St. Vincent’s Orphanage for Boys. Turn of the century, in a remote valley in Pennsylvania.
Here, under the watchful eyes of several priests, thirty boys work, learn, and worship. Peter Barlow, orphaned as a child by a gruesome murder, has made a new life here. As he approaches adulthood, he has friends, a future. . . a family.
Then, late one stormy night, a group of men arrive at their door, one of whom is badly wounded, occult symbols carved into his flesh. His death releases an ancient evil that spreads like sickness, infecting St. Vincent’s and the children within.
Soon, boys begin acting differently, forming groups. Taking sides. Others turn up dead. Now Peter and those dear to him must choose sides of their own, each of them knowing their lives – and perhaps their eternal souls – are at risk.
The Exorcist meets Lord of the Flies, by way of Midnight Mass, Boys in the Valley is a chilling folk horror set in a remote orphanage in turn of the century Pennsylvania.
Warning, unpopular opinions about the horror genre ahead…
As soon as I heard about this upcoming release months ago, I knew immediately I had to read it. I’m the first admit that I’m not a seasoned horror reader, on the contrary, its rarely a category I gravitate towards, but this was a refreshing change from my usual fantasy read and an excellent introduction into the genre – it also gets huge bonus points for dragging me out of a 4-month long reading slump!
The story follows Peter, a 16 year old boy traumatised by his past following the untimely death of both his parents. Now the eldest boy at a gruelling orphanage run by priests, he is forced to grow up quickly when evil descends upon them, throwing the entire abysmal place into murderous chaos.
One thing I particularly enjoyed about this story (as a non-horror reader) is how accessible this was to read. Perhaps this is why Orbit felt it was a strong book to expand their portfolio, as whilst being spine-tinglingly chilling, it was also beautifully written, and frequently read more like book-club fiction.
But lets take a second to talk about my usual pet peeves with the horror genre, and how this book avoided them: unnecessary extreme violence, sexual assault, gore, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a bore, but does this actually add anything to the story? Or is your story completely reliant on these triggers (which I suspect is often the case?) If the latter is true, then I’m likely disinterested in your story, (sorry not sorry!)
Step in Boys in the Valley to restore my faith in the genre! Don’t be fooled from my little rant above, you can still expect to find a healthy (or unhealthy) amount of gore and violence from this book, but it felt necessary to the story and didn’t leave me horrified and shuddering in the corner. It really felt like an accessible entrance into the genre to scare me, chill me, and maybe even give me nightmares, but from a result of good story-telling over cheap thrills.
I really enjoyed the characters featured in the tale, all with their own back stories and darkness to be explored. I particularly enjoyed the character of Johnson – it felt like Snape in a grown up’s horror book. He has an incredibly dark past, isn’t unaccustomed to being aggressive and abusive to the children, and yet there is an internal battle with glimmers of hope making him more than a stereotypical antagonist.
My one complaint with this book is that it was too short and I really would have enjoyed more time delving into the character backgrounds. Johnson being a good example, I loved how grey his character was, and whilst his past was often alluded to I definitely found myself wanting to know more; this applied to several of the other characters too.
Boys in the Valley has been described as a cross between the Exorcist and The Lord of the Flies, and I’m not sure I could put it better myself. If you’re looking for an exhilarating read to fly through and keep you up at night, look no further! Its guaranteed to keep you turning the pages and if you’re stuck in a reading slump, I can vouch this is certain to get you out of it.
Boys in the Valley releases 13th July and is available to buy now!
The views expressed in this review are not a reflection of the entire horror genre, nor horror-readers, merely my experiences. If you have some fantastic horror books you think I’d enjoy, please do share as I’m keen to delve further!