I recently picked up Veronica Rossi’s newest duology, Riders and Seeker, and as I was reading these books, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a friend about marketing for young adult books. We were browsing in the YA section of a very large bookstore where the YA section is quite large. As we were talking about recent YA novels we’ve read and loved and which we recommend to each other, I noticed something about this section. It seemed heavily geared towards female readers. Young adult covers are often lovely, shiny jewel-like covers that I crave to showcase on my own shelves. But there’s a demographic that’s not as well represented—and that’s a certain kind of teen boy.
What are the 15, 16, 17 year old boys reading? And how are they finding out about those books? I bet it’s not by hanging out in the YA section of a bookstore. It’s not that these books are missing; I asked my friends familiar with the demographic I’m concerned about for recommendations and got an avalanche of responses. It’s that there’s a general impression that the YA category is too much about romance and teen angst, and this particular reader is looking for something that perhaps comics, graphic novels, and adult science fiction fulfill in a better way.
Boys are more often categorized as reluctant readers than girls. But if I wanted to attract the reluctant reader set to a YA section in a bookstore, I’d hand them Rossi’s Riders on a dare. I’d be willing to bet that after they’ve read it, they wouldn’t be so shy to seek out more like it. And I know they will find tons of things worth reading.
Riders, with a tough, male protagonist in Gideon Blake, is chock full of adventure and danger. And, wonderfully, it explores the full range of emotions that 18-year-old teens on the verge of adulthood often experience. Gideon is in Army Ranger school when a fatal accident transforms him into a being from legend—War. Daryn, a Seeker, finds him, and together they must seek out his brethren horsemen, Death, Conquest, and Famine. But it’s not the end of days, as one would expect when the four horsemen of the Apocalypse appear. Instead, these four teens are merely representations of the actual horsemen, and they have been created to fulfill the divine purpose of protecting a key to another realm from the Kindred, a pretty vile group of ancient demons intent on invading that world and turning it to their own evil purposes.
Interestingly, we know how the story ends before it really even begins. Gideon and his team are bound and held captive by the US Government, and we only know what happened because of what Gideon chooses to tell his interrogator. But this doesn’t mean there are no surprises at the end, and I felt that the final twists, as we leave the past tense and move into present tense, are a worthy conclusion to such an astonishingly good book. Gideon is a very deep character, and though he begins as a stereotype (who better to play War than a soldier?), he breaks out of that mold and asserts his individuality pretty quickly. We see him for all he is, and though he’s a natural born leader and fighter, he’s angry, tired, frustrated, scared, sad, and in love too. He’s just a kid trying to figure himself out while also trying to cope with this new, scary world (literal demons aside, I think we can all relate to this), and Rossi’s portrayal is very accessible. I found myself completely immersed in Gideon’s story even though I have nothing on the surface level in common with him, but I can understand his struggles to reconcile his inner world with his outer world so much. How can we be the person we think everyone wants us to be when we don’t even know what we want to be at that age?
I think my favorite part of this story is Gideon’s relationship with his horse, though it happens pretty late in the plot. But when it does happen, it’s a bit of a fist pumping in the air moment for him, and I wished so hard that it had happened sooner. But Rossi does an excellent job of keeping that bit of relief at bay. Life isn’t about being easily satisfied. Sometimes you need patience and perseverance before things fall into place, and Gideon and his totally fantastic horse are such a great lesson for that. And though the end of this novel is definitely a cliffhanger, I’m not mad about it. Gideon’s character arc is pretty complete, though I’m definitely dying to know what happens next.
Seeker begins several months later from Daryn’s point of view. In Riders, Gideon’s relationship with Daryn is complicated at best, and knowing that Daryn parts ways with the boys at the end of the first book, I knew we’d be seeing the world from Daryn’s point of view. And with how appealing the first book is across all genders, I was worried that male readers wouldn’t be into Daryn’s point of view. I think it’s pretty safe to say that Daryn’s side of the story is still broadly accessible, not focused on the romance that might put off male teen readers, and absolutely essential in moving the plot forward. But that doesn’t mean we’ve left Gideon behind! Chapters alternate between their two points of view, so we’re getting the full story as each of them attempt to find and rescue their missing Horseman.
Up until this point, Daryn’s been a mystery. She lacked clarity as a side character, and her motivations are something Gideon has been questioning throughout his story. But now we see her, fully realized, and I think her voice is important here too. She has an interesting history that’s brought to light in Seekers, and her pain and frustration and self-doubt are as easy to identify with as Gideon’s, despite the two of them having very different personalities. And she has a streak of independence, well-earned after being on her own for so long, that leads her into dangerous territory. Fortunately, she and Gideon’s team are after the same thing, and Gideon knows that he can’t accomplish the task without her, no matter what their feelings are for each other. Teamwork is the only way out, and Gideon and the rest look to her for guidance as they search for their missing friend and seek a way to destroy an evil being for good.
I strongly recommend this duology for the reluctant readers of any age and gender in your life. And although it would be awesome to see more set in this world, the conclusion brought a satisfying end to a terrific tale about friendship, family, and perseverance against all odds, perfect for a long weekend read.
Ardi Alspach is a freelance writer and a book publicist in New York City. She hails from sunny South Carolina and can be found on twitter @ardyceelaine.