After the Fire

After the Fire was written by Will Hill and first published in 2017. It is a psychological thriller which focuses on a teenager coming to terms with the horrors that she experienced while growing up in the isolated compound of a fanatically religious sect. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to have read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

Moonbeam was seventeen years old on the day of the fire. She lived to witness the compound being overrun by the Governments and saw her brothers and sisters gunned down before her eyes. It was just like Father John had always taught them. The world outside the fence was filled with the Servants of the Serpent and the Governments existed to wipe out anyone who held the true faith.

Stripped from everything that she has ever known, Moonbeam is taken with the rest of the survivors to a psychiatric hospital and put under the care of Doctor Hernandez. Moonbeam knows that she is not to talk to anyone outside the commune in case their sins infect her but gradually finds herself opening up to the doctor. The truth is, her faith has been shaken ever since the Purge separated her from her mother and, for the first time ever, someone seems to be taking her side.

However, Moonbeam is not sure how much she can divulge. When an FBI agent also begins to attend her sessions, she realises that she needs to be careful. It’s clear that the Governments are trying to piece together exactly what happened on the day of the fire and, if they do, Moonbeam knows that they will uncover the depth of her sins. What will they do to her if they find out that she is responsible for every single death?

I don’t say this very often in my reviews but After the Fire was such an engrossing novel that I found myself absolutely captivated from the very first page. The story is a complex psychological thriller that is actually loosely inspired by the Waco Siege – a real life stand-off between armed authorities and members of a religious sect.

While some people may feel a little concerned by the subject matter, I can assure you that this novel is not intended to be an attack on Christianity. Instead, it provides a thoughtful and sensitive look at how something as pure as faith can be twisted and turned into something negative. It also explores what it is like to live in such a toxic environment. While Doctor Hernandez and Agent Carlyle are sometimes quick to reduce Moonbeam’s experiences to black and white, it gradually becomes clear that this novel exists in shades of grey. While members of her community are guilty of some terrible crimes, the book explores their mentality and we see clearly how fear of the unknown can be used as a terrible tool to indoctrinate people.

Yet there are still some elements of this story that readers may find distressing. While the book is never overly graphic in its depictions, it does contain some references to sexual abuse, child abuse, paedophilia, and gun violence. If you are sensitive or effected by any of these things, you might want to give this novel a miss.

The chapters of After the Fire are relatively short and always easy to follow. They focus on entirely on the experiences of Moonbeam, beginning with her survival of the raid. From this point on, all chapters either take place “Before” or “After” the fire of the title, slowly revealing the events that led up to the siege and, prior to this, the loss of Moonbeam’s faith. The chapters are non-linear, often jumping to different key moments in Moonbeam’s life, but the story does slowly come together to form a picture of what life was like in the compound from the day that Father John took control.

Although the opening chapter does reveal who the only survivors of the siege are, the novel still retains its tension surprisingly well. Moonbeam’s therapy gradually reveals the true extent of the terrible things that she witnessed while in the compound, uncovering twist after twist as the story progresses. This gradual escalation was really effective as I was never entirely sure what would happen to the characters. It left me with a gnawing fear about what being “banished” really entailed and what Father John was hiding in the basement of the Big House. Moonbeam also proves to occasionally be an unreliable narrator, eventually revealing that certain key events didn’t play out the way that she had first claimed. This makes rereading some of the early scenes kind of interesting when you know what really happened during the fire.

As the novel relied on tension more than action to carry the story, it made for an utterly fascinating character study. I was surprised by how quickly I fell in love with Moonbeam. Despite her traumatic experiences, she proves to be brave, sarcastic, and a lot smarter than the adults in the novel give her credit for.

The contrast between her and the other survivors is one of the things that I found most interesting about the story, as there is a definite shift in power after the fire. This is made particularly clear in the change of dynamic between Moonbeam and Luke. While Moonbeam feared him while they were in the compound, she soon comes to realise through their interactions at the hospital that he is inherently broken. His faith in Father John’s teachings make him unable to function on the outside, while Moonbeam grows stronger and more confident by the day. The shift in Moonbeam’s attitude towards Luke, from fear to sympathy, are a clear indicator of how she is recovering from her trauma.

Yet the thing that I enjoyed the most about the story was the interactions between Moonbeam and the adults in her sessions. Her growing relationship with Doctor Hernandez and Agent Carlyle is really heart-warming, beginning with Moonbeam’s mistrust of “the Governments” and following her as she gradually starts to open up to them. Their reactions to her story felt very human and I loved their different approaches towards helping her to come to terms with what happened.

I really don’t have anything else to say. All in all, After the Fire was an excellent read and is certainly a novel that I’d recommend. While it’s not always the most pleasant of novels, the plot and characters are gripping and it will certainly appeal to fans of psychological thrillers who are looking for something a little different.

After the Fire can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The Beneath | Arkham Reviews
  2. Trackback: The Sobeks 2018 – Part 2 | Arkham Reviews

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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