After The Fire

After The Fire

After The Fire
Will Hill

Usborne Publishing Ltd

ISBN 9781474924153

Father John controls everything inside The Fence. And Father John likes rules. Especially about never talking to Outsiders. Because Father John knows the truth. He knows what is right, and what is wrong. He knows what is coming. But Moonbeam is starting to see the lies behind Father John's words. She wants him to be found out. What if the only way out of the darkness is to light a fire?

Librarian's Book choice

Now this is a beauty of a book, clear the decks because once you start you aren't going to want to leave it until the final page.

The secrecy of a cult, a fire and a siege, and a traumatised survivor battling with a secret she ca't bear to face. Overwhelmed by guilt and struggling with years of conditioning, Moonbeam is the 17 year old survivor and incredible voice of After the Fire; she unpeels the life she knew in the presence of Dr Hernandez, a psychiatrist and Agent Carlyle, FBI agent. She unpeels the life she had already come to doubt before the fire and the final reckoning. The life and the rules that had trapped her, controlled her, owned her. The life as a Sister in the Holy Church of The Lord's Legion under the guidance of Father John, The Prophet. Before. The. Fire.

Father John first enters the story as a voice in Moonbeam's head, remonstrating with her for any slight transgression from the teachings of the Lord's Legion, reminding her of the True Path and the sin of talking to Outsiders. Though she had already started to doubt the motives and wisdom of The Prophet, the teachings of a lifetime are difficult to disengage from. Indeed the teachings of the cult are so deeply embedded, her guilt so overwhelming and her future so uncertain, that each day free of The Base remains a struggle, and we wonder if Moonbeam can learn to silence the enraged voice of Father John.

The genius of Will Hill is such that he split the narrative, pivoting on the Final Battle so Moonbeam talks about Before the fire and After. With this division we see the machinations and manipulation within the Lord's Legion, Moonbeam's life from within the cult and the rules that guided and controlled her, in contrast to the disbelief afterwards, the need to rationalise that existence and separate the lies from the truth, to try and find her place in a world that she was taught was against her.

The tension is palpable. Dr Hernandez and Agent Carlyle provide support, patience and kindness, teasing out Moonbeam's story, adding a superb dynamic. The story is truly gripping (deceit, manipulation, faith - blind faith - survival), all the more so when you understand the seed of the book started as a 12 year old Will Hill watched the news coverage of the Waco Siege in 1993, a government assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Texas. Years later, reading accounts of the psychologist who worked with the surviving children, Will wondered what it would be like to be a teenager processing their new reality. And After the Fire was born!

496 pages / Ages 14+ / Reviewed by Catherine Purcell, school librarian.