The deadliest trap is the one you don’t see…
Sofia has just finished university and ended a troubled relationship when she attends a lecture about a New Age movement, Via Terra. Its leader is Franz Oswald, young, good-looking, urbane and mesmerizing.
When Sofia meets Franz Oswald, the handsome, charming leader of a mysterious New Age movement, she’s dazzled and intrigued. Visiting his headquarters on Fog Island, Sofia’s struck by the beautiful mansion overlooking the sea, the gardens, the sense of peace and the purposefulness of the people who live there. And she can’t ignore the attraction she feels for Franz.
So she agrees to stay, just for a while. But as summer gives way to winter, and the dense fog from which the island draws its name sets in, it becomes clear that Franz rules the island with an iron fist. No phones or computers are allowed. Contact with the mainland is severed. Electric fences surround the grounds. And Sofia begins to realize how very alone she is and that no one ever leaves Fog Island…
I am fascinated by cults and therefore could not resist requesting The Cult on Fog Island by Mariette Lindstein when I saw it on NetGalley. I was even more excited to read it when I discovered that the author had been a Scientologist. I expected that this would give the book an authenticity and I was ready for a book that despite being a work of fiction would give me a real insight to life inside a cult. This book is not out until January 2019 and I wouldn’t normally review a book this early but I couldn’t resist it.
The Cult on Fog Island follows Sofia, a young woman who has just finished university, ended a relationship and is looking to start the next phase of her life. When she attends a lecture held by Franz Oswald about his movement Via Terra and is invited to visit the headquarters on Fog Island Sofia goes along out of curiosity and because she is attracted to Oswald. At the lecture there is nothing to suggest that she will be entering a cult as Via Terra is pitched as a ‘new age movement’ and does not prescribe to any religion. It was easy to see how Sofia was drawn in as a result.
Told in third person with Sofia as the main character, we get her perspective of the events that unfold. What I liked is that Sofia comes across as your average young woman. I have to admit to going into the book expecting the main character to a particularly vulnerable young woman, but she is not. Sofia comes from a stable family and her life has followed the course of many women. This makes The Cult on Fog Island even more creepy as it demonstrates how easily someone can be drawn into a cult.
The book is also punctuated by an anonymous voice of whom we do not discover the identity of until later in the book. These parts are creepy and give you an insight in to how a person develops into a domineering force.
The Cult on Fog Island is a slow burner, so don’t go into this book expecting thrills straight away. This may not appeal to some people but I am quite happy to read a slower-paced thriller if the pace fits with the story and in this case it does. The pace enables us to see how Via Terra goes from innocent enough new age centre to effectively a prison camp. The character of Franz Oswald is central to this and while I didn’t get a sense of him being the charismatic man Sofia and other members of Via Terra talk about, Lindstein has portrayed him well as a man the slow descent of madness. We watch as his façade steadily slips over time and his megalomaniacal and paranoid tendencies come out. As Oswald’s paranoia steadily increases, life for those working at Via Terra becomes deadly. The methods he uses to control those around them gradually become more and more extreme and alongside methods such as sleep deprivation and malnourishment I got a real sense of why they wouldn’t – or couldn’t – fight back.
I really enjoyed The Cult on Fog Island and found myself eagerly returning to it after each break from reading. For me it highlighted the insidious nature of control and dangers of paranoia. I liked the fact that it was subtle in its portrayal of life inside a cult rather than trying to be more of a fast-paced thriller as this gave it an authenticity. However, I expect The Cult on Fog Island to have a mixed reaction because of its pace and it may not go down well with those who want a ‘faster’ read. If you like slower-paced books and are interested in cults Lindstein’s The Cult on Fog Island is one to check out.
The Cult On Fog Island is published on 24 January 2019 by HQ. You can pre-order a copy HERE.
Thanks to Mariette Lindstein, HQ and NetGalley for the advance copy in exchange for my review.