In general, I was not as big a fan of this debut novel as some. While it still rated a strong three stars from me, there were some issues, most of them common to debut novels, that kept me from rating it higher.
Emma Cline chose a riveting plot line, pulled from actual events, around which to set her fictional characters. She used the basic outline of the story of Charles Manson and how he influenced impressionable young women to commit terrible acts. The novel does not proclaim itself historical fiction in that none of the characters share names with those people whom they are meant to depict, but the genesis of the plot arc is unmistakably the Sharon Tate murder.
The novel's use of a charismatic leader's manipulation of young women's insecurities and reenactment of a tragic murder were elements which I thought were quite well done. Fictional characters were quite skillfully merged into the personae of the actual people, lending the novel the same power as the factual events.
Despite feeling that the characters mimicked actual people quite effectively, I did not feel that characters developed successfully. For example, I never understood what motivated the main female, a completely fictional character, to pursue many of the things she did within the plot.
Another issue that I had was the feeling that I was hovering somewhere between believable and over-the-top. Yes, I understand that part of what made the Manson cult so horrific was how out there they were. But that didn't come across in the novel. Most of the activities described in the book were no more extreme than what one would have found in many similar communes during the late 1960s. Then, next thing you knew, they were on a murder spree. There just wasn't enough build up, enough watching this group spiral into the depths that the Manson cult reached.