Those Who Prey by Jennifer Moffett
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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 of college and more: acceptance, friends, a potential boyfriend, and a chance to spend the summer in Italy on a mission trip. 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.
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
EXPECTED NOVEMBER 10TH, 2020
When Emily’s roommate leaves campus for the second semester of freshman year, her world gets lonely.
Sure, she and Sadie weren’t the best of friends, but Sadie was someone in a place where Emily had no one. Miles from her family back in Georgia, and stuck facing an unwelcome loneliness ahead, Emily finds herself drifting along, simply going through the motions.
But then she meets a small group of students part of a larger organization called the Kingdom, and everything changes. Suddenly, Emily has friends and a purpose, and a chance to do something for the world at large. It’s everything she thought she needed, and proof that she was right to leave her family behind for life in Boston.
At least, she believes that until she goes to Italy with the Kingdom in the summer of 1994. Until she starts to have her doubts.
Until someone winds up dead.
“They made me feel loved. And for most of us, that’s enough.”
Those Who Prey does a truly exceptional job of cutting to the core of cult activity. From the start, you know Emily is tumbling in far too over her head, and you pity her, because the Kingdom is giving her everything she craves. With them, she thinks she can find love and friendship and acceptance, not to mention opportunities to better serve the world around her. It’s a dream come true after her loneliness in the dorms, and though she doesn’t realize it then, she’s the exact kind of target cults thrive on.
From the outset, it’s clear that the Kingdom is a cult. We as readers aren’t in Emily’s position, and this outside perspective creates so much sympathy for her. Too caught up in filling holes in her heart, she doesn’t realize the implications of the Kingdom’s mission. It doesn’t occur to her that the Kingdom demands total control over its members, or that that level of control is a bad thing. And the idea that the Kingdom makes people suffer, when all they’ve done is make her life in Boston so much better? That can’t be!
And what a hell of a story this makes, watching Emily fall into the Kingdom’s trap only to find herself desperate to escape it.
Of course, there are plot issues that gave me some pause.
It wasn’t anything to do with the characters, thank goodness. They’re remarkably well-fleshed out for a cast that is by and large devoted to a massive religious cult. You can see what makes them so eager to belong, so desperate to prove themselves to an organization that views them as little more than tools in religious conquest.
What I did have a little trouble with was the plot. For the most part, it moves at a good clip, steadily tracking Emily’s descent into the Kingdom, and giving a clear sense of the steps and tactics cults use to pull their victims in closer and closer to the core. However, I found that the final quarter of the book or so rushes ahead and doesn’t always offer resolution in a satisfying way.
On the one hand, Those Who Prey is about the many abuses of power cults commit against their victims, and how disorienting they make life even after someone escapes. On the other hand, though, I so much wish the confusion of the final quarter had been replaced with a touch more clarity. I still have questions about one of the interns, who claims to know enough to blow the organization apart, but doesn’t seem ready to act on it yet. And I want to know what happens after Italy, especially to the cult as a whole. There’s a sense of incompleteness to it all that both makes sense given Emily’s aversion to reliving her experiences with the Kingdom, and frustrates because I want conclusion as a reader.
If cult books are your thing, and you want to see their sinister underside in 1994, Those Who Prey might be your kind of book.
And you won’t have to wait long to read it, either! Those Who Prey hits shelves on November 10th, which is only a week away! It’s eerie and unsettling to the last, and I have to recommend it if you can stomach the contents. Sure, it’s about a cult and its dangers, but it’s also about a girl looking to feel valued again. To feel human.
It’s such a simple desire. And that’s enough for the Kingdom to work with.
CW: drug use, addiction, underage drinking, loss of a loved one, homophobia, implied disordered eating, smoking, nudity, animal death, suicide, violence, non-graphic sex scene