*SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW*
As part of the Zoella Book club this year, I ordered the bundle, which included all 8 books featured in the book club this year. One of those books was After The Fire. Out of all the books in the bundle, I wasn’t excepting to like After The Fire so much, as it is not normally my kind of book.
The book is about a young woman named Moonbean, she has grown up in a compound and raised mainly by her ‘brothers and sisters’ as her mother was banished years earlier. The compound is ran by a preacher by the name of Father John, a man who preaches the bible to get his own way and pretends he is the voice for God, on earth. The book flips from after the fire and before the fire, giving us massive insights into the life behind the fences before the fire. We learn about Moonbeans mother, her relationship with Luke and Nate. Through therapy, after the fire, Moonbean talks about what happened to people who didn’t follow the rules of Father John and why they were not allowed contact with the outside world. Throughout the ‘before’ sections of the book, we see Moonbeans faith start to shake, she starts believing other things other the in God and Father John. In the after sections we see her become stronger, shutting down the screaming words and preaches of Father John that are engraved into her mind.
One sign that I am enjoying a book, is that it’s never out of my hands. When I put the book down to do something else, I am excited to continue reading the story to see what happens next. I couldn’t put this book down, I just kept wanting to go back to it every time I had something else that needed to be done. I was drawn in after the first paragraph. If a book I didn’t think I would enjoy as it’s not the normal book genre I am interested in, I was given a nice surprise, I enjoyed this book. I really enjoyed this book. So much so that I want to read more written by Will Hill and more books based on the things highlighted in this book.
At the end of the book there are a set of discussion questions about the book, I thought this was a nice touch to the end of the book and I thought I would answer them here, as part of my review of this book.
Father John is able to exert control over the members of the Lord’s Legion through both psychological and physical methods. Pick out some of the methods he uses and discuss why or how you think they were effective.
Father John used both of these methods to his full advantage. Through using both of these kinds of methods he had control of everyone in the compound, they feared him and that is exactly what he wanted these methods to accomplish. I think one of the scariest punishments that was both physical abusive as well as psychological was the box. People feared going into the box, with good reason. The box was described by Moonbean as a metal box in the middle of the Texas dessert. It was insanely hot in the day time and freezing cold when the sun went down. You are left with the basics to survive and even if you do, just like in Shanti’s case, was surviving even worth it? Left with no light, just enough water and bread, you baked during the day in the steaming hot metal box and froze during the night. That is physical abuse. Leaving someone in a box with no contact with other people, alone. That is psychological abuse. This man knew what he was doing in terms of keeping people in line. Even if you thought something you were not supposed to, you hate yourself as that’s heresy. If you said or done something Father John seemed ‘unsavoury’ you’d be punished, be beating or by the box or by starvation.
Is it possible to feel empathy towards Luke, or understand his actions? Why or why not?
Some will say yes to this question, others no. I think it’s entirely possible to feel empathy for him and maybe understand his actions BUT that does not make it okay or right. You could say he was scared and that is why he was the way he was, but throughout the book, even in group sessions after the fire, you can see that there is no changing his beliefs, he was brainwashed and I did not see a way out of him even before he killed himself. Killing himself seemed quite fitting for him, it made sense somewhat, except that suicide was a sin, but then again this wasn’t normal people being taught the word of the bible, it was a man twisting a whole religion to get what he wanted, control and power. I think Luke didn’t have a chance. He grow up on the base, he knew no other life. He did not know what it was really like to live a life not shadowed with fear and punishment for even thinking something you shouldn’t. As a child, he had no parents, not even knowing if his parents were still on the base, or whether they had left must have been extremely frustrating, confusing and painful. He looked up to Father John, the was the only father figure that Luke knew all through his childhood and adolescent years. He looked at Father John like his father, he believed every word that Father John preached, he would never believe that Father John was never a true believer or that he was a fraud because for his whole like he had looked up this man and believed he was the voice of God. This makes me feel sorry for him, he believed this man, a man that told him if he did everything for God, he would ascend and life a happy afterlife. I understand his actions because he had a sheltered life in a compound that preached all sorts of nonsense, he had no contact with the outside world, he was brought up in a world that was surrounded by fear and devotion to one person, Father John. I do not accept his actions nor would I ever forgive someone for those actions but you can understand why was the way he was and his story does make you feel for him.
As Will states in his author note, this novel is not meant as an attack on Christianity, but instead an exploration of power, and how power can corrupt. Would you consider the doctrine that Father John uses a type of ‘religion’? Do you think Father John ever believes his own creed?
I don’t this book has anything to do with a real religion of any sorts. Father John simply picked Christianity and exploited the religion for his own personal gain. When we talk about religious cults or terrorism, we aren’t talking about the real religion we are talking about extremists, plain and simple. What Father John preached within the compound was not the Christian faith. Now, I am an atheist, I do not believe. But that does not mean I do not see what Father Johns intentions are, I know enough about religion to say that what he taught, wasn’t the true teachings of the bible. Religion shouldn’t be about fear, it should be about a group of people who have the same faith coming together and being united as a group. Father John simply choose a religion to exploit, he used to words in the bible and twisted them to suit his own needs. He took extracts and flipped their meaning, he used fear as a way of controlling people. When Luke kills himself so he can ascend, it is made clear to me that Father John did not preach the true words of the bible as Suicide is a sin and an a sin won’t send you to heaven. Again, I do not believe in any of this as an atheist but true Christians do, so why didn’t Luke? Was he simply lost and confused on the teachings of the bible? Or, which is more likely, did Father John not preach to this followers that suicide was a sin? Did he tell them in an honourable way to ascend? Father John, in my eyes, was not a believer in what he was preaching, by believing what he was saying would mean he wasn’t in power and the things he said were out of his hands. He told his followers that the things he told them were from God, but truly that cannot be true, because a man who needs to be in control, he would feel powerless, if God was I fact in charge. I believe that most of his followers believed in God, they believed he was true and that he spoke to God. Some on the other hands were probably there out of sheer fear, fear that they wouldn’t ascend or they simply just feared Father John. No, Father John did not believe his own creed, he was a criminal, a fraud who was playing another angle, one that lead him to a compound were he could and did have all the power and control he wanted and craved. By believing his own creed, he’d the power and if he didn’t have the power, the control would go away as well.
Quick Q&A –
Favourite Character – Moonbean
Favourite Quote – What if the only way out of the darkness is to light a fire?
Most shocking part – When we found out Nate was dead and that Moonbean killed Father John( I thought he was the one to light the fire).
Best part – When Moonbean finally told the whole story – she could finally be free of any guilt and could try and get her life back together.
It wasn’t until the end of the book that I realised that Will Hill based his book on the ‘Branch Davidians and the Waco siege in 1993. After reading about the American cult and what happened during the 51 day stand off with agencies like the FBI, it makes more sense. Although the book doesn’t talk about any 51 day stand off, it talks about a fire, in which the cause is unknown, in the book it is Luke who sets the church on fire and Moonbean who kills their leader. The book also mentions the weapons, which was the reason the raid took place. I think Will Hill did an amazing job at writing this book, it is hard to write something about a religious cult and make it not an attack on a religion.
What are your views on this book? Did you like Moonbean’s recovery? What did you think about Father Johns intentions? Did you have empathy toward Luke?
Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter – @lifeasshanx #AfterTheFire