Missy didn’t mean to cut so deep. But after the party where she was humiliated in front of practically everyone in school, who could blame her for wanting some comfort? Sure, most people don’t find comfort in the touch of a razor blade, but Missy always was…different.So I gotta admit, anticipation of this book (an ARC, btw) was another wash for me. I enjoyed Hunger, and was eagerly looking forward to some expansion on its world and characters, but wasn’t sure I could sympathize with a heroine who cuts. Even more than anorexia, cutting was something I did not understand, but I thought perhaps Rage could do for cutting what Hunger had done for anorexia to me, and plus, there would be more development of the Horsemen, and that interesting take on Death, since he and War work so closely, right? Well…yes and no.
That’s why she was chosen to become one of the Four Horsemen Apocalypse: War. Now Missy wields a different kind of blade – a big, brutal sword that can cut down anyone and anything in her path. But it’s with this weapon in her hand that Missy learns something that could help her triumph over her own pain: control.
A unique approach to the topic of self-mutilation, Rage is the story of a young woman who discovers her own power, and refuses to be defeated by the world.
Calling Rage a sequel to Hunger is a bit of an understatement – really, it’s almost a retelling of Hunger with a different protagonist, a different problem, a different Horseman, and an alternate ending. The sequencing, pacing, events, characters, everything else is almost exactly the same (right down to the boss fight), except for those few details. This is probably the biggest issue I have with Rage – we don’t get anything new from it. Honestly, you could close your eyes, pretend Lisa’s name is Missy, that she cuts instead of starves herself, and that she does what you actually wanted her to do in the end of Hunger, and you wouldn’t miss much.
But maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe you can’t judge Rage by paranormal fiction standards, because, like Hunger, Rage isn’t about the Horsemen. Rage is about Missy and cutting. And to be fair, I did learn about cutting. I’m sure there are some people out there who do it for stupid reasons, but Kessler portrayed what I guess is the core cause in Missy, and in a way, I can understand it. Actually, Kessler went out of her way to show that Missy’s cutting was not what people commonly perceive cutting to be (including myself). Missy is not suicidal, or a masochist. She was never molested or abused or traumatized (at least, not until after – and actually it was because – she started cutting), and she isn’t doing it because it’s cool. She does it because it’s her way of releasing all the pain inside her, because when she cuts she’s in control of the pain, and because she’s kind of addicted to it. Ok, I get it. And it’s not completely what I thought. Obviously the PSA portion of the book was educational.
I’ll be honest though, it took me a long time to sympathize with Missy, much longer than it took me to care about Lisa in Hunger. From the start, Missy is scathingly bitchy. She looks down on everything, everyone – her parents, her sister, even her friends – and while I can understand this, since they have the type of personalities that I’d be frustrated with, too, she doesn’t back this up with her behavior. She thinks a good game, but when it comes to standing up for herself, to practicing that mental cynicism, to really showing that bitchy nature, she fails. And I’m sorry, when she is set up by her ex at the big party, yes, it’s absolutely horrible, those people were assholes, but what kind of stupid do you have to be to fall for that? I guess the point is that she was still vulnerable where her ex was concerned, but I was bashing my head on the desk, groaning “WHY ARE YOU SO STUPID? You’re posing? HOW CAN YOU NOT SEE THIS IS A SET UP? Also, why are you even with this guy right now, at best he clearly brought you up here for a quick lay, and he spread rumors about you when you were legitimately a couple, what do you think is going to happen now? What are you doing?“
This came up again not long after the party, when some teammates on the soccer team peed on her gym bag so that she couldn’t go to the post-game celebration with them, and then stayed to taunt her about it. Missy was devastated, and made her way out of the situation by smiling insanely at them (she’s War, she can do that), but I was sitting there thinking, “What kind of freaks take turns peeing on someone’s bag? And like, right in front of each other, too. Gross. That’s almost weirder than cutting yourself. What the Hell, Missy, why aren’t you bringing that up?”
It really wasn’t until the very end, as issues arose that she couldn’t prevent or snark or argue her way out of (if she’d been so inclined) that I felt anything aside from frustration or indifference for Missy as a character.
Plus, Missy spends a lot of time sulking and talking about her ‘dead face’ and ‘putting her heart in a glass jar’ and stuffing her emotions into it, and lots of other really melodramatic and actually kind of cliched concepts that I’ll admit annoyed me. However, Kessler does something I liked in this regard, and she she did it in Hunger, too, though I don’t think I touched on it in that review. Basically, she has her heroines realize as they go into the world that their pain, their issues, aren’t hugely important in the grand scheme of things. Which isn’t to say she trivializes them. There’s a good balance – you understand their pain and how their problems are very real and affect their lives – but the reader and the characters also see that what they do is almost indulgent and self-absorbed. Both Lisa and Missy come into contact with people who suffer every day because they are forced to endure the things the protagonists choose to do to themselves. It’s quite a reality check, and I applaud Kessler for forcing her heroines to confront this truth.
That being said, like Hunger, the most interesting parts of this book, for me, involved the Horsemen. But again, there wasn’t much new here (War even has basically the same powers as Famine, sigh). We got a few cool new scraps – a look at Pestilence’s madness, and his beliefs about the Horsemen riding together (foreshadowing, maybe? I hope so), and a look at the new Famine (though she plays basically the same role War and Pestilence did in the last book). There was a disappointing lack of Death – he wasn’t present much more than he was in Hunger, which confuses me because aren’t he and War supposed to work together? And he is still, distractingly, wearing a Kurt Cobaine suit.
WHY? That wasn’t funny or cute in Hunger, and now in Rage, we harp on it, since Missy decides to ask him if he’s really Kurt Cobaine, acting as Death’s avatar, or if it’s just a suit. This actually could have provided some interesting insight into Death’s incarnation in this world, but OH WAIT, he doesn’t answer, so never mind. It’s pretty obvious that the author is a fan, and that this is a just a bit of indulgent fangirling.
I did like the ending, since it’s the one I actually wanted from Hunger, but with Missy I found I cared a little less :/ I think I would’ve liked the ending on Lisa a little more. Good to know the Famine after her wasn’t a crazy bitch. And, by the way, what’s with Death recruiting unstable teenagers to be Horsemen, anyway? That seems counter-intuitive, like, “Hey, let’s get someone who’s having serious mental issues and put this enormous weight on their shoulders that may cause them to completely lose their shit and destroy the world.” WHAT A GREAT IDEA. But I suppose if we didn’t, there wouldn’t be a series, so eh.
All in all, I’d have to say I liked Rage much less than Hunger. Yes, it was a decent PSA against cutting (especially the epilogue), but there was nothing new here except that topic. I’m not sure how to rule on this one, because I wouldn’t recommend it to paranormal romance/urban fantasy fans who’ve read the first one – it’s basically the same book in those respects. But it’s a good read for anyone who’s had/knows someone who’s had an issue with cutting.