After the Fire by Will Hill
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on October 2, 2018
Pages: 464
Format:ARC, eARC
Source:ALA, Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

The things I've seen are burned into me, like scars that refuse to fade.

Before, she lived inside the fence. Before, she was never allowed to leave the property, never allowed to talk to Outsiders, never allowed to speak her mind. Because Father John controlled everything—and Father John liked rules. Disobeying Father John came with terrible consequences.

But there are lies behind Father John's words. Outside, there are different truths.

Then came the fire.

Since I basically never read synopses (or even titles apparently), I went into After the Fire not knowing it was more a psychological expose on cults and the aftermath than a thriller. This is in no way a bad thing, just worth a mention in case you are like me and pay attention to nothing. But yeah, I have wanted to read this book for ages, since before it even came out in the UK. And it definitely delivered, so now I will tell you why!

  • Handles the cult aspect well; no sensationalizing for the sake of the story. This could have gone another way, let’s be real: it could have been a huge melodrama that accidentally glorified cults. That didn’t happen here. It’s messy, it’s raw, it’s emotional, but it is in no way glamorized. After the fire (ha) Moonbeam and the others are basically in a dreary psychiatric center, not writing tell-alls and visiting Ellen. And to me, that might have been the most important thing for the author to get right, and he did.
  • Brings the concept of a religious doomsday cult to life.  A lot of you were perhaps too young to remember the news event that was Waco and the Branch Davidians. I,however, am not.  I won’t lie, this is where my morbid fascination of cults began (gaining tons of speed during the Heaven’s Gate mess), and the Waco seige is the event that inspired the author to write this book. It’s not a replica, nor does it try to be- the author makes clear that this is a fictional account- but there are certainly similarities. (Also, you’re welcome for the Wikipedia rabbit hole you’ll find yourself down.)
  • Very sympathetic, yet realistic, main character. Moonbeam isn’t perfect, she’s not some martyr that you just cry for. Yes, you feel for her because she’s a decent human being who had a really tough and unfair go of things. But she’s likable for me because she is not portrayed as a helpless martyr. She’s so strong, stronger than she knows. She’s smart, and brave, and stubborn as all hell. And since most of this book takes place inside her head, it’s pretty important that the reader comes to care about her. And I definitely did.
  • Therapy is handled positively and appropriately. Obviously there is a lot of therapy taking place in this book- individual as well as group- and it’s pretty great to see how it’s handled. Is it always perfect? Absolutely not! Moonbeam doesn’t always want to talk, she doesn’t always like her therapist, but she absolutely makes progress and begins to see its value. And to me, that is kind of everything.  Along those same lines, authority figures in general are humanized. Of course Moonbeam sees the authorities as a villain at first, but this agent has her absolute best interests at heart and it’s so clear.
  • Definitely knew what the outcome was going to be, but that didn’t make it much less compelling. Okay look, this is my only one kind-of-negative, too. Because I did know exactly how this was going to end up. So was I on pins and needles by the end? No. But I was still completely invested in Moonbeam’s journey regardless, and a lot of her emotional breakthroughs were even more enthralling than a plot twist would have been.

Bottom Line: This is really quite well done, and if you’re interested in cults at all it should probably make an appearance on your TBR.

Cults: Are you into them at all? Do you remember the Waco standoff? Any other cults you want to chat about? I am here for it! 

Posted September 20, 2018 by Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight in Review / 19 Comments

19 responses to “Review: After the Fire by Will Hill

  1. I’ve always been intrigued by cults, and I really need to read more books about them -both fiction and non-fiction, I mean. This sounds really interesting so I’m going to add it to my to-read list immediately! I was born in ’94 so obviously I can’t have any recollections of Waco. I think I first became intrigued by cults when I started watching Criminal Minds as a teenager, and then learned more about people like Charles Manson.

  2. I know you love those cult books, and glad to hear this one delivered. I have never heard of this book, but lots of great pros there. I am always happy to hear when mental health issues are handled well.

  3. So I kind of don’t usually like cult books but I HAVE read a few I really liked. So like I get curious and I LOVE good writing/great characters, but still on the fence for this one.😂It’s actually the first I’ve heard of it!

  4. Kel

    Can’t say I’m in a big rush to read a cult book just this moment, but it does sound interesting. And if you like hearing about cults, I haven’t listened to it yet, but an author I follow is involved in a podcast that discusses a bunch of them. It’s called “Cult Faves” and I’m 90% sure it’s free on iTunes?

  5. YES! I’ve also wanted to read this book since it came out in the UK. I’ve been patiently waiting for the US release. I love cult books and may have read several hundred of them. I was too young to care about Waco when it happened, but I have read a lot about it. I’m glad you liked this book and thought it was realistic. Great review!

  6. I watch a lot of true crime shows, most of them about cults, but I haven’t read any YA book about it so After the Fire really piqued my interest. I am not familiar with the Waco cult but when I saw this book, I already did an advanced Wiki research. Unfortunately the Netgalley gods are fickle and I got declined when I requested for this title even though I have approvals from the same publisher before. So excuse me while I’m gradually turning into a green eyed monster here.

    Jealousy aside, I am genuinely glad that you enjoyed this book! Living vicariously at the moment through this review. And will await the day of release for me to snag my own copy. 🙂

  7. I love cults, obviously, but I see this is a serious take so I’ll restrain my snark. 🙂 It does sound like a powerful read. And I have to admit, inspired as it by real events, that I’m kinda curious to read this now. Also- Moonbeam? Did they all have weird names in this cult?

    Therapy does seem like it would be SO important for survivors of something like this, so it’s nice to see that that was handled well. It would probably almost be like de- -programming or de- brainwashing, in some cases. I imagine.

  8. Wow. I too skip the summary so had no idea this was about a cult. I’m happy this is really well done, my fascination started when I listened to Last Podcast on the Left’s episode on Children of God.

    Have you read Gated?

  9. I don’t generally read a ton of cult stuff, but the synopsis of this sounded brilliant, and it seems like a lot of people have been enjoying it! I actually just started it this morning, and I only read the first couple of chapters, but phew. It starts with a bang (pun not intended, but I’m going to pretend it was), and I just cannot wait to get more into it!

  10. While this has been kind of a ‘quiet title’ (at least for me), I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about it ever since its UK publication. I haven’t yet bought it, but I’m VERY excited, and your review pushed it up on my wishlist. I especially love how you described Moonbeam as a main characters, plus I’m always so here for therapy positive books. Great review, Sharon! 🙂

    Veronika @ The Regal Critiques

  11. I’m the same way! I’ve started judging books almost solely on their covers. I’ve been spoiled by a synopsis one too many times, so now I’m wary. I had a similar experience the other day when I requested a book. It ended up being very religious, which is not what I was expecting. It mentioned a robbery that lasted maybe 10 pages, but Christianity is a HUGE part of this guy’s identity. It was a surprise, haha. I didn’t mind at first, but then the story started to drag.

    I’m glad this one worked out for you!
    Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear?

  12. I do find cults fascinating, but I don’t know much about any particular one. I’m glad the book handled that aspect well though and didn’t actually glorify the cults. I’m also happy to hear that therapy was done well since that’s an important thing for a lot of people and it shouldn’t be written off, even if parts don’t work, etc.


  13. So glad you enjoyed this and cults aren’t one of my interests but it certainly sounds like everything included in the book was well researched and handled well. I am pleased to see therapy was handled well as well because that would obviously be such a central part to this book and if that wasn’t written well it could have been difficult for this book to make a good impact. I am intrigued from your review so I think I may try and get my library to get this in.

  14. I started reading Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. It’s supposedly about a satanic cult. I plunged in it thinking it’s about a cult. I love learning and reading about cults.

Leave a Reply