The Wives of Halcyon review: A compelling novel on cults which speaks to a dark corner of us all

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
The Wives of Halycon by Eirinie LapidakiThe Wives of Halycon by Eirinie Lapidaki
The Wives of Halycon by Eirinie Lapidaki | The Wives of Halycon by Eirinie Lapidaki

It’s a grimly alluring topic, and sadly one which has had deadly consequences over the decades, but the subject of religious cults is given a compelling new take by The Wives of Halcyon, the debut novel from Eirinie Lapidaki.

Set between the Scottish Highlands and the North East of England, with soupçons of London and the USA, the story is told from the experiences of the eponymous ‘wives’ of the cult’s leader - Aoife, Deborah and Ruth - bringing a female perspective to a subject matter usually more focused on the monstrous male central figure.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Halcyon is a remote farm which has become home to the extreme, self-sufficient religious community of ‘Heaven and Earth’, born out of a seemingly well-intentioned church led by the charismatic Elijah, who preaches that ‘The End of Days’ is coming.

But as Elijah - described wonderfully as an Old Testament figure in jaded jeans and jumper - displays increasingly erratic behaviour, and announces he is to take a new, 16-year-old bride, fractures in the controlled minds of his existing three wives begin to widen, and they decide they must take action, leading to dramatic consequences.

Halcyon brings up visions of ‘Halcyon Days’, or the Greek Myth of true love and devotion, in stark contrast to the real-world micro-dystopia in the novel, which has echoes of everything from A Handmaid’s Tale to The Tempest, Jonestown to Waco.

The mesmerisingly descriptive book explores themes of coercion, misogyny, motherhood, faith and control, while catapulting the reader through the story as compassion, desperation and deep unhappiness leads each of the main characters to their righteous ‘betrayal’ of their self-proclaimed prophet.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The novel is a captivating literary page-turner, packed with suspense - yet perhaps at its most gripping in the quieter, psychological chapters where the history of the characters unfolds, and bubbles of truth seep out from the psyches of our conflicted narrators.

When reading about the real-life religious cults or communities which have ended in disaster, it’s hard to imagine how followers allowed themselves to be abused - and even take their own lives - on the say-so of their leaders.

The Wives of Halcyon skilfully creates believable characters which give an insight into how this may happen.

Indeed, the true power of the book is perhaps that it can speak to an experience familiar to us all. Coercive control and abusive relationships are sadly seldom far from the headlines.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But, on a lower level, how many of us have had a dominant partner, controlling friend, manipulative manager or devious colleague who we’ve gone along with to our own detriment, or the detriment of others, only questioning it later? 

:: The Wives of Halcyon is out today, Monday, May 20, in hardback, published by Legend Press, and available in all good bookshops.

Related topics:

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.