Drake is surprised to find three horsemen of the apocalypse playing snakes and ladders in his garden shed. He’s even more surprised when they insist that he is one of them. They’re missing a Horseman, having gone through several Deaths and they think that Drake is the boy for the job. At first he’s reluctant to usher in Armageddon but does being in charge of Armageddon have to spell the end of the world?
Whenever I start to write a review I am determined that it will be succinct and straight to the point. Invariably they end up over-long and somewhat waffly, but no matter how hard I try I can't seem to write less, even when a book is so good all that really needs to be said is "It's brilliant, get your hands on a copy now!". The 13th Horseman, the first book in a new series by Invisible Fiends author Barry Hutchison, is one such book.
And now for the waffle (I just can't help myself). I love Barry's Invisible Fiends series - it has become one of my favourite series of the past few years - and so I couldn't help but be excited when an early proof copy of The 13th Horseman arrived through my door. I had been following the progress of this book through Barry's blog and his tweets, and at the time it was fast becoming one of my top five most anticipated books of 2012. I was not disappointed.
The 13th Horseman is something of a departure for Barry, away from the realms of horror and into those of fantasy, and it certainly shows that he is no one-trick pony. Other reviewers have already likened it to the stories of Terry Pratchett, but I don't think that this is an entirely accurate parallel to draw. I haven't read the entire Pratchett series, but in my opinion it would be more accurate to liken The 13th Horseman to Pratchett's early Discworld novels, such as The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic. Like these, The 13th Horseman is a fantasy story that just happens to be very, very funny, as opposed to being a comedy story set in a fantasy world. The Invisible Fiends series do have their comedic moments, especially the most recent in the series, The Beast, but in this new book Barry is able to let his talent for writing comedy shine.
Barry showed in his previous books that he has immense skill in creating great fantasy characters (think Caddie and Doc Mortis) and he continues to demonstrate this flair in The 13th Horseman. Barry's take on three of the horsemen of the apocalypse - War, Famine and Pestilence - will have kids giggling all the way through this book. Barry is coming to talk to the Year 7s at school in ten days and so I read the first two chapters to a group of them yesterday morning, and they were still chuckling and talking about it as they left the lesson.
This is the first book in Barry's Afterworlds series. This is not planned to be a series that tells one linear story, but in stead, like Pratchett's Discworld books, a series that tells a variety of different stories that are set in the same fantasy universe, with characters crossing over and making cameo appearances. The Invisible Fiends books are fabulous, but horror is not to every child's taste and so Barry's books are possibly not as widely read as they deserve. However, with this new book Barry is very much staking a claim as one of the top authors writing for the 10+ age group today and I hope that The 13th Horseman will garner him the wider readership and great acclaim that he richly deserves.
The 13th Horseman is published by HarperCollins on 1st March, and my thanks go to the publishers for sending me a copy to review.