Eighteen year old Gideon Blake has waited his whole life to become a US Army ranger, but when his whole life comes to an abrupt end, those dreams can no longer become a reality. Instead, he finds himself wearing a mysterious metal bracelet he can’t remove and most certainly not as dead as he should be. Gideon discovers that he is, in fact, living out (ahem) his true destiny: he has been reincarnated as one of the horsemen of the apocalypse, War.
Gideon should have died. Waking up instead with a metal bracelet he can’t remove, and the ability to affect the behaviour with his own rage (using said metal bracelet) he realises something is amiss. He does what would come naturally to all twenty-first century teens: he Googles it. When the results come up with nothing short of super hero websites, he laughs it off.
Enter Daryn. Daryn explains to our unwitting hero that he, being one of the four horsemen, must round up the other three. Despite the slightly shaky plotting, Daryn provides what most YA readers will be very happy to see the arrival of: the love interest. She likes pancakes, which is a bonus for her, but she can’t explain why she and Gideon need to go on an epic road-trip across America to round up the other horsemen, and as a result her role feels a little empty.
It is our protagonist Gideon who tells our story, so we get to know him pretty well. Being War, it’s fair to say he has a few anger issues, which come across nicely through his sassy first-person narration. He’s well characterised and his distinctive voice is bound to please YA readers familiar with the trope.
The first horseman he picks up is Famine — or Sebastian — a very sweet Latino actor who has the ability to give people huge sugar cravings. We spend far less time with Death (Marcus) and Jode (Conquest) respectively, because they’re only introduced towards the end of the book. There is a tendency for these young males to go slightly overkill with the macho-macho — a result, perhaps, of Veronica Rossi trying to do the male perspective justice. A little sensitivity would’ve gone a long way from the pissing contest the story sometimes felt like.
The plot moves swiftly along and will have readers racing towards the twist at its finale. Some readers may be surprised to find a lack of mythology in the book. Its contents imply a biblical backstory, but Rossi pulls back and leaves the mythology mostly to our imagination.
All in all, Riders (2016) marks the exciting start to a series that will have YA readers scrabbling for the next instalment. Whilst some of its supporting cast fall a little flat, the characters that matter will delight and entertain in equal measure, despite needing to work on their anger issues…