Prepare to die. His kingdom is near.
Sixteen-year-old trans boy Benji is on the run from the cult that raised him—the fundamentalist sect that unleashed Armageddon and decimated the world’s population. Desperately, he searches for a place where the cult can’t get their hands on him, or more importantly, on the bioweapon they infected him with.
But when cornered by monsters born from the destruction, Benji is rescued by a group of teens from the local Acheson LGBTQ+ Center, affectionately known as the ALC. The ALC’s leader, Nick, is gorgeous, autistic, and a deadly shot, and he knows Benji’s darkest secret: the cult’s bioweapon is mutating him into a monster deadly enough to wipe humanity from the earth once and for all.
Still, Nick offers Benji shelter among his ragtag group of queer teens, as long as Benji can control the monster and use its power to defend the ALC. Eager to belong, Benji accepts Nick’s terms…until he discovers the ALC’s mysterious leader has a hidden agenda, and more than a few secrets of his own.
A furious, queer debut novel about embracing the monster within and unleashing its power against your oppressors. Perfect for fans of Gideon the Ninth and Annihilation.
I received a digital advanced readers copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Hell Followed with Us is queer rage incarnate. This post-apocalyptic horror YA delves into religious trauma and queer survival that is all at once terrifying, furious, yet emotional. Set in the distant future, Hell Followed with Us follows trans boy Benji as he escapes the fundamentalist cult that raised him and destroyed the world and its population. After he is rescued by a group of queer teens who have made a home in the local LGBTQ+ Centre, Benji must keep his terrible secret: that the cult has infected him with a bioweapon that is mutating him into a monster powerful enough to destroy the world once and for all.
Though the story can be read and enjoyed at face value about a post-apocalypse and queer teens fighting against a religious cult that wants to see them dead, Hell Followed with Us can also be read as a fascinating and powerful allegory of religious trauma. Explicit gore and violence are depicted across the story, a literary manifestation and reflection of the trauma and horrors witnessed and experienced by queer teens who grew up surrounded by fundamentalist or anti-queer religious beliefs.
The story plays with religious motifs and imagery, exploring the complicated, confusing, and painful experience of religious trauma. I particularly enjoyed the juxtaposition presented in the story: ‘Angels’ are human fundamentalist members who kill ‘non-believers’, ‘Grace’ are monsters of amalgamated human flesh and viscera, and the ‘Flood’ is the disease that the cult wrought on the world, killing everyone. Furthermore, Hell Followed with Us is a critique of how religion can be weaponised to inflict and justify violence; how faith can be twisted into something wicked and evil. How much pain and death and violence has been inflicted in the name of something holy? Indeed, as its very title suggests, Hell Followed with Us explores how hell isn’t just a destination but can be a world made.
Benji is a fantastic protagonist and his journey across Hell Followed with Us is unforgettable. Despite finding belonging among queer teens in the LGTBQ+ Centre, this doesn’t change Benji’s transformation into Seraph, the bioweapon monster foretold to ‘carve a path of Heaven through the bodies of nonbelievers’. Grappling with his inevitable transformation and the implications it will have on where he belongs, Hell Followed with Us is about embracing the monster – and that finding the people who will accept you for who you are is a powerful kind of hope. In a way, Hell Followed with Us is about survival – and how we can rise about ‘just surviving’ and fighting to live.
Hell Followed with Us is a phenomenal debut. It is rich with allegory, critical in the best way, and though you will be horrified over and over will pull you back in every time. The story is justifiably angry and horrific and yet hopeful by the end. The apocalypse is queer and angry with teeth-bared teens who will fight to live and be for themselves – and I am here for it.
MY CONCLUSION: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: A trans boy runs away from the cult that raised him and must hide his secret of being a bioweapon who will destroy the world.
Perfect for: Readers who love horror, readers interested in a story about religious trauma, readers who enjoy post-apocalyptic stories with queer characters.
Think twice if: You can’t stomach explicit gore and violence.
Genre: young adult post-apocalyptic horror
Trigger/content warning: explicit gore, extreme body horror, death, violence, misgendering, deadnaming, genocide (caused by bioweapon illness), religious extremist themes and rhetoric, abuse.