It’s that time again… the Carnegie shortlist is out! This year I’m feeling quite smug as I’ve already inadvertently read one; the wonderful The hate u give by Angi Thomas (which I reviewed here). So technically second on my list is After the fire by Will Hill…
The book opens with a horrific scene; fire, guns and fear. Seventeen year old Moonbeam has been ‘liberated’ with a handful of her Brothers and Sisters from a cult- the Lord’s Legion- lead by the infamous Father John. Under the care of Dr Hernandez and Agent Carlyle, she begins to recount life behind the fence. But what really happened that day? Who is to blame?
What followed was a roller coaster ride of a thriller, with twists and turns that kept you guessing to the very last page. As with most thrillers I read, the story jumps back and forth in time- life before at the Base and now in the psychiatric unit- slowly revealing secrets whilst keeping the pace. It was well constructed and compelling, and I genuinely couldn’t put it down.
I was fascinated to learn that this was based on the true story of the Waco Siege of 1993; a 51 day siege which culminated in a fire and the deaths of 86 people, including their infamous leader David Koresh. The internet has endless articles on the facts, the cult and the siege itself, but what I loved about this book is the focus on the human experience.
Moonbeam isn’t just a statistic. She’s a young girl that has been brainwashed, abused, broken and is struggling with guilt. For various reasons. Her stories are horrific, genuinely chilling. I loved her, and the other children’s, character development as the story developed. I felt that Hill didn’t trivialise anything and I respected his brutal honesty throughout. You genuinely want Moonbeam and the other children to come out of the other side.
A strong contender for the prize.