“Intelligently assimilated research, a slow build with a growing sense of unease and a chillingly believable plotline add up to the best sort of dark psychological thriller.”



A dark and disturbing look at life inside a cult, The Poison Garden by Alex Marwood was an enthralling read. I was transfixed by the character of Romy and her decidedly unorthodox upbringing inside a cult.

The book opens with the discovery of a tragedy at the site of the cult compound, where almost all the members are found lifeless. The only adult survivor is Romy, who joined the cult as a toddler with her mother. Through a series of flashbacks we learn about the harsh realities of life in the cult, a survivalist organisation busy prepping for the end of the world.

Those outside the cult are called the Dead as they will inevitably die off due to lack of being ready. The cult leader regards himself as the “Progenitor” whose primary function is to create a messiah like offspring, known as the “one” who will lead the cult members safely through the end days.

When Romy’s mother becomes one of the chosen women to bear his child, it seems like their future is secured, but sometimes being special brings burdens of its own. In the outside world Romy’s aunt Sarah had given up on ever finding her sister or niece, but in the wake of the tragedy she is contacted to say that not only did Romy survive, but so too did her two younger siblings, and so Sarah agrees to take them in, knowing that it will be a huge challenge to help them come to terms with a whole new world on top of the loss of almost everyone they ever knew.

As the story unfolds it seems like there may be more to it than initially meets the eye, and to say anything more would spoil it, but suffice it to say the unpredictability of the characters and their actions mean that this book is not for the faint of heart.

I can only applaud the author for their skill in creating a disturbing yet completely believable setting, the cult, its leader and beliefs are almost too plausible which can make for very uncomfortable reading, though I mean that in an entirely positive way. From the beginning I wanted to know what had gone so badly wrong, and as the book went on, I found myself ever more engrossed.

I also thought the sections about Romy and her siblings trying to adjust to life outside the cult were fascinating, the gaps in basic knowledge caused by their unique upbringing were cleverly used to create some drama in what could otherwise have seemed like the more boring side of the story when compared with the drama and tension of so many of the sections set within the cult.


Reviewed by:

Annette Jordan

Added 8th September 2019