[REVIEW] The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon @ViragoBooks

What caught my attention to The Incendiaries was the hype around it which was huge and everyone seemed to be talking about it. I wanted to check what all the hype was about, of course.

The Incendiaries is told from three voices although it mainly focuses on Will Kendall, who is a scholarship student who juggles both work and studying and whose life is quite hectic. Our second ‘narrator’ is Phoebe Lin, who we get to meet but no in the same amount as Will. Third person is the cult leader called John Leal whose craziness we get to read in half-page chapters. The story revolves around Will and Phoebe and their relationship which begins like any other but it changes when she becomes acquainted with John Leal. Phoebe has a tragic past which she’s secretive about even to her boyfriend Will, but as she joins the enigmatic John Leal she begins to open up  – not to Will – but to Leal and other cult members. Will begins to see changes in Phoebe and decides to find out what is making Phoebe distracted and distanced from him. When bombings of several abortion clinics happen and Phoebe vanishes he refuses to believe that she’s the one responsible.

I have to say that I enjoyed Kwon’s writing in this novel the most. I just liked the way she crafted sentences because they felt magical at times. Now, since this novel is about two-hundred and ten pages long I have to say that I felt some of the characters weren’t developed fully and I would’ve liked to see their POV deepend – e.g. Leal and Phoebe. The characters weren’t likable to me at all but I did feel for Will towards the end of the novel. The beginning of the book confused me because the author shifted from first person to third person but once I got used to it I didn’t mind it much. Onto what I liked in The Incendiaries – the way Kwon described Leal and his manipulation effects on Phoebe is something I liked because you can see how easily a wounded and broken person can fall under someone else’s power.  The psychology behind that was point on because it often happens that way – lost souls are always in need of guidance and light. There wasn’t an appeal to Phoebe’s character for me nor did I feel sympathy for her because of the way she was crafted although I wish we got to see more from her POV in the book –  that would’ve given her more dimension [if that makes sense] and depth. I liked Will’s willingness to save Phoebe from the dangerous world she was entering because that shows how far a person will go to save someone he/she loves.

I found The Incendiaries to be a well written debut novel with quite an interesting story but it did fail when it comes to other characters in it – whether it was intentional or not I found it to be something missing. I would recommend reading this book because it will make you think as well as get you out of a reading slump if you’re in one because of the great writing.

I would like to thank the publisher Virago Press for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed in this review are my own and weren’t influenced by anything.

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R.O. Kwon’s first novel, The Incendiaries, is published by Riverhead (U.S.) and forthcoming from Virago (U.K.) in September 2018. She is a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellow. Her writing has appeared in The Guardian, Vice, BuzzFeed, Time, Noon, Electric Literature, Playboy, San Francisco Chronicle, and elsewhere. She has received awards and fellowships from Yaddo, MacDowell, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Omi International, and the Norman Mailer Writers’ Colony. Born in South Korea, she’s mostly lived in the United States.

Find her on: Website, Twitter and Goodreads.