It’s been a while since the last time I picked up a dystopian horror, but even then, I did not expect Orchard of Skeletons by Eli Wilde to be such an unforgettable and incredible survival story! Centered around two teenagers on the run for freedom, Orchard of Skeletons is a dark and gruesome story set in a post-apocalyptic world where most of humanity have died to a pandemic while the rest that are alive would do anything to survive, even if it means resorting to nightmarish violence.
Table of Contents
~ Synopsis: Orchard Of Skeletons by Eli Wilde ~
Orchard of Skeletons is a dystopian novel about Isaac and Macy who are on the run from a psychopath that wants to kill one of them and return the other to a life of slavery.
During their run for freedom, they encounter an unlikely friend in the form of a replicant searching for something only they can help him find.
The land they journey through is full of bones, abandoned towns and starving wolves.
If they can reach Zeko’s, the replicant promised it could save them from Finch.
Finch isn’t alone anymore. He has the support of the people under the mountain. The ones who would do anything to own people who can make babies.
Trigger Warnings: Death, graphic violence and gore, animal cruelty, infanticide, body horror, sexual abuse (mentioned), incestous rape (mentioned)
~ Book Review Orchard of Skeletons By Eli Wilde ~
The first few chapters of Orchard of Skeletons are, for lack of a better word, deeply disturbing. The story is told from the perspective of an initially unnamed narrator, (later named Isaac) a teenage boy who works as a mechanic for a violent man who runs a gambling den and uses his own daughter, Macy, to “take care of his losses”. While there’s no graphic depiction of sexual violence in the story (but it is mentioned several times), Macy’s predicament at the start of the novel is enough to make any reader feel deeply uncomfortable.
But that’s not what kept me turning the pages. Ultimately, it was our unnamed narrator who kept me intrigued. There’s something very clearly wrong with our protagonist Isaac, who is not only very much depressed and traumatized but also seemingly incapable of experiencing real human emotions.
And yet, as the story slowly unfolds bit by bit, I couldn’t help but start to root for Isaac and wish for a happy ending for him. For someone who claims to not feel anything for Macy, he sure does go out of his way to protect her and keep her happy, going so far as to run away with Macy to save her from becoming a forced breeder for the rest of the sterile human population.
As Isaac and Macy hit the road and try to find a safe place where they can survive together, we slowly start to understand what exactly happened to the human race. The world-building in Orchard of Skeletons is phenomenal but unreliable. There’s no real explanation as to how or why the sickness started–it could have been a government experiment to reduce overpopulation, a biological weapon gone wrong, or it could have simply been due to natural causes.
But what is clear throughout the book is that it was bad enough that humans ended up creating AI called replicants and programming them to kill fertile humans and children, while those who could afford to escape to remote locations under the mountains, or man-made beaches, or went straight to outer space. Those who were left behind became sterile and resorted to cannibalism to survive in a world quickly being depleted of its resources.
Strangely enough, this shroud of mystery about how the world changed actually goes perfectly well with Orchard of Skeletons. It is a horror novel after all, and Eli Wilde creates this bleak world a little bit at a time in such a masterful way that you cannot help but suspend disbelief for a while as the main characters Isaac and Macy overcome one danger after another in their fight for survival.
One thing I will admit is that Orchard of Skeletons is not an easy story to read. There is a lot of graphic violence, animal cruelty, cannibalism, infanticide, and body horror. There are also many direct mentions of sexual abuse including incestous rape, all of them thrown in with a casual cruelty that kind of made me nauseous.
Thankfully, the sexual violence is only mentioned and never described, but you do have a narrator who processes all of these horrors with a sort of cold, calculative calm, which just makes the overall story even more uncomfortable to read.
Despite all of this though, Orchard of Skeletons is difficult to put down, and the main reason for this are the characters themselves. The character development in this story, especially for Isaac, was mind-blowing. With every crisis, he grows from being a closed-off, disturbed, and emotionally unavailable young man to someone who slowly starts to acknowledge his traumatic past and become somebody Macy can rely on.
On the flip side, while Isaac slowly starts to become more affectionate and mindful of his actions, Macy, who is initially curious, kind, and full of cheerful optimism, learns to use violence and cunning for self-defense, much to Isaac’s disappointment, who consistently expresses a desire to shield her from the darker aspects of survival. It was interesting to see the dynamic between the two of them, and how despite being so different from each other, Isaac and Macy complement each other perfectly.
Though he consistently refuses to admit that he feels love for Macy, believing that people like him were not deserving of love, it is very much clear in each of Isaac’s decisions and actions how much she matters to him. Their relationship is one of the defining aspects of this book and brings a lot of tenderness to a story that is steeped in graphic violence and horror.
You also have a supportive character, an AI/replicant named Ben, who becomes a father figure for both Isaac and Macy in spite of Isaac’s reluctance to trust him. Although Ben mostly acts as a guide for the two teenagers, and fills in the gaps in the world-building to help us understand how the human race has changed so much, I couldn’t help but adore him as he quickly becomes protective of Isaac and Macy, going so far as to put his own life on the line repeatedly in order to save them.
That being said, Orchard of Skeletons is not a romance novel; it’s a horror novel at the end of the day, and by extension does not come with a happy ending. No spoilers, but after desperately rooting for the main characters throughout the story, I couldn’t help but break down into a bawling sobbing mess when I reached the final ending.
All things considered, if you are a fan of fast-paced survival horror then I would highly recommend Orchard of Skeletons by Eli Wilde. Do take a look at the trigger warnings though because it is definitely not for the faint of heart.
~ Meet The Author: Eli Wilde ~
Eli Wilde started writing when he was very young and stopped writing while he was still young. He didn’t pick up a pen again until many years later. Now that he is telling stories once more, everything feels as it should.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own (my opinions are not for sale anyway). Thank you so much to Eli Wilde, BooksGoSocial and NetGalley for giving me a free copy of this book. <3
~ More Books Similar To Orchard of Skeletons~
Want more recommendations for horror novels? Here are a few more I would recommend:
The River Has Teeth by Erica Waters: a dark Gothic horror featuring feminine rage (with a bit of sapphic romance). Perfect for fans of both the Fantasy and Horror genre. Also explores themes of grief, violence and misogyny thoughtfully throughout the story.
The Sacrifice by Rin Chupeco: a terrifying YA horror story deeply rooted in Filipino mythology and featuring a non-binary queer protagonist. Contains social commentary on racial appropriation and exploitation, as well as misrepresentation of minorities by Western media.
The Girl From The Well by Rin Chupeco: an intriguing horror story narrated entirely from the perspective of a vengeful ghost, this one is based on the Japanese legend of Okiku.
Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings: a dark fantasy that has an intense, surreal, fever dream-like buildup, this is a rare horror novel that is written more as a folktale and told from the perspective of a very unreliable narrator.
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé: Gossip Girl meets Get Out in this mystery/thriller YA horror featuring two black kids in an elite school whose lives are threatened by an anonymous enemy.
What’s your favorite horror novel? Share your top, favorite recommendations in the comments below, and let me know what you think of this book too!