Tuesday, 10 October 2017

After the Fire, by Will Hill

Probably the best standalone YA novel I have read this year. After the Fire is compelling, empathetic and so perfectly paced. Narrator and protagonist Moonbeam is a remarkable character- despite never knowing life in the real world, she is humane, intelligent and ceaselessly strong. What an amazing young woman, I kind of love her.

The novel jumps right in to a chaotic siege, there is gunfire, panic, roaring flames. The frantic narrator recognises bloodied, dead and dying faces around her; she's running, apparently on neither one side nor the other. We don't know these dead people yet. The next time we see Moonbeam, she is waking up in a secure facility, alive and bandaged. She has survived the fire, but she does not know if she is safe. She is now in the hands of the Outsiders, the Government- people she has been raised to believe are torturers, murderers and devils. She is suspicious of them to begin with, as anyone would be waking up in what they have always been told is the lion's den.

The book is split into numerous sections, each one labelled Before and After (the fire). In the After, a shell-shocked, confused and doubt riddled Moonbeam is required to sit down in therapy sessions with a Dr Hernandez and eventually also Agent Carlyle, as they work to piece together the aspects of her life and experiences. Moonbeam grew up and lived most of her life on the "Base", the homestead of the Lord's Legion, a cultish branch of extremist Christianity led by the charismatic, tyrannical Father John; a fire and brimstone Prophet who claims to commune directly with The Lord.

As Moonbeam reveals more about Father John, his increasing powers and his means of control, life on the Base is laid bare. The manipulation. The fear. The brainwashing. The disappearances. The radicalisation of angry young men by means of isolation, ego stoking, entitlement and gun access. The reader follows Moonbeam's gradual realisation that her religion is deeply flawed, that how she and her peers are treated is wrong, that Father John is an absolute maniac and that nobody else is going to be able to help her get away- nobody except for Nate, a dreamy guy from the outside that manages to win the favour of Father John, chucks a spanner in his works and then promptly vanishes into the dust. It's really easy to relate to Moonbeam's feelings for Nate- being convinced that he just sees her as this annoying, doting kid with a crush.

Moonbeam takes her time to recount her story, gradually leading up to what she considers to be a sickening, gut churning secret, a festering guilt that will taint her in the eyes of the men she has come to trust, and the remaining Base kids that are still at the facility with her. The ones that look up to her. It's a hearbreaking story of abuse, a yearning for belonging and powerlessness that is both emotional and fascinating.

I love books that feature cults, and the people that come to their senses and escape. After the Fire is honestly one of the best novels I've read this year and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone- readers that loved Lisa Heathfield's Seed will go mad for it, as would any adult readers that enjoyed last year's runaway cult bestseller The Girls, by Emma Cline. After the Fire is pacy, intelligent, filled with compelling characters, both innocent and evil and a fascinating study of how charismatic, forceful individuals can create their own empires if they are deluded enough, they believe their own lies enough, and if the supply of lost, damaged and disillusioned individuals to convert is plentiful enough.



  1. Fantastic review, and I loved your recommendations at the end.
    Cora ❤ http://www.teapartyprincess.co.uk/