By Zakary McGaha
Disclaimer: This is a title I was given a copy of in exchange for a review by the same publisher who’s putting out a book of mine later; this relationship has no effect on my opinion of Sarah Read’s novel.
The Bone Weaver’s Orchard felt like a warm, comforting blanket on a cold day. It was full of coziness, despite the many depictions of kids being abused.
All serious literature lovers have areas of comfort they inevitably come crawling back to after exploring other genres. This one embodies one of mine to a T; there’s a school with a deadly secret, and it’s up to one outsider-like kid to figure everything out.
The secret this strict boy’s school is hiding offers up some fun, ghostly moments and serious peril for our main protagonist and his various buddies who help him along the way. Kids are being abducted, there’s a specter who walks around breaking stuff at night, and certain faculty members know a lot more than they’re letting on.
Like all good horror stories set in schools, asshole kids come across as scarier than anything that goes bump in the night. Mix in awkward socialization skills and quirky interests—in this case, bugs—and you’ve got a recipe for a “boarding-school-must-fucking-suck” stew. Imagine being thrown into a school in a far off land, only to find that, in addition to school life being awful, you’ve got to worry about being abducted and forgotten!
“Coming of age” freaks will love this book. The uncovering of the school’s secrets is like a metaphor for uncovering the secrets of adulthood. Yes, that’s a cheesy take on the story, but it’s hard not to think in that direction when you see the psychotic behavior of some of the characters.
If you’re looking for extreme horror, though, you’ll be disappointed. The novel is pretty tame throughout, which isn’t a detriment. In fact, it’s perfect reading for the whole family (and no, I don’t mean that jokingly). It has just the right amount of horror balanced with angsty teen stuff to make it fit nicely in both the YA and adult horror genres.
Sarah Read’s writing style services the story well. She’s neither overly descriptive or minimalistic, which makes for a smooth reading experience.
The number-one attraction to this novel is, without a doubt, the setting. The school is described as old, spooky, somewhat isolated, and full of empty (or not-so-empty) space. If ever there was a setting in which cozy horror could happen, it’s this school.
When I say “cozy horror”, I mean cozy to me, as mentioned above. The type of horror offered here isn’t visceral, deranged, or even that scary, but it works in a fantasy sort of way that pulls you into its world. It was fun getting lost in the school and watching the characters explore the secret passageways. When the “unused” East Wing was finally about to be traipsed through, I found myself eagerly anticipating every detail.
That isn’t to say it was all fun and games, though. In addition to the aforementioned asshole kids, many faculty members are seriously unstable; they’re what you imagined all your mean, stiff-necked elementary school teachers being like behind closed doors. Watching them abuse and manipulate kids was definitely anger-inducing.
Chiefly, The Bone Weaver’s Orchard is a fun book to get lost in. If you’re a fan of quiet horror that takes place in old buildings, then it’s a MUST-READ novel. It also proves that “coming of age” stories work well within the context of horror and fantasy.
Normally, I’m against offering “companion pieces” to books, but one I simply can’t resist offering is The Woods (2006), directed by Lucky McKee. If you loved that movie, you’ll love this book…and vice versa!
You can pre-order The Bone Weaver’s Orchard here.
Zakary McGaha is a writer living in Tennessee. His novella, Locker Arms, is available from Kensington Gore Publishing. Soothing the Savage Swamp Beast is forthcoming from JournalStone/Bizarro Pulp Press.