The Incendiaries was by far one of my most anticipated reads of 2018, and I devoured this book in less than 24 hours! I will say from the outset that I am very glad I did not read the blurb for this, the New York Times Books had a comment in a recent instagram story about there being a major plot spoiler there and to avoid reading! While I don’t think it was fatal (and in the interests of #nospoilers I won’t share it here!), I did think it shared more than it needed to and I would likewise encourage you to avoid it ahead of the novel itself.
This is a narrative principally rooted in a discussion of faith and what that means to the three characters we follow. John Leal was kidnapped and spent months in a prison camp in North Korea, an experience which changed his own perception of faith and ultimately has led him to form a cult, the Jejah. Phoebe is a college student, and in many ways her relationship (or lack thereof) with her estranged father (a Christian leader) and life experiences up until that point set her on a course of searching for a sense of purpose and faith. The third perspective is that of Will, who has lost his faith but pursues meaning in his relationship with Phoebe. Russel (Ink and Paper) has filmed a review and discusses the manifestations of faith in the novel really brilliantly, so I encourage you to check that out.
I found the premise of the story fascinating, and a really unique take on a cult narrative. I think I went into this thinking that Phoebe’s perspective would be the strongest, but was pleasantly surprised to find it was Will who really drove the reader’s understanding and experience with the plot. I found John’s chapters difficult to connect with – they were the only ones told from a third person perspective, and as the novel progressed and the activities of the cult became more mysterious, they became shorter and shorter (I recall one chapter being just one sentence). I enjoyed Will’s chapters the most, and I found his character the most developed in the sense that I felt we went on his journey with him. While this made the novel highly readable, and the constant change in perspectives compelled me to tear through it so quickly, I felt like it invested the narrative in Will’s perspective to the detriment of Phoebe particularly. As we see the cult take more hold of Phoebe, I felt like I wanted more of her thought-process, and instead I felt like her chapters became more cryptic. I also found that she started referring to herself in third person perspective toward the end of the novel, while her chapters were told from the first person perspective. I assumed this was to demonstrate part of the cult taking hold of her (and confusing as thoughts vs. dialogue were not always easy to discern in the absence of quotation marks), but did find it a little jarring.
I really enjoyed this book and eagerly anticipate Reese’s next book already! 🌟🌟🌟🌟