Look, I think it’s safe to say that I’ve read some shit. I read the book about the blue alien/robot people who exist, I think, just to have buttsecks. I read the book about Santa’s Reindeer shifter. I read a book once about a guy who has psychic visions of murder and his eyeball rolls around in his head when it happens. Just the one eye though. Because two would be too much, I guess.
I thought I was pretty much impervious to the WTFery subgenre, but it turns out I’m wrong. I think Pestilence might have broken me.
When I looked at this book, I thought to myself, how you can write a convincing love story between a woman and one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse? and I think the answer is that you can’t. At least not for me.
That said, while this book did not work for me, I can totally see how it would be absolute catnip for other readers. Things this book has include:
- A captivity narrative
- A virgin hero who is learning how to People and is confused by everything
- A horse named Trixie Skillz
And I think that, if Pestilence (the character not the book) hadn’t actually been killing people everywhere he went, it might have worked for me, too. I just couldn’t get past the grimness of it all. And this book is grim.
It opens up in a currently-apocalyptic world where technology has failed and Pestilence, the first horseman of the apocalypse, has shown up. Everywhere he rides, people become infected with a plague called Messianic Fever and die.
Sara Burns was a firefighter/EMT before the world started to end. She and the three men who make up her crew are helping their city evacuate and draw straws so see who will stay behind and try to kill (or at least slow down) Pestilence. Sara draws the short straw and embarks on a suicide mission.
She waits for the horseman, tries to kill him, and it all goes horribly, horribly wrong because he can’t die. Furious, Pestilence takes Sara captive. At first she’s forced to run behind his horse and nearly dies of exhaustion and hypothermia. As they spend more time together, Pestilence starts to show some kindness toward Sara.
Pestilence is described as being beautiful in an other-worldly way. Kind of like if Elrond fucked up on career-day somehow and became a harbinger of disease and misery:
I hear him before I see him. The muffled clomp of his steed’s hooves echoes in the chill morning, at first so quiet that I almost imagine it. But then it gets louder and louder, until he comes into view.
I waste precious seconds gaping at this…thing.
He’s sheathed in golden armor and mounted on a white steed. At his back is a bow and quiver. His blond hair is pressed down by a crown of gold, and his face–his face is angelic, proud.
He’s almost too much to look at. Too breathtaking, too noble, too ominous. I hadn’t expected that. I hadn’t expected to forget myself or my deadly task. I hadn’t expected to feel…moved by him. Not with all this fear and hate churning in my stomach.
But I am utterly overwhelmed by him, the first horseman of the apocalypse.
Pestilence the Conqueror.
The more time Sara and Pestilence spend together, the more interested he becomes in her as a person. Sara tends to those affected with the plague because even though she cannot cure them, she can ease their suffering. This surprises Pestilence. Sara begs him to stop killing people, but he tells her that cannot, and that he too is disturbed by the deaths.
Pestilence is at first cold and distant, but slowly starts to humanize as he spends more time with Sara. He tries food (he doesn’t need to eat, but he can). He gets drunk (for real). He’s baffled by his sexual attraction to Sara.
He’s also a confused virgin, so if that is your catnip, here you go.
But he’s still killing a lot of people, including children, and that’s why this didn’t work for me. I can accept vampires, gargoyles, hellhounds, and demons in my paranormal fiction without an issue. They usually don’t kill enough people for it to be considered a genocide, but Pestilence does. Even as he falls in love with Sara, he continues to wipe out entire cities. I couldn’t get past the horror of it. There’s a scene where they go to a hospital, and he knows it horrifies Sara because the people there are already too sick and weak to evacuate. It made me want to throw up.
To be fair, I guess it’s his job, or what he was created for, but it’s too much to take. I honestly think that surrounded by that much death, I’d disassociate from reality rather than develop feelings for anyone or anything.
Sara is supposed to be the person Pestilence needs to see humanity’s redeeming value. It’s her love that…
Also, Pestilence doesn’t infect Sara with the fever, which means he controls it to a large degree. The fact that he’s making the choice to kill people this way bothered me a lot more than if he was unable to control his abilities and was moved by some divine hand.
HE SAYS HE HATES KILLING PEOPLE BUT HE DOES IT ANYWAY AND HE DOESN’T HAVE TO AT ALL. FUCK YOU DUDE. And Sara forgives him for all the people who died because he knocked it off.
While I like a redemptive love story, this one pushed the bounds of my credulity too much.
This isn’t a Christian romance, if you’re wondering. It obviously contains Christian themes, but Pestilence claims all religions are right and all religions are wrong. We never get a clear answer to why the apocalypse is happening other than “people are bad.”
So why do I think this will work for others? If you can get past the genocide, which is a thing I never actually thought I’d type, the whole humbling this supernatural, all-powerful creature with love is definitely a trope a lot of people enjoy, including myself. Once Pestilence warms to Sara a bit, the slow burn of their affection for each other is intense and so is the unresolved sexual tension.
Also this book can be really funny. Sara is trapped in her own head a lot with (mostly) only Pestilence for company, and she needs to amuse herself. She decides to name Pestilence’s horse:
I press the thermos closer to the horseman, not dissuaded in the least by his protests. I mean, it’s hot chocolate I’m offering. Also, I really want to see if this guy is capable of drinking fluids. I haven’t seen him touch food or drink so far.
Pestilence’s hand digs into my hip, where he holds me against him in the saddle. “If I try it, will you quiet?”
“No, but you know you don’t really want me to be silent.”
My words are punctuated by the steady clop clop of Pestilence’s horse, who I’ve secretly named Trixie Skillz. I’m pretty sure the steed is male (haven’t checked because unlike some people I know, respecting one’s privacy is important), but no matter.
So this book does have some humor, and it has a hero that I think some readers may really enjoy, even if I couldn’t care about him. The plague thing is a lot to get over, but if you can suspend your disbelief, then it’s a solid paranormal romance.
It was just way too dark and sad for me.
This book is available from:
Pestilence by Laura Thalassa
March 20, 2018