4.3 6
by Jackie Morse Kessler

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Contrary to popular belief, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse aren’t just harbingers of doom—they actually keep life in balance. But what happens when their leader and creator, Death, becomes suicidal?

     Before the first living thing drew its first gasping breath, he was there. He has watched humanity for millennia. And he has


Contrary to popular belief, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse aren’t just harbingers of doom—they actually keep life in balance. But what happens when their leader and creator, Death, becomes suicidal?

     Before the first living thing drew its first gasping breath, he was there. He has watched humanity for millennia. And he has finally decided that humanity is not worth the price he has paid time and again. When Death himself gives up on life, a teenager named Xander Atwood is the world's only hope. But Xander bears a secret, one that may bring about the end of everything.     This heart-pounding final installment of the Riders of the Apocalypse series looks at the value of life, the strength of love, and how a small voice can change everything . . . forever.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

 Praise for Hunger:

An ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers

* "Realistic and compassionate. . . . the writing is never preachy, and it allows an interesting exploration of both intensely personal food issues and global ones."
SLJ, starred review

"Jackie Morse Kessler does a fine job of taking a critical issue that has been explored in writing no small number of times, and putting a new and thought provoking spin on it. . . . Sheer genius."
New York Journal of Books

"Powerful, fast-paced, hilarious, heart-wrenching. . . . This story will grab the reader and never let go."
Romantic Times Magazine

"Hunger is not just a good book. It is a great book. It is funny and sad, brilliant and tragic, and most of all, it speaks truth. . . . I adore it."
Rachel Caine, author of The Morganville Vampires

"A fantastic and gripping read that never shies from its difficult subject matter. . . . This book is a knockout."
A.S. King, author of Everybody See the Ants

Praise for Rage:

A Junior Library Guild Selection

An ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers

"Rage is raw and real, a truly dark, honest look at self-harm and the teenage psyche. Kessler left me breathless."
Heather Brewer, author of the New York Times bestselling series, The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod

"The elegant mix of dark humor, brilliantly developed characters, and just enough moral threads to lead readers to make their own conclusions is impressive."

"Raw, visceral, pulling no punches, this story strikes home like a razor blade. It’s unforgettable, heart wrenching, and enlightening."
Realms of Fantasy

Praise for Loss:

"Kessler blends fantasy, history, humor, and hard reality into a gripping tale."

"Jackie Morse Kessler has a keen eye for capturing the awkward uncertainty of adolescence, which she wraps quite deliciously in a coating of mystery, fright, and suspense. Loss is a treat for readers, a one-of-a-kind, twisty turny carnival ride. . . . I loved this book."
—Andrew Smith, author of The Marbury Lens

"Whip-smart and elegant."
—Saundra Mitchell, author of The Vespertine

"Gritty and raw with powerful truths. An addictive read."
—Sophie Jordan New York Times bestselling author of Firelight

 Praise for Breath:

A Junior Library Guild Selection 

"A riveting read."
—Kirkus Reviews

"Kessler has crafted a complex and gritty story that is a fitting end to a series. . . [Breath] will leave readers thinking."

"The series is a strong and unique attempt to encourage troubled teens to consider their options and accept the help they need, while exposing all readers to the pain their friends may be experiencing."

"A fast-paced story that captures the darkness of young adulthood while effectively weaving in supernatural elements. . . . This quartet comes highly recommended."--RT Magazine


VOYA - Alissa Lauzon
For as long as there has been life, Death has kept watch over humanity with his Horsemen, helping to keep life in balance. As Death faces the end of his current cycle, he begins to wonder if humanity is worth the price that he has paid over and over. Xander Atwood does not remember his first encounter with Death, but that encounter left Death with unfinished business that brings him to Xander's balcony railing looking to balance the scales before he ends it all. It is up to Xander to convince a suicidal Death not to end it all, but to do so Xander must face his own truths. Kessler's final installment in her Riders of the Apocalypse series will answer many questions about the origins of the Horsemen and their relationship with Death. Kessler has crafted a complex and gritty story that is a fitting end to a series. Kessler adds suicide to the tough, relevant issues she has tackled throughout the series, following eating disorders (Hunger, 2010), cutting (War, 2011) and bullying (Loss, 2012). Breath adds a new layer of depth to the story by increasing the narrative perspectives to paint a clear picture of Death and his relationships with War, Famine, and Pestilence. Xander's story is very complicated and has an unexpected revelation that will leave readers thinking as the series ends on a powerful note. Reviewer: Alissa Lauzon
Kirkus Reviews
Death speaks, and Xander Atwood listens in this conclusion to a gripping, if uneven series. Xander has been accepted to colleges, welcomed a baby brother and finally worked up the courage to ask out Riley Jones. Or has he? The day after an alcohol-fueled party, Xander wakes up to find Death on his balcony. Xander hates heights, but he leans out to coax Death off the ledge to tell his story. Neither Death nor Xander is a reliable narrator, but Death's cinematic celebration of human evolution and Xander's booze-induced memory loss make for a riveting read. Unlike the other self-harming teenage horsemen--a cutter War, anorexic Famine and bullied Pestilence--the Pale Horseman is a deity. He recounts the creation and the evolution of mankind and confesses his loneliness and suicidal impulses. If Death dies, this world might too. Suicide, binge drinking, anorexia and other destructive behaviors are still a focus, and the tidy conclusion mimics an after-school special, but ironically, Death is a more fully realized and human character than his fellow Horsemen ever were. Death and his riders strive to bring balance, and Kessler (Loss, 2012, etc.) begins to achieve it in this series conclusion. (Fantasy. 14 & up)

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Riders of the Apocalypse , #4
Sold by:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Sales rank:
HL670L (what's this?)
File size:
859 KB
Age Range:
12 Years

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt


Xander Atwood hated heights. Always had. Ever since he was a kid and chickened out of jumping off the high diving board at the community pool—much to the irritation of the kids behind him who had to make way as he climbed down the ladder, shamefaced—Xander staunchly preferred for the ground to be within easy reach. Going to the top floor of buildings was fine, as long as it wasn’t in one of those funky glass-walled elevators. Driving over bridges gave him fits. Airplanes were right out. Let others soar with the eagles; Xander was perfectly content with an ant’s-eye view.

So the fact that he was leaning over the balcony railing of his parents’ apartment building, thirty floors above the street, was a very big deal.

“So,” he said. “Want to talk about it?”

“Not really,” replied Death.


Möbius Strip: a one-sided surface that is constructed from a rectangle by holding one end fixed, rotating the opposite end through 180 degrees, and joining it to the first end.

—Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary

A sound, like the screech of tires—or maybe the boom of a door slamming shut. Impact, then echoes of contact, then nothing.

And then, a beep.

And another.

And again, until the beeping became an insistent shrill.

And then…


Xander Atwood woke with a start. He inhaled quickly, as if he’d forgotten that he’d been holding his breath, and he swatted his alarm clock until he hit the “off” button. The shrilling beep cut off mid-shriek. Success. He exhaled slowly, then grinned. Today was the big day.

He was finally going to ask Riley out.

Xander hopped out of bed and ducked into the shower. As he shampooed, he went over the plan: During fifth period, when they were both in the library for study hall, he’d casually mention that he was going to grab some pizza after school, and maybe Riley would like to join him. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t exactly a date, but it was a start.

All Xander had to do was not vomit all over his sneakers, then he’d be all set.

No problem. He’d be fine. Calm. Cool. Not at all freaked out from the thought of talking to Riley Jones.

His belly flipped from nerves.

Maybe he shouldn’t eat breakfast, just in case.

Five minutes later, he was grabbing his clothing. Definitely the royal blue t-shirt, the one that made the blue in his eyes pop. He’d heard Riley mention in passing that there’s nothing better than gorgeous eyes, so Xander wanted to play that up. His friend Ted would bust a gut if he knew that Xander was obsessing over what to wear, but hey, Ted wasn’t the one who was going to be asking Riley out for pizza.

Which Xander would absolutely not be too nervous to eat.

He got dressed, then looked in the mirror and frowned at the fresh crop of pimples on his brow. Thank God for long hair. Xander busted out the gel and spent ten minutes working on his hair until he got it to that perfect style, the one that looked like he spent no time on his hair and managed to hide the zits.

He could practically hear Ted’s guffaws as he told Xander that he was being such a girl. Of course Ted would say that; he never worried about anything. Ted was strictly a play-it-by-ear sort of guy, whereas Xander liked to plan his spontaneity. Could he help it if he had a thing for details?

Xander glanced at the clock. He had about five minutes before he had to leave, twenty if he didn’t want to stop at Dawson’s for coffee before school. More than enough time for him to practice his smile.

Yikes—way too much tooth.

He tried again. Now he looked like he was constipated.

Third time was the charm. Smiling his winning smile, he launched into his Asking-Riley-Out-But-Not-Really question. After a few tries, he thought he nailed the inflection, making it sound like he was interested but not too interested. He figured Riley would answer in one of four ways.


SCENARIO 1: All Goes Well

XANDER: Hey, Riley, I’m gonna grab some pizza after school. Want to come?

RILEY: Sure! Hey—are you wearing contacts, or are your eyes really that blue?


SCENARIO 2: Delayed Gratification

XANDER: Hey, Riley, I’m gonna grab some pizza after school. Want to come?

RILEY: Thanks, wish I could, but I can’t today. I’ve got track.

XANDER: Maybe another time.

RILEY: That would be great. Hey—are you wearing contacts, or are your eyes really that blue?


SCENARIO 3: Could Be Worse Somehow

XANDER: Hey, Riley, I’m gonna grab some pizza after school. Want to come?



SCENARIO 4: Kill Me Now

XANDER: Hey, Riley, I’m gonna grab some pizza after school. Want to come?

RILEY: …Sorry, do I know you?


He thought those possibilities covered the bases. Even though part of him was terrified that Riley would opt for either scenario 3 or 4—thus the potential for puking—the rest of him focused on having a fifty-percent chance of either scenario 1 or 2 coming to pass. Fifty-fifty: that was basically a flip of the coin.

He spotted his pile of change on his nightstand, and he plucked a bright penny from the top of the heap.

“Heads,” he said, then tossed the coin high. He caught it, slapped it onto the back of his hand, and took a look.


He flipped it again.

And again: heads.

Grinning like a fool, Xander pocketed the coin. Yeah, today was the day. His lucky day. He felt it.

He stuffed his backpack for the day’s classload: his evil math textbook, massive enough to be a doorstopper; his equally massive but less evil philosophy textbook, which he actually enjoyed reading; his sketchbook, along with his set of HB pencils and two erasers; his overstuffed, overworked looseleaf binder. Finally, he plucked a novel off his nightstand—Gaiman and Pratchett’s Good Omens, which he was rereading for the gazillionth time—and jammed it into his knapsack. He grabbed his wallet, made sure he had his keys, and then he quietly headed downstairs. He took pains to avoid the creaky steps, because he didn’t want to wake his mom; she hadn’t been sleeping well since her very-pregnant belly had started entering a room before the rest of her. Xander didn’t worry about waking his dad; that man slept like the dead. Then he was out the door and on his way.

The entire time he walked to Dawson’s Pizza, he played and replayed the possible scenarios of him (kinda sorta not really) asking Riley out. By the time he got to the pizzeria—open for breakfast starting at the crack of dawn—he was feeling thoroughly nauseated. What if Riley laughed at him? Or, worse: pitied him?

What if the answer wasn’t just No, but Hell, No?

He squeezed the lucky penny in his pocket and told himself to stop worrying. Today was his lucky day; there was nothing to worry about.

He walked into Dawson’s and waved to a handful of guys clumped around tables, but the group he was looking for was off in the corner by the window, basking in the morning spotlight. There was Ted, darkly casual, all lean good looks and radiating mischief, smiling wickedly as he tried to steal a homefry. Across from him, petite Suzie slapped his hand away and stuck out her tongue. Next to her, Izzy laughed and shook her head, her sloppy ponytail swinging across her shoulders.

Xander grinned. The table changed daily, but the group was always the same: the four of them, kicking off the school day at the pizzeria. Life was good. He bought a large coffee and a breakfast special, then headed over to join them.

“Hey,” he said as he slid onto the bench next to Ted.

“Hey,” said Ted and Izzy.

“Morning, Zan,” Suzie said around a yawn.

“Boring you already?”

“Sorry. Up all night studying. Got a Constitutional Law test, and then Debate Team after school.”

Xander grinned. “I’m sure you’re gonna do great when you fall asleep in the middle of proving your point. Ow.” That last was after Suzie kicked him.

“That’s why I don’t study,” said Izzy. “I need my rest.”

“You girls and your beauty sleep,” Ted said, grinning big enough to blind.

Izzy smiled sweetly. “Don’t make me kick your ass before breakfast.”

“You soccer girls are all so scary.”

“I wanna be scary,” Suzie said with a pout. 

“Your GPA terrifies me,” said Xander, sipping coffee. “Hey!”

Ted flashed him a blinding grin, then he took a bite from half of Xander’s breakfast special sandwich.

“He’s practicing to be a starving actor,” Suzie said, glaring at Ted.

“Not so starving.” Xander took a bite of his remaining sandwich. “I licked the bagel on that side, by the way.”

“Knew it tasted off this morning,” Ted said around a mouthful of special. “Here I thought it was because they don’t use real eggs in the egg sandwiches.”

Izzy snorted. “That’s what you get for eating eggs in a pizzeria.”

“Someone should tell management they need to do pizza for breakfast.”

“Egg pizza?”

Suzie made a face. “Ew. Hey, nice shirt, Zan. Makes your eyes real blue.”

“Thanks,” Xander said happily.

“Okay,” Ted said. “You look like you’re about to burst into song. What’s up?”

Xander grinned hugely. “Today’s the day,” he said, feeling like he could fly. “I’m gonna ask Riley out.”

Ted, Izzy, and Suzie exchanged a look, then the three of them cracked up.

“What?” Xander said, perturbed. “I am. Really.”

“Even if I believed you, which, for the record, I don’t,” said Suzie, “your timing is terrible.”


Izzy laughed. “You really don’t know? Riley’s got mono.”

Xander’s heart sank to his toes. “Aw, man.”

“You’re such a bad stalker,” Izzy said, wagging a finger at him. “It was all over Facebook this morning.”

“That explains why he didn’t know,” said Suzie. “Love you, Zan, but you’re social networkly inept.”

Ted was still chuckling. “Kissing disease. Good thing you haven’t asked Riley out yet, or you’d be down for the count too. Oh, wait, no you wouldn’t—you’d never kiss the Amazingly Perfect Riley Jones.”

“He’d be too busy worshipping the very ground the Amazingly Perfect Riley Jones walked on,” Suzie agreed.

“Too amazingly perfect for him to ever ask out,” said Ted.

“Ah, it’s just the universe’s way of telling me to wait,” said Xander, sighing.

Ted snorted. “Spoken like the deluded lovestruck fool that you are!”

“The universe doesn’t need to tell you anything,” said Suzie, nibbling a homefry. “You’ve waited for…how many years now? Two? Three? You’ve got the waiting thing down pat.”

“Seriously,” said Izzy. “Just ask Riley out already. You know, once the whole mono thing is history.”

Ted nodded. “What they said.”

“I will.” Xander took the penny out of his pocket and flipped it. It came up heads. “I swear it on my lucky penny.”

Ted declared, “All hail the lucky penny!”

They all said, “All hail!”

Xander grinned and took another bite of breakfast. “So today’s not the day,” he said, tucking the penny into his pocket. “That’s okay. I’ve got time.”

Meet the Author

Jackie Morse Kessler is the author of the the Riders of the Apocalypse quartet for teen readers, along with several paranormal and dark fantasy books for adults. She lives in upstate New York. Visit her website at

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Breath 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Caroline_Waddell More than 1 year ago
I received this book back in April before it was published as a giveaway, but this is the fourth and final book in a series, and I wanted to read the first three before I read this one. I am so glad that I did read them all. I absolutely love this series. My favorite was the first in the series, Hunger, and I didn't think I could like any of the others as much as I enjoyed the first. I was wrong. 'Breath' is now officially my favorite in the series. This book blew me away. Let me first talk about the writing itself. Kessler's style is beautiful and lyrical without being pretentious. She has a way of drawing a picture with words that is so vivid it's like looking at a living picture in your mind. I've said it once and I'll say it again Jackie Morse Kessler takes young adult writing to a whole other level. Her words are carefully chosen and perfect. Now for the characters and story. The two leads in this one were Xander Atwood and Death. The other books in the series were about teenagers being turned into the riders (famine, war, and pestilence) by Death. This one told two concurrent stories that overlap. Death has become suicidal because he has lost hope and Xander, through a series of fortuitous events, is tasked with stopping him. This is a pretty major task considering if Death dies so does the world. It turns into an origin story of Death, which is different from any other version of Death I've heard and incredibly interesting. It overlaps with Xander's own story of betrayal and loss of hope. The whole story is unique, interesting, and addictive. I tore through the pages and couldn't wait to find out how it would end, which turned out to be creative and unpredictable. There were also sections about the other riders from the first three books and brought satisfying closure to all of them. All of the characters, including the ones from previous books, are so well drawn and I couldn't help but care about them all. I also never thought I would get the chance to truly understand Death, who up until this point was a very mysterious character. Amazingly, even though I got a much better understanding of Death he still maintained that bit of mystery that makes him so interesting. Overall I loved this book. It was well written and a perfect ending to a really good book series. After reading the first three I wasn't sure how it could possibly end, but this book brought closure to every character in all of the books, and did it eloquently. I can't wait to read what Jackie Morse Kessler writes next. She has most definitely gained a lifelong fan in me.
Bonnie_W More than 1 year ago
Today's review is hard because I'm talking about not only the final book in a series, but also the most complex. BREATH is on another plane of existence, both figuratively and literally, when compared to its predecessors. In HUNGER, RAGE, and LOSS, we watch the horsemen step into their new roles. In BREATH, we discover just how different the Pale Rider is from his companions. He created them; they wouldn't exist without him. They are him. Death is the one and only. His skin may change, but he is always himself, unlike the horsemen who come and go over the centuries. Death has always been the most fascinating character to me throughout this series, and in BREATH, I got answers beyond my wildest dreams revolving around the truth beyond, not only the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but so, so much more. I can't really mention a summary with this review without giving a lot away. This is the enigmatic story of the Pale Rider, Death, yet his origins are different from the ones we've seen up until now. Needless to say, like the prior books in the series, BREATH deals with tough issues. One of the stand-outs about this series is the fact that it has a way to reach teens who aren't into contemporary novels, one who prefer fantasies. I wish every school library had a copy of these books and that health classes would use them when talking about eating disorders, self-mutilation, bullying, alcohol abuse, depression, suicide, etc. Any teen who's into fantasy would be much more interested in this series than they would something like GO ASK ALICE or SPEAK. I was never interested in those books, either, but I would have picked these up if they'd existed when I was still in high school. Readers of the series will be intrigued by the origins of Death and the Four Horsemen as the book ties up loose ends, especially as characters from previous novels come back into BREATH (Sometimes in new and unexpected ways!). These books just get better and better. Each one has been my favorite in the series, and BREATH is no exception. It's so imaginative and unique! The mythology Jackie Morse Kessler has researched and given life to in creating Death is vast. Her creation story is admirable and complex, captivating me the same way I was with LOSS. What's amazing about this is the way so much of the book is a conversation, in some ways, a "tell" and not a "show," yet it feels so natural, not like a criticism at all. This is the way the story has to be told, and Kessler weaves it into other elements to create a story where pages can't be turned fast enough. I wouldn't read BREATH without reading the prior three books in the series. You can, but there are elements that won't really make sense if you do, and BREATH won't be as powerful. BREATH is our reward, and Death is better than ever--scarier, too. There is so much more to him than we ever knew, and he truly steals the show in his own book. It's the perfect way to end the series, and I can't wait to read more books from Kessler in the future.
chapterxchapter More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved reading the first three books in this series by Jackie Morse Kessler.  All three blew me away, and every time I finished one book, I craved to read the next.  I feel like I’ve been waiting forever for Breath to come out!  I was so excited to read the book that was Death’s story.  And omg I was not disappointed at all! While reading Hunger, Rage, and Loss by Jackie Morse Kessler, I always wanted to know more about Death who looked like Kurt Cobain, who was the front man for Nirvana.  And how excited was I when I saw the news that book 4 in this series was dedicated to Death himself. In Breath, Death knows that something feels off, and he comes to the realization that his time is coming to an end.  And so how does he go about trying to resolve his predicament?  He decides that he’s going to commit suicide, where the belief is that when Death dies, the world dies. Xander Atwood seems to have everything he’s wanted.  Good grades, a great girl, and awesome friends.  What he didn’t expect was to come face to face with Death himself, and comes to the realization that the fate of all mankind rests on his teenage shoulders.  But will Xander be able to do what needs to be done, or will a secret that’s been hidden surface and change Xander’s life forever. The twist!  OMG you guys, the twist in this story was such a mind warp.  The events played out easily in my mind, and I could see the different scenes so clearly.  Author, Jackie Morse Kessler does such an amazing job of building the story up to such a climax.  She truly is such an amazing writer.  I’m so sad that it’s all over! I really enjoyed reading about how Death came about, and what it took to get him where he is.  It also talks about how he created his Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  What was really interesting to me was how we were able to witness the various souls that Death came to collect!  The different conversations that he has with this spirits as they prepare to say goodbye to the life that they no longer have. And it was so great to be able to witness Death’s personality again.  His dry and dark humor is one of the reasons that I loved his character, and the author does such a great job breathing life into him.  Not only with Death though.  With all the characters.  We get to see all the horsemen interact with each other, as they try to figure out a way to stop Death from doing what he plans.  We are also treated to hearing about a few of the past people who were chosen to be one of the horsemen. There’s so much more that I could elaborate on, but in doing so, I would totally and completely ruin this amazing read for you.  Fans of the first three books in this series will totally devour Breath by Jackie Morse Kessler.  If you were curious about how Death and the horsemen of the Apocalypse came about, you definitely don’t want to miss out on this read.
Adventurer-in-print More than 1 year ago
Death187Angel More than 1 year ago
Must read the first 3 books before you read this one. A great end. Very different from what I thought would happen.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago