Death is just a day job you can’t quit…
Emma and Mark had a bad day. The worst part of it was dying. But, according to Death, the Rider on the Pale Horse and first horseman of the apocalypse, things aren’t that simple. Turns out the sand in their hourglass is stuck in place. Somewhere between life and death, they’re put to work as Death’s assistants, reaping the souls of the living until it’s time for their final clock out…
To compound matters, despite their omnipotence, the four horsemen are facing an existential threat – one they’re ill-equipped and ill-prepared to combat. They’re suddenly getting old, weak, and succumbing to illness. What has brought on this uncharacteristic frailty? Does Charon, the ferryman of the River Styx, have more up his sleeve than just the coins proffered by the dead to secure passage to the afterlife? And why do you never see baby pigeons?
Emma and Mark must reap like their afterlives depend on it, to help prevent the End Times – even if it means scuppering the one opportunity they have at being granted a second chance at life.
Filled with humour, romantic tension, and suspense, Jon Smith utilises a witty, lightly sarcastic ensemble of flawed but loveable characters. It will appeal to mainstream fantasy readers and hopeless romantics, as well as those who enjoy a good story, a good laugh, a few tears, and a happy ending.
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review.
The Fifth Horseman offers an interesting concept. Following a botched attempt at taking her life, Emma and her failed saviour Mark find themselves carted off to the world beyond by The Rider on the Pale Horse, Death himself. Having been snatched up before they had died presents a dilemma. Not yet dead, the hapless pair cannot pass over the River Styx. No longer quite alive, they cannot return to life. Meanwhile, Death has issues of his own to combat as he seems to be ailing, literally fading away. He feels weaker and tired. A temporary aid to his situation presents itself, employing Emma and Mark as apprentices in the oldest family trade going. Can Death subvert an apparent End Times and save the world? The cast is rounded out with the remaining horseman – War, Plague and Famine, along with Charon, the boatman of the River Styx.
Despite the darker opening to the story, The Fifth Horseman paints this and all subsequent events in a satirical, darkly comedic light. The characters aren’t as dark or ominous as their mythical counterparts. More so, they are world-weary, lighthearted takes on them making for an easy-reading book. The story is fun, and the characters engaging. I enjoyed following Mark and Emma as they navigate a new normal for themselves, the learning curve that comes with a new job and exploring previously unmentioned romantic feelings. It felt almost Pratchett-esque from the outset.
And herein lies the issue with this book. I am a massive lover of the Discworld series of books. Their wit and whimsy, satire, and dark humour. The whole nine yards. They are a truly magical, side-splitting series of books that are very much like a comfy pair of slippers for me each time I read them. That should be a compliment to The Fifth Horseman. Sadly, the further into the book I went, the more it felt to me as though it was trying to pander to Pratchett fans. Particularly in its efforts in trying to humanise Death. For the most part, he is a figure to be feared and kept at arm’s length for as long as mortally possible. What Terry Pratchett created was something special. A figure with a role to conduct, possibly the most important role of all. Yet he is relatable, affable and curious in his desire to understand humans. The nail in the proverbial coffin for me came when Death appears in dungarees and a straw hat, harking back to images of Death taking time out to live as Bill Door among humans in Discworld. And this derailed things for me as I just couldn’t help comparing them. And there was only ever going to be one winner here.