The entire premise of Those Who Prey really hooked me and it felt like it buried under my skin, as I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since. My interest was first piqued by the comparison to Sadie and then the mysterious Kingdom utterly convinced me that I need it in my life. Cults are such a fascinating subject and indeed the limits we’ll break in order to be accepted. It sounded like a riveting psychological mystery, so I was over the moon when the lovely Chantal Gersch at Simon and Schuster sent me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
College life isn’t what Emily expected.
She expected to spend freshman year strolling through the ivy-covered campus with new friends, finally feeling like she belonged. Instead, she walks the campus alone, still not having found her place or her people so far away from home.
But then the Kingdom finds her.
The Kingdom, an exclusive on-campus group, offers everything Emily expected out of college and more: acceptance, friends, a potential boyfriend, and a chance to spend the summer on a mission trip to Italy. But the trip is not what she thought it would be. Emily and the others are stripped of their passports and money. They’re cut off from their families back home. The Kingdom’s practices become increasingly manipulative and dangerous…
And someone ends up dead.
TW: grooming and recruiting, murder, bulimia, forced food restriction, sleep deprivation, drug abuse, suicide, death of an animal, conversion therapy and snakes
Moffett has crafted an incredibly terrifying book. Its terror lies in its realism and the slow, gradual way it pulls you further into the Kingdom and the book itself, as it moves to darker and darker territory.
The explanation of cult techniques and terminology throughout reminded you how easy it is to prey on and manipulate minds, adding to this hypnotic sense that permeated the entire book. This, combined with the snippets from an article on Emily, made every page feeling like standing on the precipice of a cliff, just one moment away from deadly peril. However, at the same time, you join Emily in being lulled into a false sense of security and soon The Kingdom is all around you. It consumes every aspect of Emily’s life so quickly and you feel like screaming at her to get out, as she becomes more and more controlled. You can see all the warnings flags through the privilege of distance but within the story, Emily is wrapped up in the whirlwind nature of the cult.
Emily is an excellent protagonist. She’s empathetic and kind, caught in loneliness and a desperate desire to belong. When combined with some mysterious elements of her past and traumatic events, she is a prime target for recruitment. She feels like an outsider, grappling with loss and being alone in an unfamiliar area, as well as the usual college insecurities. It’s so easy to connect to her and therefore you feel like you truly are walking alongside her as she experiences these awful events. I liked how you never really got to know some of the other characters, empathising the constant sense of paranoia and distrust that fuels much of the tension. You realise how little Emily knows the people around her, who is she is meant to trust implicitly and follow their every command for the greater good. It poses such a scary concept in how easily all this could very really happen to anyone, it could even be someone you know in Emily’s shoes. A lot of the book is character-driven, as you peer into Emily’s head while she tries to navigate this maze of relationships and deep secrets. The whole way through, there’s this sense of dread hovering over her and an ominous feeling of impending doom. You engage so emotionally and deeply with Emily that you get caught up on this wild ride with her.
Moffett sets the scene perfectly right from the start, with a startling and disorientating opening. You know something bad has happened, but you are slowly drip-fed details as you engage in Emily’s story. This tension and constant need to know what happens next had me racing through the pages. The sinister nature of the people around her and the lack of knowledge as to their ulterior motives puts you on edge and Moffett never really allows you to relax. Even after the final page, you’ll be haunted and possibly have more questions than answers. That demonstrates the depth and richness of the story created, its complexity and layered nature matches the mysterious workings of The Kingdom. The writing itself is just gorgeous as well, slowly enveloping you in its tangled web of darkness and treachery. You feel allured, drawn further and further in alongside Emily.
Those Who Prey is an unforgettable, nuanced exploration of the perils of extreme belief and manipulation, turning the media fascination with cults into an extremely compelling and tense story that ensnares you right from the start.
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