping the horsemen that we’ve overlooked one simple truth: maybe it’s not the horsemen that need to be stopped. Maybe it’s us. Not our lives – though War would insist differently – but our actions.” Miriam, War.
These are just two of the many quotes that do what great literature is meant: challenge us to examine ourselves. That is what sets these books apart, what elevates them from YA/NA or even romance genre. What keeps me reading even when I want to strangle Miriam.
Of course, nothing illustrates my 3 Rules of Love and Life:
1) Life sucks.
2) Love is the only thing that makes it worth living.
3) Great sex is the best way to show that love.
More than this series. To even imagine that the Four Horsemen of Revelations could be swayed and turned from their divine purpose by the healing love of a woman is a strikingly profound commentary with which I deeply identify.
“You have managed what no one else has: you have awoken my heart.” Pestilence
“He’s only caught glimpses of our goodness, and yet that’s all it’s taken for his deeds to weigh on him. Because that’s what compassion does – it brings out your best nature.” Sara, Pestilence.
But it is War’s words which inspire me the most:
“Wife, I have not been living until this moment.”
“You are painfully human. your bones want to break, your skin wants to bleed, your heart wants to stop. And for the first time ever, I am desperate for none of those things to happen. I have never known true fear until now.”
Which is why I struggled so profoundly with Miriam’s immaturity, her vacillating attitude to War, and her deeply hurtful words when War admits to her that he would rather cut off his arm than hurt her.
“Then cut it off,” I snap back at him, feeling the poison of my emotions in my veins. “And while you’re at it, make it your sword arm.” I know I am being cruel. Right now I relish it. It feels good to wound the horsemen when nothing and no one else can.”
Yes, I know I keep coming back to that. I do love the premise of these books. I adore them in fact. Laura Thalassa’s skills at writing complex and realistic characters are astounding. The depth of purpose and insights in the commentary upon humanity and our failings sets these books apart. As I said, it is even in character for a twenty-year-old girl who has never been in a relationship to act like that and say something so destructive. But it still makes me cringe.
Yes, I am looking forward to the next two books. I am a bit trepidatious about Death though. If I loved War, Death’s two cameo roles in these books already have me entranced. Which makes me scream…it takes a mature woman, who has faced life and death, knows her power, and destiny to be a partner to him. My fingers are crossed that I will not be as disappointed with that ending as I was with Daenerys’s in Game of Thrones.
Please remember with this one…every reviewer is prejudiced. It is not my job to judge the work of another writer. My purpose is writing these reviews is to give readers information on some wonderful books that they might not have known about otherwise. All of these books have some quality that sets them apart from the vast majority. All of them are great books in one way or another. Just that nothing is perfect. Especially not mine…or my humble opinions here.