I was twelve years old when the Waco siege was broadcast all over TV and David Koresh became a household name back in 1993. I wasn't much interested in the news or world affairs back then, but I remember seeing the burning Mount Carmel Center and the face of Koresh, a self-ascribed End Times prophet who, according to the FBI, was a gun runner operating a meth lab and holding the members of his cult hostage.
Much has been made in the intervening years as to the legitimacy of the government's claims in regards to Koresh's illicit activities within the compound (he may not have been an arms dealer, but he did have sexual relations with plenty of underage girls) and who initiated the violence that led to a 51-day siege that ended with Mount Carmel in flames and 80-some Branch Davidians dead, including Koresh.
Jerry Gordon drops readers right into the thick of the FBI's initial raid after an attempt to serve warrants is botched, as seen through the viewpoint of fifteen-year-old Cyrus. Cyrus and his friends are not believers, but jaded teenagers whose parents are fervent believers in Koresh's prophecies. According to Koresh, the Seven Seals are breaking. A meningitis outbreak across the Mexican border and the FBI siege are signs of the apocalypse, and Koresh has received word from God that this is it - the End of Days are upon them, and it begins right here and now at Mount Carmel.
At the center of Breaking the World is an intriguing question - what if Koresh was right? What if his apocalyptic prophecies were accurate and the portents surrounding Mount Caramel and the FBI siege signaled the breaking of the first two of the seven seals to unleash the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?
Through Cyrus, Gordon gives us a highly intriguing viewpoint on the Branch Davidians and on Koresh himself. While Koresh is certainly firm in his beliefs, the majority of the Davidians are confused and astonished that the FBI would attack them, questioning why tanks and attack helicopters are being unleashed upon a church. That Cyrus and his friends are not themselves believers provides plenty of meat for an interesting character arc for each, and they find their own beliefs challenged as the siege wears on and becomes unquestionably apocalyptic in its own right. Even through the first-person perspective of Cyrus alone, that Gordon still manages to give us enough growth and insight into Breaking the World's other major players is a great achievement, particularly in regards to Cyrus's relationship with Koresh. Koresh fancies himself as a father figure to the cult's children, and this generates a tense relationship between him and Cyrus that plays out in intriguing ways. Gordon constantly forces us to question Koresh's sincerity, establishing another bit of tension between his fictional narrative and what we know (or think we know) of this real-life drama.
If Breaking the World had solely been about life within the Branch Davidian compound during the FBI standoff, I would have been perfectly content with this book. Gordon, however, ups the ante considerable with a mid-game twist that is a serious game changer. I have little doubt that some readers may hate this particular aspect, but it's one that dropped my jaw all the way to the floor and took me completely off guard. What Gordon does here is ballsy, of the big brassy kind, and I have to applaud him. It's a move that I'm fairly certain will land Breaking the World as one of my best reads of 2018, and I'll be thinking about this work for a good long while.
Breaking the World is not 100% perfect as the narrative loses a bit of steam late in the book's second half while Gordon sets up some pieces for the inevitable sequel. I will say, though, that I am eagerly anticipating the follow-up and seeing what comes next. What Gordon does right, he does with incredible exception, and few books have jolted me or left me clamoring for a follow-up quite like this.
[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title from Apex Book Company.]
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