The Incendiaries by R. O. Kwon – ARC Review

Title: The Incendiaries

Author: R. O. Kwon

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Virago


Summary: from Goodreads

Phoebe Lin and Will Kendall meet their first month at prestigious Edwards University. Phoebe is a glamorous girl who doesn’t tell anyone she blames herself for her mother’s recent death. Will is a misfit scholarship boy who transfers to Edwards from Bible college, waiting tables to get by. What he knows for sure is that he loves Phoebe.

Grieving and guilt-ridden, Phoebe is increasingly drawn into a religious group—a secretive extremist cult—founded by a charismatic former student, John Leal. He has an enigmatic past that involves North Korea and Phoebe’s Korean American family. Meanwhile, Will struggles to confront the fundamentalism he’s tried to escape, and the obsession consuming the one he loves. When the group bombs several buildings in the name of faith, killing five people, Phoebe disappears. Will devotes himself to finding her, tilting into obsession himself, seeking answers to what happened to Phoebe and if she could have been responsible for this violent act.


I’ve been wanting to read The Incendiaries ever since it first came onto my radar. I’m fascinated by the psychology involved in cults and the people who are seduced by them so the premise of this book really appealed to me. I must confess after reading it that it’s not quite what I expected. Rather than being the thriller type book I was expecting – it was a more analytical look at the characters involved and the boundaries of faith, power and passion.

At first the book appears to follow three perspectives: Will, Phoebe and John Leal. However as the story progresses it becomes apparent that Phoebe’s narrative is actually Will’s explanation of what he perceived Phoebe’s thoughts and actions to be. This is a little confusing at first but it’s a fascinating angle to tell the story from as it adds a great deal of doubt to be cast upon what Will is telling the reader. The chapters don’t really follow one single thread but everything does eventually connect and becomes slightly more clear although doesn’t wrap everything up in a neat little bow which feels much more realistic.

I found the characters hugely intriguing but not particularly likeable. This is not a problem for me at least because I often find ambiguous characters far more interesting to try and figure out – as was the case here. Another thing which really stood out in The Incendiaries is the beautiful quality of the writing. Pretty much every sentence was full of lyrical language which made reading it a joy. Kwon is clearly a talented writer and I will definitely be reading her next piece of work.

This is a short book but I wouldn’t say it’s a quick read. It requires thought throughout every page but I think it’s a hugely worthwhile read. The Incendiaries is an intense commentary on how religion can become obsessive or even fanatical and how similar it can be to becoming completely entranced by a person. I would definitely recommend it as a book that is both original and compelling.

The Incendiaries is out on 6th September 2018

I received this e-arc from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

2 thoughts on “The Incendiaries by R. O. Kwon – ARC Review

  1. Ellie says:

    This sounds like such an interesting book! I would have made the same assumption as you though about what the book would be like, so it’s super helpful to hear what it’s really like. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

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