The Fifth Horseman

A comic fantasy that rides roughshod over the rules of life… and death

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Pub Date 07 Feb 2023 | Archive Date 07 Feb 2023

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Internationally published bestselling author Jon Smith makes his adult debut with The Fifth Horseman, a modern comic fantasy that rides roughshod over established mythology and the rules of life… and death.

The Fifth Horseman is a darkly comic tale of two thirty-somethings caught between our world and the afterlife, who must embrace their role as reapers to prevent the End Times. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy meets Father Ted, perfect for fans of Ben Aaronovitch, Terry Pratchett, and Neil Gaiman.

Death is just a day job you can’t quit…

Emma and Mark had a bad day. The worst part of it was dying. But, according to Death, the Rider on the Pale Horse and first horseman of the apocalypse, things aren’t that simple. Turns out the sand in their hourglass is stuck in place. Somewhere between life and death, they’re put to work as Death’s assistants, reaping the souls of the living until it’s time for their final clock out…

To compound matters, despite their omnipotence, the four horsemen are facing an existential threat – one they’re ill-equipped and ill-prepared to combat. 

Emma and Mark must reap like their afterlives depend on it, to help prevent the End Times – even if it means scuppering the one opportunity they have at being granted a second chance at life.

Filled with humour, romantic tension, and suspense, Jon Smith utilises a witty, lightly sarcastic ensemble of flawed but loveable characters. It will appeal to mainstream fantasy readers and hopeless romantics, as well as those who enjoy a good story and a good laugh.

Internationally published bestselling author Jon Smith makes his adult debut with The Fifth Horseman, a modern comic fantasy that rides roughshod over established mythology and the rules of life… and...

A Note From the Publisher


Jon Smith is the bestselling author of 14 books for children, teens, and adults. His books have sold more than 500,000 copies and are published in seven languages.

In addition to writing books, Jon is an award-winning screenwriter and musical theatre lyricist and librettist with productions at the Birmingham Hippodrome, Belfast Waterfront and London’s Park & Waterloo East theatres.

Jon enjoyed a happy childhood—making daisy chains, holidays in the sun and an obsessive interest in all things fantasy. No brace, few spots and only one broken bone and one broken heart (not his). It all went swimmingly.

Father of four, he lives near Liverpool with his wife, Mrs. Smith, and their two school-age children. When he grows up he’d like to be a librarian.


Jon Smith is the bestselling author of 14 books for children, teens, and adults. His books have sold more than 500,000 copies and are published in seven languages.

In addition...

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Available Editions

EDITION Paperback
ISBN 9781838452940
PRICE £9.99 (GBP)

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Average rating from 66 members

Featured Reviews

If you love Jasper affords, you’ll love Jon Smith. This book is equal parts dark comedy and fantasy fiction, with plenty of the absurd thrown in for good measure. You’ll be taken on a journey of blended fiction, myth, and English life, and enjoy every minute of it. I’d definitely recommend this read

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The book is a wonderfully fun read. It tackles some darker themes such as death, suicide and the growing hold that greed has over society as a whole. However it takes them on in a light hearted way that supplies plenty of laughs without losing the message along the way.

The book is written in a lovely tone that flows and is extremely easy to read, and before you know it you have devoured chapter after chapter! It also has a nice cast of characters, the great banter between Emma and Mark, the 2 main characters, the cantankerous old Death and his lovely and charming assistant Veronique, are all great additions that makes it a really nice read!

I am a sucker for Death being personified and turned into a character, especially one that subverts the standard expectations in some way and humanises him.

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The Fifth Horseman by Jon Smith follows Emma, who is fed up life, and decides that chucking herself off of a building is definitely the way to go. And then we get fucking Mark. Her flat mate. Also standing on top of this building trying to convince her to rethink her decisions and maybe being like "Don't do it I love you!!" which who does that?! Mark falls from the building on accident... and Emma definitely made the jump. Instead of hitting the sidewalk, the pair get picked up by Death... on a horse because he is cool like that.

Their hourglass froze, with just enough life in those final moments. They are now literally caught between life and death, and Death has no freaking idea what to do with them. Naturally he takes them to limbo, and makes them his apprentices.

I love that Death was living his best afterlife in his cottage by the River Styx, and that he was pretty much living in nostalgia of the past. How does death become to old to do his job? He was definitely getting too old for this shit. Jon Smith did a great job finding humor in death, and creating a fun and imaginative world. it has been a whole mess of fun. The cover drew me in, but the humor kept me reading.

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Emma feels her life isn't worth continuing and that she's achieved all she'll ever achieve. She decides to off herself by falling from the top of a high building. She's left a goodbye message for her roommate and friend, Mark. While trying to save her from this decision, he accidentally knocks them both off to their seeming death. Just before they are about to hit the ground, Death rides in and scoops them up. However, there is a hitch! Both of their hourglasses still technically contain some sand, which means they are now stuck between life and death.

I really enjoyed this book. It hit at a time when I needed to read something humorous, even if it is death. I loved the author's sense of humour that flowed through their writing. The characters are funny, and there is good banter between them which makes this an easy weekend read. Sometimes you just need to read something that makes you giggle.

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Thank you to NetGalley for the e-ARC.

The Fifth Horseman has wit, charm, and entertainment all wrapped up with just the right level of dark humour. It's engaging enough not to drag but slow enough to let you enjoy the characters as they navigate this strange new situation they find themselves in.

Emma and Mark engage in some funny banter, and at times Death feels like a tired professor watching his students rip up the syllabus and submit a dance piece for thier final essay. It's a fun relationship that also knows when to throw the punch about the fragility and temporary state of living. Death, the reality, is terrifying for many, and Jon Smith doesn't shy away from that, but instead lets it thread this story together.

The Horsemen were fun and also depressing in the way they really exposed some of the horrors we often think of but fail to realize the shadows they cast, like just how severe starvation and disease are in the world and the boasting of the Horsemen feels like a jab at the system rather than a mockery of the situation which I appreciated.

I found this overall lighthearted and upbeat with quick humour that didn't overstay its welcome. A little over the top at times, but in the way that gave me sitcom vibes in the good way. Mark has some lines I was less fond of towards Emma which felt a bit tired and old but I also feel Emma was assertive in her boundaries with him.

I think the comparison to Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman is always a gamble. I didn't find as much delight in Death which I think is primarily a Me issue, as Death in Pratchett's books holds such a dear place in pop culture. But the presence of both authors is felt in this story without being overwhelming.

Overall this was a fun ride and I think offers an easy read.

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When I saw in the synopsis that this book had that satirical humor that Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy had, I instantly wanted to read this. I was so happy to be given an ARC (Thank you!).

The beginning was great and I think the ending really sold the entire concept. Some parts in the middle get a little muddled. I liked how Time was represented in the book because it was even hard to figure it out throughout the entire book how long they had be "dead" and how that was just a reference to the whole Time is just a human invention. One thing I wished that had been flushed out a little more was the characterization with the romance subplot of this book. I felt like the ending was a bit rushed and that although you saw they had a great friendship, you didn't get to see the budding romance aspect as well. It felt like it was kind of just plopped into the story to make a certain audience interested. I think the two were a great match, they were humorous and I think they really made this book but that one aspect just needed a little more attention. The overall characterization was amazing and I love the talk of Money controlling the world as a plot point.

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys books like Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy or someone who has a morbid sense of humor.

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This kind of made me feel like this was BBC show. It was cute and insightful. I am glad I am read it especially with some of the thoughts on death. I wouldn't pin it as a comic fantasy. I would pin it as thoughtful fantasy. I didn't feel like there was much comedy. Overall, I enjoyed the book.

It did lie heavily on some tropes that I will not reveal.

-Copy given through netgalley-

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Thank you for the opportunity to read this book and give my opinion of it.
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. It was a very easy read. The humour is on the darker side but not to the extent it’s distasteful. I found myself laughing as the characters were reacting and saying things I know I would be thinking myself.

This book also didn’t shy away for the harder realities of death and I felt it dealt with these with a good balance of humour and empathy.

5 stars from me and I would happily recommend this book to family and friends.

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This is a fun and heart warming read. Of course the characters being from my home city helped a lot. I enjoyed the references to places I frequent a lot. This book managed to deal with some heavy emotions and issues whilst putting it in a more light hearted way.

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This was a beautiful satirical piece, made better by the fact that it was set primarily in Liverpool which meant I could really see the streets and locations. I loved the characters and the dry humour.

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The Fifth Horseman is the first adult novel by award-winning screenwriter and best-selling British children’s author, Jon Smith. When Emma and Mark fall off the Royal Liver Building, they would have died, but for Death on his pale horse scooping them up before they hit the ground. And that is due to some cheap, clearly shoddy hourglasses. So here they are, at Death’s quaint little white pebble-dash cottage, on the wrong side of the River Styx.

Emma had been ending it all, and her flatmate Mark was trying to save her when they fell. Now, Emma wants to be dead, and Mark doesn’t. It’s all academic anyway: Charon refuses to ferry them across, because a. body and soul, they’re too heavy and b. they don’t have a gold coin to pay him.

While Death tries to rectify things with the hourglasses, his assistant, Veronique explains how overworked he is. Death is tired and under a lot of stress “More people die, and he has less time to find the ones who are worth his reaping.” She’s organising a party to cheer him up, so soon enough, War, Pestilence and Famine arrive for the festivities.

While Pestilence and Famine complain about the state of affairs: medical advances, new technologies, well-digging and crop growth are reducing their own impact, War feels things have never been better, although she’s soon in for a bit of a surprise: treaties and agreements, who would have thought?

Veronique suggests that if Emma and Mark give Death a hand, maybe he will be persuaded to find a way to help them die (Emma) or have a second chance at life (Mark). Death reluctantly acquiesces: “Your success will be my success, and your failures will be your failures”, something with which Emma is too familiar in the job she just lost.

They go into training to become reapers. Scythemanship, horsemanship, sandmanship (management of hourglasses), anatmanship (reassembling spirits post-scything) are all studied or practiced. Eventually, Emma is riding a fine stallion (Princess Die) while Mark gets around on Stormrider (his Shetland pony, see cover art) and they’re getting a lesson from Death on how to make a tear in the veil between the worlds: they are apprentice grim, bringing in a set quota of souls on a trial basis.

One tiny complication is that, just before their fall, Mark confessed his undeclared love for Emma, and he hasn’t abandoned hope that they might live out their lives together. He feels they are a good match, each bringing their unique talents to their encounters with the spirits of the dead, be they sad, angry or disbelieving, acquiescent or resistant, argumentative, bent on delay or escape: between them, they seem to have it covered.

Will they manage to put themselves in Death’s good books, and what then?

There’s plenty of laugh-out-loud humour in this tale: Mark’s inner monologue and candid comments are often hilarious. “He was an organiser. A list writer. It wasn't on his radar if it wasn’t scrawled on a Post-it note. Plunging off a tall building and hurtling towards the street whilst embracing his roommate wasn’t even on this month’s additional goals”. The dialogue is often darkly funny, and other little inclusions like Death’s pantry, the Horsemen’s abodes, Charon’s coin tossing and Death’s improvisation with a tractor will likely amuse. A very entertaining read.
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Balkon Media.

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Ever want to take over ferrying people across the river Styx? Then all you have to do is accidentally/on purpose fall off a tall building after declaring your love for someone. Easy peasy.

So in here we have Emma and Mark. Emma was having a really bad day and decided to jump off the building while Mark has been into Emma and tried to stop her. Both went over the edge.

That starts the hijinks of working for death. Death, who just wants to retire and loves the past.

I have to say that parts of this book was much smoother than others. There was a lot of humor yes, but it seemed forced? I am not sure if that is the correct word, but it's what I felt when reading.

I did enjoy this over all and I do want this in audio. I think this is a book made for audio.

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The Fifth Horseman had an interesting premise that immediately grabbed my attention. It was definitely a fun reading experience for me. I liked the character's dynamic and the humor is more sarcastic. I laughed out loud while reading it. I understand this book may not for everybody but it will find the right reader for sure.

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