The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon: Review

Hi! My name is Tracy, and welcome to my first book review!

I originally posted a brief version of this review on Goodreads.

The Incendiaries is a book by R.O. Kwon following the story of Will, who falls madly in love with a girl named Phoebe at their prestigious university. Running from a tragic past, Phoebe stumbles into an extremist cult led by the charismatic John Leal, and the group eventually commits acts of terrorism.

I picked this book up on a whim when I spotted it on sale at Powell’s, and I was driven by a desire to support Asian authors despite the premise of the book not being something I am usually interested in.

The book is certainly interesting, due to the unique perspectives and premise. However, I struggled to remain interested in the book as I disliked all of the characters. I understand that characters should not be perfect, but I lost interest in learning more about these characters’ lives and I did not have a character I was rooting for. It made it really difficult for me to push through the book.

Will, the protagonist, is straight up boring. His main personality trait in the book, expect for the last quarter of the story, is that he’s an ex-missionary who is poor and doing all he can to succeed. That sounds like an interesting character at first, and it was in the beginning. But his behavior and personality get old. We know nothing of his interests, other than Phoebe. We know of his difficult childhood, his struggle with faith, but the Will Kendall we are currently following lacks any interests that make him worthy of paying attention to. I guess we are supposed to be rooting for him as Phoebe’s savior from the cult, but I wasn’t rooting for their relationship or either one of them. Personally I found that Will was lacking in emotion, he was almost robotic for most of the book, so I truly could not relate or empathize with him in any manner.

Phoebe herself is intended to be a mystery, an intriguing character to both the reader and her classmates, including Will. I thought she was an okay character and person, but seeing her through Will’s perspective made me very removed form her character, as he lusts over her and creates an idealized version of her in his mind.

Additionally, halfway through the book, the characters’ actions became quite predictable and they lost character development. They are all damaged people who do self destructive things that also harm others, so their self destructive acts were not surprising at all. I found myself bored with the novel.

As other reviewers on Goodreads mentioned, the synopsis really hypes up the terrorist acts Phoebe and the cult commit together, but the story the synopsis gives us does not even happen until the last twenty pages or so. The majority of the book centers around Will and Phoebe’s relationship, which I found boring, and Will’s life at a prestigious school as a poor ex-missionary. Phoebe joins the cult quite late into the novel, so the synopsis definitely feels misleading. If the cult and terrorist acts were not mentioned in the synopsis, they would have served really well as a plot twist or at least added some unpredictability to the story.

Overall, Kwon’s prose is intriguing, but the plot and characters fell really flat. She has great ideas but in this case they were not executed well in my opinion. I am willing to give her future works another shot if they really, truly interest me.

I give this book 2/5 stars.

***Spoiler ahead!!*** I really did not like how Kwon wrote Will raping Phoebe. While Julian shames Will for it and Phoebe leaves him because of it, the fact that the novel is from Will’s point of view makes it seem like it was an okay thing for him to do, that it wasn’t a big deal for him to do that as Will doesn’t really reflect on this as much as I think he should have. It kind of felt like an unnecessary inclusion of sexual violence. Anything else would have been a suitable final straw for their relationship. It felt as if Kwon was relying on these cruel, shocking acts to add a shock factor to make the novel more interesting rather than using these plot points to develop the story or the characters.

Have you read The Incendiaries, and if so, did you enjoy it? The reviews on Goodreads are quite mixed, so I’d be interested in hearing other people’s thoughts!

Thanks for reading ♥

All the love,

tracy the bookworm ♥


3 thoughts on “The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon: Review”

  1. tracy! welcome to the blogosphere, and congratulations on posting your first review! i’ve never heard of the incendiaries before, but i’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it! i hope you find better asian reads soon! if you ever need any help or have a question, feel free to reach out! lovely review 💕


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s