Book Review: The 13th Horseman by Barry Hutchison

The 13th HorsemanThe 13th Horseman
An Afterworlds Novel
Barry Hutchison
HarperCollins Children’s Books, March 2012
UK Publication
ISBN: 978-0-00-744089-4
Trade Paperback

Drake Finn is a typical teenage boy. He’s had to change schools because of an unfortunate incident involving frog liberation and technically burning down most of his old school. On his first day he makes a new friend, meets the school bullies and is introduced to the menacing Dr Black. Oh, and one more thing, he didn’t tell anyone about the mysterious shed he found in the back garden, nor about the even more mysterious inhabitants. Unfortunately for him, the shed keeps coming back. After all, it seems he has a job to do.

Twitter is a wonderful thing and it’s wonderful for precisely the following reason. I replied to a funny tweet from an Edinburgh bookseller and so began a three way conversation between myself, the bookseller and a new author I hadn’t heard of before. Within ten minutes, I feasted my eyes on a free short story from Hutchison (“The Missing Remote of the Apocalypse”) that had me rolling around laughing. One two-hour trip via bus later and I held in my hands a brand new copy of The 13th Horseman. Was it worth the hassle? Why, yes it was! The story revolves around Drake Finn and how he ends up becoming the fourth horseman of the apocalypse. And he’s expected to be Death no less. The funny thing is, he’s technically the 13th horseman since the previous nine Death’s have all either gone mad, killed themselves, quit or in one unfortunate admin error, was really a goldfish. By this stage, War, Pestilence and Famine have seen it all before and begin to train the very reluctant Drake up. But the previous Death is determined to bring forth Armageddon a little bit sooner than expected. Fed up waiting for thousands of years, he’s decided to take matters into his own hands and it’s up to the new Horsemen to put a stop to him.

This book is an unbelievably funny action-adventure romp through young adult fantasy. Right from the start I was laughing out loud at the characters and the sticky situations they find themselves in. I had a tough time deciding which character I liked best. War is burly and gruff with a Scottish accent and bright red beard. Famine has a tendency to eat everything in sight, whether it’s supposed to be eaten or not. Mel is quirky, smart and very funny and poor Drake is long suffering and just trying to make amends. To be honest, Pestilence just pips the post for me and I frequently roared laughing at his fiendishly camp ways and endless optimism. Hutchison has created a delightfully hilarious fantasy that will keep you enthralled through each page. His writing is witty, engaging and he has created characters that have depth and substance. You’ll find yourself thinking about them even after you’ve finished the book and still chuckling. Combine this with a wonderful plot and many stand out moments and you have a book that you’ll keep coming back to again and again. I heartily recommend this book for anyone looking for a really fun book (especially those aged 11+) and I’m already eagerly awaiting the next Afterworlds book, The Book of Doom.

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, February 2013.