Published By: Raven Books
Released On: 19/01/2023
He knows about her job in the café, her life in Dublin, her ex-girlfriend, even the knife she’s hidden under the mattress. She thought she’d left him far behind, along with the cult of the Children and their isolated compound Home – but now he’s found her, and she knows she must go back to rescue the sister who helped her escape all those years before.
But returning to Home means going back to the enforced worship and strict gender roles Zoe has long since moved beyond; back to the abuse and indoctrination she’s fought desperately to overcome.
Going back will make her question everything she believed about her past – but could also risk her hard-won freedom. Can she break free a second time?
One – My name is Zoe
Two – I am here to rescue my sister Amy
Three – Nothing anyone says here is true
What is my fourth true thing?
*Contains Minor Spoilers*
Thanks to Raven and Cailean Steed for the advanced proof of this book in return for an honest review.
I’d had this book on my shelf for a few months before I read it, and I’d already seen some early reviews saying how it’s going to be one of the best books of 2023, so there was a lot of pressure for it to live up to.
Right from the off it’s definite heart-in-mouth stuff. I’ve read a few books over the years that involve cults and such like, and it breaks my heart that this isn’t just fiction. I’m not one to poo-poo people’s ideologies or beliefs, but when it ends up doing more harm than good, that’s when I have a problem. And I think Cailean has captured balance that perfectly. It’s harsh and uncomfortable, dark and tense, fast-paced, thrilling and mysterious.
There’s a number of characters, but for me, Zoe ruled the entire story. That’s not to say the other characters aren’t worth mentioning or aren’t written well, not at all. But Zoe is so powerful that she captured my attention on every page. She is multi-layered and complicated, damaged but surviving. What I would say though, is I would have liked more of Zoe’s “outside life”, as we only got a couple of chapters and flashbacks. It’s good as it is, but I think including more of this new life would have provided a clearer contrast between being inside the cult and being out of it.
It is a slow burn, which allows you enough time to get sucked into the cult’s ideology, so you never know if you’re on Zoe’s side or not. At times, I even found myself, if not agreeing, then understanding some of the cult’s beliefs and ideologies, and you end up having to shake yourself out of it. It’s so good, it really lures you in, holds your hands and before you know it, you’re in their world. They build up your trust, make you believe in them, and then tear it down again, whilst making it seem as if you’re the one in the wrong.
Whilst there is a clear plot and it’s very busy, for me, it is more about the characters and their beliefs and feelings, and I do prefer a character exploration story, sometimes even more than the plot itself.
At its heart, I would say it’s a story about trust, honesty and lies, love, hate and friendship, the inside and the outside, the old and the new, the feeling of belonging and being isolated, surviving trauma and learning how to move on.
It is definitely a rollercoaster of a book. There are highs and lows, you feel glad and then sad, brave then scared; you don’t want to get your hopes up too much because it just slams them down again. You are always on the edge, waiting and waiting, not fully trusting anyone or anything.
It does end nicely and there’s a lot wrapped up, but it does allow the reader to make some conclusions of their own. Not everything is 100% cut and dry finished and neatly tied up, but at the same time, it doesn’t feel unfinished. It just feels like a natural conclusion.
Inside the proof cover, there was a quote saying “a read in a one gulp commercial thriller”. There are a few books I’ve read in one sitting but I can instantly see why this one is. I read about a third of it in one go but had to admit defeat and go to bed, as much as I couldn’t bear the idea of leaving it. But I felt the quicker I went to bed, the quicker I could sleep and the quicker it would be morning and I could start reading it again. It just consumed me for two days.
I always love, and am equally awed, by authors who can write a story over two time periods – in this book we explore Zoe’s original life in the cult, and then her return in the present time. I’ve tried writing like that but I have enough trouble keeping up with a straight forward narrative, so I’m impressed when it works so well. With HOME, you don’t even notice the change that much, it’s never jarring or conflicting, it flows so well and you can’t imagine it being written any other way.
I’ve not shied away from the fact that I love short chapters. And this book is full of them. Not only does it add to the convenience of reading – ‘I’ll just finish this chapter then I’ll put the rubbish out…’ – it also adds the frenetic, frenzied, rushed atmosphere.
This is Cailean Steed’s first novel and what a first novel it is. I hope their plan is to write more and more, in the same vein or otherwise, as I think they’ve got an excellent ability to create characters, to create subtlety, and I definitely think they are an author to watch.
The only bad thing about having read it, is I now don’t have it to look forward to. If you’re looking for a great book to start 2023 with, this is the one to go for.