Eva just wants to be a good disciple of the Righteous Path. She grew up knowing that she and her mother are among the chosen few to be saved from Armageddon. Lately, though, being saved feels awfully treacherous. Ever since they moved to the compound in Colorado, their food supplies have dwindled even while their leader, Ezekial, has stockpiled weapons. The only money comes from the jewelry Eva makes and sells down in Boulder–a purpose she’ll serve until she becomes one of Ezekial’s wives.
But a college student named Trevor and the other “heathens” she meets on her trips beyond the compound are different from what she’s been led to believe. Now Eva doesn’t know which is more dangerous–the outside world or Brother Ezekial’s plans.
***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Albert Whitman Teen.
+++Slight trigger warning: abuse
Down from the Mountain is a gripping, terrifying story because of just how real it is.
- Eva’s voice is poignant and powerful, she questions things and looks at the world differently than most of the other people on the Righteous Path. Eva is suspicious and insanely courageous. She calculates just how much to push and when to censor herself. Sometimes she makes mistakes and the punishment is cruel. Eva is riddled with doubt. As much as she wants to believe in the ideology of the Righteous Path and the purity of Ezekial’s connection with God, her intuition leads her astray. She’s perceptive and understands people on a deep, emotional level. Eva’s internal dialogue is honest and raw, fused with deep-seeded doubt and emotional turmoil. Eva prays to God to save her from her pride, her vanity, and to help her be more submissive while second guessing what she really wants. Torn between what she believes she deserves as a human being and her position as a contributing member of the Righteous Path, Eva knows she must obey but wishes she didn’t have to. The fear and anxiety of checking her every word, of what Ezekial will do and the punishment she’ll receive for even the smallest mistake is crippling. It’s astounding how strong and resilient Eva is in the face of imminent abuse and harassment.
- The cult mentality is reinforced by the threat of abuse and retribution, paying for sins and dealing with the disappointment of the whole community. Throughout, you’ll see that faith in Ezekial is almost like idolatry, to these characters, he is God. The beliefs are ingrained into their mind so much so that they don’t dare to question. It’s like reading someone who has been feed only certain information and cannot think for themselves. There’s no questioning, no compromise only sheer, unadulterated belief that Ezekial’s word is God. Elizabeth Fixmer did an amazing job capturing the indoctrination. I almost never had to ask myself why or how they couldn’t see beyond their faith because it was truth, it was absolute, there was no other way for most of these characters. From the outside, it’s hard to imagine how someone can become so invested in things like the Righteous Path that they turn a blind eye to other methods of faith, reading Down from the Mountain gave me a mental framework to build on and I was finally able to understand how cults become so large and have so many followers.
- The rules are laid out with precision. Everything from social interaction, to clothing, to confession are clear cut expectations and cater to Ezekial’s whim. Anyone who strays from the path is a threat that needs to be taught a lesson in faith, typically in the form of physical abuse via paddle. The compound is a fully functioning, simple community. It’s easy to imagine their lifestyle and fall into their routines.
- Ezekial is a passionate zealot who sees himself as a mouthpiece for God. He revels in the power he holds over the community because to them, he is king and savior, he’s their ticket to heaven. Underneath his devotion to the cause, he’s selfish, abusive, a generally despicable person. Ezekial is lecherous, he preys on these religious women and uses them to supposedly aid the Righteous Path, teaching them that they are sinful, less, and must remain pure unless they become like the harlot, Eve. Ezekial puts everyone down and gets a gleeful rush out of throwing around his power. Sometimes his madness is clear, others, it’s hard to tell if he truly believes or likes his position as Prophet.
- Eva’s punishment is borderline traumatic and painful to read. Her terror is explosive, she trembles and cries, you feel her agony radiating off the page. Ezekial tries to break her and gloats over it. It’s truly one of the most impassioned, heartbreaking moments I’ve read in a long time. For the first time, you see Eva as the little girl she is, that she’s scared and just wants to be protected and she’s a victim of those in power.
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe plays a pivotal role in Eva’s road to strength and understanding God. Anyone who has read and loved C.S. Lewis will adore how Eva views Aslan, how she comes to find truth in the beauty of God and His capacity for love. Moments when Eva imagines Aslan as shorn are especially bittersweet. Aslan mirrors Eva’s pain and helps her come to grips with what she must do to save herself and accept that God is made of love and doesn’t expect constant sacrifice, fear and punishment for sins.
- Some sections were slow. Due to their reclusive lifestyle and prevention from indulging in technology, not much happens on the compound apart from prayer/sin/confession meetings and chores. About halfway through the book, the pace picks up dramatically and small incidents cut the story into bursts of adrenaline and fear.
- For anyone who knows even a tiny bit about religious cults, Down from the Mountain may seem predictable. There weren’t any especially shocking parts because the cult mentality was so strong.
- Throughout the story, Eva has doubts about Ezekial’s role as leader and prophet but clings to the idea that those who aren’t on the Righteous Path are devilish heathens. When Eva gets out into the real world, everyone is extremely nice and super helpful. Eva had little reason to doubt the heathens. I think, had some of the outsiders been I guess, more realistic, Eva would have had a greater challenge to her beliefs. It was odd that everyone went out of their way to help, literally sacrificing time and money to aid her and that no one insulted her clothes, instead just calling her retro. Every single person Eva came into contact with was genuine and sweet? I couldn’t believe it and it robbed some credibility from the story.
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