on February 1, 2019
Genres: Dark Fiction, Fiction, Gothic, Historical Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Suspense
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He's run away home. That's what they say every time one of Charley Winslow's friends vanishes from The Old Cross School for Boys.
It's just a tall tale. That's what they tell Charley when he sees the ragged grey figure stalking the abbey halls at night.
When Charley follows his pet insects to a pool of blood behind a false wall, he could run and let those stones bury their secrets. He could assimilate, focus on his studies, and wait for his father to send for him. Or he could walk the dark tunnels of the school's heart, scour its abandoned passages, and pick at the scab of a family's legacy of madness and murder.
With the help of Sam Forster, the school's gardener, and Matron Grace, the staff nurse, Charley unravels Old Cross' history and exposes a scandal stretching back to when the school was a home with a noble family and a dark secret--a secret that still haunts its halls with scraping steps, twisting its bones into a new generation of nightmares.
THE BONE WEAVER’S ORCHARD is the first I have read from author Sarah Read, and after this experience, I’ll be looking out for everything she releases! The novel takes place at what is then “The Old Cross School for Boys”, in North Yorkshire. Although the events are told from the year 1926, I honestly felt that I could be walking through those halls, myself, after only a couple of chapters.
I will admit that I was slightly confused at the inclusion of a Prologue. Normally, I expect this piece to be something of importance to the story that happened–usually–long in the past. However, here it just chronicled the arrival of a new boy to the school, Charley Winslow, whose father was a soldier overseas. The thing was, his arrival was only a couple of days before the other boys, and other than introducing him to the reader, nothing of note occurred.
Aside from that trivial, momentary pause, I felt the rest of the book flowed so steadily–with mounting tension all the while–that I was loathe to put it down at all.
“. . . This is not a place for delicate things.”
Almost immediately, Read hits the reader with the feeling that something isn’t quite right at this boarding school. Between the boarded up wing that hasn’t been used in decades, the ghost stories the returning, older boys tell the “first-years”, and the strange noises Charlie hears at night, this book has the most perfect atmosphere going for it.
“You saw the ragged man.”
The school is set in an old, gothic style mansion, complete with gloomy, wet grounds, and a gardener who is only permitted to sleep in a “shed” outdoors. Not only is the physical atmosphere so prominent, but it also showcases the differences in caste to a very vivid degree.
“. . . If you already have a home in your heart, can you make another? . . .”
We have the returning boys, who are at the top of the class hierarchy, the first-years who are expected to work for them in a sort of servitude, and all the ones in between. This gives us a clear view of our main character’s situation. In fact, with the everyday routines, common school problems, and the feeling of being sent away from the family you’ve grown up in, I couldn’t help feeling as though I was walking beside Charlie in those unfamiliar stone corridors.
Such a situation is positively perfect for supernatural, ghostly tales!
“. . . It’s like the dust here is made of memory. You could wander in the past for years.”
Given the younger age of our main character, I did wonder if the horror–or at least the gore factor–would be taken down a notch. I am extremely pleased to say that Read did not shy away from ANY of the more graphic displays. Her descriptions of each occurrence, and her writing style in general, stay true to the feeling of the story throughout the entirety of the novel. No details were left out, and each and every horrific find was shown as prominently as they would have appeared to the characters. I can not emphasize enough how powerful these aspects were in keeping my mind completely riveted in the world she created.
“. . . No matter how much we belong to a place, it doesn’t belong to us . . . “
Overall, I would say that Sarah Read is one of the strongest new voices in horror that I’ve come across lately. THE BONE WEAVER’S ORCHARD had everything I could have asked for in a novel, and more. There were several intricate threads woven around that even I didn’t foresee. Each time I came across something unexpected, I’d stop to think back for a moment, only to realize that the seeds had been so cleverly sewn that I had just failed to recognize their significance in advance.
“. . . It’s easier to look away . . . if you’re not sure of a thing . . . “
With a steady, engaging writing style, and the ability to portray even the most horrifying of images without hesitation, I believe we’ll be seeing some great things from this author in the future.
About Author Sarah Reed
Sarah Read is a dark fiction writer in the frozen north of Wisconsin. Her short stories can be found in Gamut, Black Static, and other places, and in various anthologies including Exigencies, Suspended in Dusk, BEHOLD! Oddities Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders, and The Best Horror of the Year vol 10. Her novel The Bone Weaver’s Orchard is now out from Trepidatio Publishing, and her debut collection will follow in late 2019. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Pantheon Magazine and of their associated anthologies, including Gorgon: Stories of Emergence. She is an active member of the Horror Writers Association. When she’s not staring into the abyss, she knits.