What happens to the child survivors of a brainwashing cult? How do they begin to process the horrors they have seen? Loosely based on the Waco siege of 1993, After the Fire by Will Hill is a stunning depiction of the lead-up to and aftermath of an armed siege on a Texan cult compound. This highly original novel has scooped the YA Book Prize 2018, and is undoubtedly the best book I’ve reviewed so far this year. Events unfold through the eyes of Moonbeam, a teenage girl at the heart of the drama. Moonbeam knows no life outside The Holy Church of The Lord’s Legion and its formidable leader, Father John.
‘Outside’ is considered dangerous. ‘It corrupts and seduces, and its darkness seeps into even the purest heart.’ Days revolve around domesticity and preparing for ‘End Times,’ when the group members will ascend to Heaven on pillars of light. They are the Chosen ones.
The Lord will keep them safe and bring them glorious victory.
Or will He? A seed of doubt takes root in Moonbeam’s troubled mind, and she begins to see the cruel truth. How Moonbeam overcomes her fear and takes on the corrupt might of Father John, makes for a compelling read.
Will Hill brilliantly describes the machinations of Father John. He is the archetypal cult leader, possessed of physical magnetism and an intensity that leads to howling, spitting speeches, where he pounds the lectern until his knuckles bleed. It’s chilling to discover that Moonbeam is lined up to be his wife number six.
There is sexual abuse in this book, violence and suffering. Big themes for a big book. At 476 pages, it demands a committed reader, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to open minded teens. The author’s notes also throw up some interesting debate topics around the nature of faith, power, and survival. This is such an accomplished novel,
I’m already looking forward to Will Hill’s next book.
Interested in more Teen/YA books? Have a look at Kirstin’s selection here.
After the Fire by Will Hill is published by Usborne Publishing, 476 pages.