BOYS IN THE VALLEY by Philip Fracassi is a chilling classic.
Fracassi’s tale is labeled as horror, but is much more than that: this is a deep, gritty coming-of-age story that delves its own mark on readers.
In 1905, when the priests at a Catholic orphanage in rural Pennsylvania are brought a possessed man to heal, things go horribly wrong, for the clergy and for the 30 boys in their charge.
From the shocking opening to the pandemonium at the book’s ending, BOYS IN THE VALLEY grabs you and does not let up!
Fracassi has a great writing style that combines vivid imagery, tight-knit prose, and a tense build-up of suspense littered with unexpected action, as he creates an in-depth world filled with memorable characters.
It is because of the many aspects of the characters living within the winter-blasted setting that there are quite a few extremely moving scenes.
The following Book Review of BOYS IN THE VALLEY by Philip Fracassi has mild plot Spoilers*
The book starts with its protagonist, nine-year-old Peter, watching paralyzed as his father returns home drunk and faces scorn from his wife for not bringing the starving family any food.
Peter’s father, Jack, snaps. He murders his wife, he stares down his son, and then he turns the gun on himself.
It is the eerily realistic semblance of the defeated father losing it and the powerless boy that sees this play out, paralyzed and mortified, that captures people’s flaws and their humanity so well, and this knowledge shapes Peter, even as the event itself haunts him.
The way Fracassi writes the scene, you can feel how tired Peter’s father is when he “sits heavily” and takes off his battered hat. You get the feeling the man is, at the least, verbally abusive when he is in an angered state, and like the kettle that whistles in the home as Peter’s mother taunts her husband, Jack Barlow simmers on the page until, once boiled, he blows up.
Are the use of ‘Jack’ and ‘Barlow’ a nod to two of Stephen King’s earliest works?
Seven years later, Peter is among the kinder and older boys of St. Vincent’s Orphanage. He is training to become a priest under his friend and surrogate father figure, Father Andrew, and his insightfulness into the difficulties of life, at the orphanage and in general, makes him an interesting lens to watch the tragic story of BOYS IN THE VALLEY unfold.
Peter, now 16, has fallen in love with a neighboring farmer’s daughter, and he has to come to grips with his knowledge that his mentor, Father Andrew, thinks of him like a son, and that to tell Andrew that Peter will not complete his training and become a priest will likely break the man’s heart.
But Father Andrew is a fantastic character and one who continually reminds Peter, despite the priest’s own hopes, that it is Peter’s choice to make.
This is a beautiful display of affection that shines throughout the book and is not forgotten when Peter does not get to make that choice.
Life at the orphanage means strict adherence to the priests’ rules, daily farm work and meager meals that never fill any of the boys’ bellies.
The 30 boys living together act as brothers will, in both caring for one another, especially Peter looking out for the smaller and younger orphans, in entertaining one another, in ribbing one another, and in picking on one another.
Boys are curious.
But the more they learn of the priests’ attempt to heal a possessed man who is then killed and buried on the church grounds, the more a malevolent mood permeates many of them.
Peter’s best friend, another main character and a good foil that makes an impression, as the gruff, ever-cynical older boy, David, is stalwart throughout the book, a pillar that Peter can count on to show no fear. Until he cannot. And when David is afraid, Peter realizes just how wrong things have gone.
Fracassi writes: “David is not easily knocked off his course. He has walls within walls to keep himself insulated from things of the world . . . Any emotions he may or may not feel . . . are buried deep within him, visible only to his inner self . . . [But] to see him so visibly, dramatically shaken is like . . . the first time I saw my mother cry.” [BOYS IN THE VALLEY, Fracassi, Tor Nightfire, Earthling Publications, Orbit Books]
The entire passage is far more impactful than the condensed quote above, but you will just have to read the book, readers.
There are many more memorable characters, from Brother Johnson, the sadistic, lifelong criminal sentenced to serve the priests and therein is often the twisted enforcer of punishments for the boys, and then to Grace, the sweet love of Peter’s life who lends him a great work of fiction every time he visits her.
As the frosty fields are quickly covered with falling snow and then the fell wind of the incoming storm that grows and grows and, finally, blasts St. Vincent’s, so too does the evil follow in its wake.
The possessed boys carry out the most heinous of acts imaginable against their orphan-brothers.
Only the union of the resistant boys under Peter and David stand in the way of the demons.
Fracassi paints so many shades of black.
Though there are parallels between Blatty’s masterpiece THE EXORCIST, Stephen King’s IT, and BOYS IN THE VALLEY, when I think of this book, I keep coming back to two impactful coming-of-age tales: William Golding’s LORD OF THE FLIES and Kurt Vonnegut’s SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE.
The latter is a favorite of mine, and I would argue Billy Pilgrim as a young man dropped into WWII Germany grows enough to be a bildungsroman in its own right, just as much as Golding’s tale of boys surviving on their own devices does, if in different ways.
LORD OF THE FLIES pits one group of children against another in a poignant way that is echoed in Fracassi’s boys forming of two opposing sides.
Demonic possession has been depicted throughout culture as an evil being often self-describing itself as ‘many’ or ‘legion’ and in BOYS IN THE VALLEY, the demons that inhabited a child murderer spread, like a disease, so that a horrific army of possessed young boys is formed and bent on further infection of the clergy and their brethren boys and the world, and for any who resist they want only to maliciously harm them.
Dominance and survival are two of the qualities that seep from Golding and from Fracassi.
There are even two orphan boys that are so close in age and friendship, they are called brothers even though they are not related, and these two inseparable characters are pitted against one another in BOYS IN THE VALLEY and it is terrifically terrible.
End of SPOILER Warning*
The horrors of war, the sheer atrocities performed by humans pitted against humans, that Billy Pilgrim is caught in in Dresden, Germany are so harsh as to be revolting, which was the point: the writing is as real as the terrible acts of war were/are.
So too does BOYS IN THE VALLEY invoke violent depictions of its own deeply personal war. But this is also realism and writing at its most effective.
This is how these characters behave.
BOYS IN THE VALLEY sticks with you like a knife in the ribs: it never really goes away.
For horror fans, you may need to read this one in the warm light of the summer sun, because the darkness and the bitter cold stalks the reader, just as it daunts the characters in the book.
Yes, there are some brutal, graphic scenes in BOYS IN THE VALLEY, but they are reflective of the history that the story takes place in, as well as the realistic actions of the characters.
Fracassi’s tale is one you will happily reread even though it still hurts.
I was fortunate to receive an advanced review copy of this book to do a Preview Review of the Earthling Publications signed limited edition for Halloween 2021 that is a stunner, and I have reread the ARCs provided to me by Tor Nightfire and by Orbit Books to do this review to expound on BOYS IN THE VALLEY for their July 2023 release dates. The book is out NOW.
INSPECTION by Josh Malerman is an unremitting classic, as is the signed limited edition of the novel by Earthling Publications.
The thing about INSPECTION that is so unnerving is that it is entirely plausible.
The main character J is one of twenty-six twenty-four Alphabet Boys growing up in a school where their adopted father, D.A.D., and his Inspectors and staff have withheld the very existence of the female gender from the boys their entire lives so that they are “undistracted” in pursuit of academic and artistic greatness.
This book is a new favorite of mine! INSPECTION is visceral, poignant, moving, and frightening, and, man oh man, that ending packs a wallop!
The world-building, the characters, the prose could not be woven together better, like a song, or be more impactful.
“Oh, J knew the inspections were for his own good.” [INSPECTION, Josh Malerman, p.86]
That very line sends a shiver up my spine.
If a boy fails a daily inspection to the point where they are dubbed “rotten”, then they will be sent to The Corner, an infamous, hidden place from which two of their brothers have gone but never returned.
That threat is nearly as ingrained as some of the specifics it is wrapped in by D.A.D. – the diseases that disobeying can bring – and therein, the need for Inspections, for every day of their twelve-year-old lives.
The boys are even fed books crafted to them to teach specific lessons and to be devoid of any female terminology.
In a world where so many struggle and generations of youth have to learn history in schools where books are banned and/or censored into incoherence, the brilliant and twisted premise of Malerman’s INSPECTION borders on prescience.
And you will not be able to put this book down.
Earthling Publications’ signed limited edition of INSPECTION by Josh Malerman is an innovative marvel that captures the soul of the book, art reflecting art.
I imagine Josh Malerman must have felt a thrill jolt through him as he first held the Earthling S/L in his hands.
There is no dust jacket. No word on the book’s cover. And it is all the more stunning because of that.
The Earthling INSPECTION has every minute facet of the tale highlighted perfectly.
The cover is a “D.A.D. red leather jacket” Skyvertex covering, and there from front to spine to back are the black silhouettes of the Alphabet Boys waiting in line for their inspection.
It such a dramatic display.
The endpapers are the actual notebook pages that Warren Bratt printed with his hand-written story where “the woman” enters.
I mean, wow!
This is powerful, as are the brilliant illustrations of Patrick Arrasmith, the fantastic foreword by Jonathan Maberry, and both of them sign alongside Josh Malerman in this numbered edition of 235 (there was a lettered edition of 15).
The paper is bright, smells delicious, and boldly displays the text on 80# Finch interior papers that are held in a Smyth sewn binding.
Earthling is top-notch, even raising the bar they have set for themselves with INSPECTION.
Gothic by Philip Fracassi – beware of the madness within these pages, because it may unravel your soul.
There are few books that come along – and I usually read many books at once – that demand all of my attention, and I cannot put them down, and Gothic by Philip Fracassi was one of these.
The thrilling tale of Gothic’s Tyson Parks and his world, packs a hell of a bite.
The characters are so real you can hear their voices and recall their mannerisms. The writing is fantastically tight and visual, the impacts of violent scenes visceral.
For fans of horror and thrillers that hold back no punches, Gothic is a rare treat.
Spoiler Alert for Gothic by Philip Fracassi.
The world-building is extremely well done, as Fracassi paints the posh and the dimmer corners of New York City alongside a publishing world that is genuine, down to the minute details, like the contractual obligation to deliver on a novel’s pitch.
And this is entirely necessary to go along with what is almost certainly a haunted desk that hints at being so much more.
Fracassi presents Gothic in such a way that I might have walked past the same swanky antique store on my way home and seen the corner of a mammoth antique desk there and felt its allure before a chill went down my spine and sent me on my way.
The best-selling author, Tyson Parks, who is out of money and time and inspiration is gifted an antique black oak desk, like no other, that immediately becomes a miraculous muse.
As the tragedy of Tyson, who begins to write rampantly and display violent behavior wholly unlike himself, progresses, with more success meeting more hints at madness, Gothic‘s story unfolds bloodily and brilliantly.
There is a steady build-up that grows faster and faster, until the plot’s rollercoaster car flies down from the track’s summit at blistering speed with many exhilarating and scary twists and turns that form an epic conclusion.
The desk is hungry!
The very first writing marathon that Tyson takes at his new desk causes cracks in his fingertips that bleed. And whenever blood touches the desk and its centerpiece, a massive stone surface, it is absorbed and a sacrificial contract of sorts gets underway.
As the time goes on, more and more blood is fed to the desk, and the carved ivy branches lift from the desk’s surface and slip into the author’s veins.
Though Tyson does not remember what he wrote, exactly, his next book becomes a bigger best-seller than he has ever had.
Despite that, his agency begs him to dial down the rampant violence in his next project, The Horror, and to take out the unsavory elements that fly in the face of many 21st century readers’ morals.
Tyson, enthralled by the desk, and incessantly listening to the old blind wizard that speaks to him from it, goes off on his agency and threatens to walk if his written word is ever questioned again.
He is a multimillionaire and god-like among his world.
But as he discovers at the book launch party for his newest book, the text has inspired madness, suicides, violence, and cult-like reverence that he never intended. He does not even remember the parts of the book that are referenced as causing harm.
Even after losing his family to the desk’s murderous influence, losing his own mind, life, and seemingly his own soul, he – or the spirit of the desk, maybe – writes one final manuscript.
Because he is completely in the hold of the desk, and he cannot stop himself from going to it.
That final work of Tyson’s arrives completed at his agent, Harry’s, office, and Harry who has already succumb to alcoholism and drug addiction as a means to cope with Tyson’s work, starts to read the book, titled Gothic; will it fully unravel his mind?
Not since Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness does a character, like Gothic’s Tyson Parks, tragically reach such megalomaniacal heights that the overthrown mind crumbles and the realization of their lost humanity comes only at the moment of their bitter demise.
As Conrad’s Kurtz sees the darkness about him and within him, he can only mutter, The horror. The horror, as he dies. For Fracassi’s Tyson, the irreparable inward degradation is only made fully apparent to him as the literal cause of his fate in the ancient relic – now a desk – kills him, and at that moment a door opens in it to an alternate plane of existence where a leviathan’s jaws emerge to utterly consume his soul.
Want to question your own grip on sanity? On reality? There is a book for you called Gothic by Philip Fracassi.
For those looking to keep themselves up at night, afraid that some artifact in their home, a desk, a table, maybe, might be haunted and hungry and so much worse, Gothic will oblige.
On Gothic’s Limited Edition
In 2022, Earthling Publications released the first printing of Gothic by Philip Fracassi in a gorgeous signed limited edition.
Earthling has long held some of the best small press releases in the industry, and this is no exception.
With the art, from the gorgeous desk on the cover, by Glenn Chadbourne, to the interior layouts and the lavender textured endpapers, to the quality paper and Smyth-sewn binding, this is a work of art encasing a work of art.
In 2023, Gothic – with another badass cover – was released en masse and is available by Cemetery Dance for purchase now. Philip Fracassi’s next major release Boys in the Valley will hit shelves in Summer 2023!
Earthling Halloween: Boys in the Valley by Philip Fracassi is the fine press pick for the holiday this year, as a horrific The Exorcist meets Lord of The Flies story occurs at the St. Vincent’s Orphanage for Boys in rural Pennsylvania.
There is a fun unnerving other worldliness to the historical setting for this circa 1900 horror tale.
And the prose by author Philip Fracassi is tight, vivid, and compelling.
On All Hallow’s Eve TFF covers the riveting Earthling Publications ARC read leading up to the spooky season with the following Spoiler-free Preview Review** of Boys in the Valley by Philip Fracassi.
The main character Peter Barlow was orphaned by murder and the terrible trauma led him on the path to become a priest.
One night the 30 boys and their sacred caregivers are beset by a group of men bearing a maimed man full of occult symbols carved into his flesh.
The storm foreshadows the evil that his death will unleash on the remote orphanage.
If you are a fan of The Exorcist or Lord of The Flies then Boys in the Valley by Philip Fracassi will likely give you delightful shivers and more than a few nightmares.
There are still a few signed and limited edition books available exclusively at Earthling here, from a lettered edition of 15 copies hand made using the finest materials signed by all contributors, including artist Glenn Chadbourne and Andy Davidson, to the numbered edition of 500 copies signed by the author of the book and the introduction.
Philip Fracassi’s tales of suspense and dark fiction have long been hailed as triumphs, but this his debut novel is his most ambitious achievement to date.
Praise for BOYS IN THE VALLEY and the works of Philip Fracassi:
“BOYS IN THE VALLEY is a beautiful novel that should be — will likely be — remembered as one of the best of the young decade. A harrowing and unforgettable debut novel.”
“With rich, multilayered characters and a setting as hopeless as it is dreary, Fracassi has masterfully orchestrated a tale that is both harrowing and profound.”
“While I was riveted to the pages, I didn’t realize how invested I was until I could breathe again after I turned that final page.”
—Where the Reader Grows
“Paul Miller has added another haunting addition to his much-beloved Halloween Series. Fracassi has written an odyssey through possession and madness that is tough to read. This is my first meeting with Fracassi and I’m sure it won’t be the last.”
—The Baryon Review
“A gothic, gory Lord of the Flies tale. The horror here is as much as warning on the dangers of human corruption as a testament to hope in the face of nigh-insurmountable darkness. Horror readers will be hooked.”
“I sped through this gripping and excellently paced novel over three evenings as events quickly spiraled from bad to worse. I suggest you move fast as the 500 hardbacks being released by Earthling are dwindling, and I imagine will all be snagged via pre-orders.”
—Ginger Nuts of Horror
“Boys in the Valley is gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, and terrifying.”
“A superior storyteller.”
—This Is Horror
“The next big horror writer to blow your mind.”
“Especially skillful at creating and sustaining suspense.”
—The New York Times
Final Quarter Announcement Schedule For The Forgotten Fiction: here it is folks, news, news, and all the fun coming to TFF to close out the year with a BANG!
For those of you wondering, there are many new writers coming on for guest posts, including authors like Tom Deady, and more book reviews are coming.
Everything got hung up again in the last two months with not one, but two Covid scares for my toddler.
She did not get it, but it wreaked havoc for quite a while and her daycare was shut down for two weeks, twice, and we were quarantined, limiting my own working hours to her sleeping hours, and that affected both the volume of reviews and the output of the Rune Works Wood Shop.
All of that has now passed: a bevy of projects are being polished up and packed and mailed!
I am so happy to be working a lot again, though I did enjoy having a lot more time with my daughter – the kid is amazing.
Housekeeping out of the way, prepare yourselves for many new incredible books that will be in Preview Reviews, like Boys In The Valley by Philip Fracassi – this is Earthling Publications Halloween Book Of The Year – and Josh Malerman’s Ghoul N’ the Cape, and then so many contemporary and classic book reviews too.
Gwendy’s Button Box S/L will likely by my first SST Publications review, though Bird Box may leapfrog it.
My many editions of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, from a signed first edition to Suntup’s marvelous numbered edition will be reviewed along with the story, my second favorite of all time.
Asimov will get his own page for The End Of Eternity, the S/L from of Robots of Dawn from Phantasia Press, and of course, Foundation and more robot tales.
Philip K. Dick will also be here with a page constantly adding reviews starting with the new Centipede Press boxed set and a gorgeous limited of The Cosmic Puppets, as well as many, many more novels from all eras.
Five Decembers by James Kestrel from Hard Case Crime is going to be grand, as well as more Crichton, some Lawrence Block, and Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka, and of course Cline’s Ready Player One and Ready Player Two (I have a surprise to show you for these)!
There are so many more in the works, as well, and to get a feel for what you the Eager Readers want, I am devising a poll to be sent out to all on our email list.
The TFF-inspired fiction-based Rune Works Wood Shop is revealing some new products that clients have ordered.
There are new crazy designs for book traycases, coffee table display cases for LEGO builds, custom limited edition bookends and even Dungeons & Dragons and Warhammer 40K Partitions and Player Dungeons Boxes, complete with a Dice Vault and Storage Tray and a compartment for a pencil, pad or tablet.
So many great things are coming!
TFF will be showing off its first comic book cases at the Rune Works booth at New York Comic Con in October too!
More news on that and the END OF THE YEAR CRAZY giveaway contest is going to be leaked soon . . . stay tuned!
Final Quarter Announcement Schedule:
Tuesday Sept. 28 the next contest and prizes are announced
Tuesday Oct. 5 @ 1pm EST is the LIVESTREAM event and giveaway!
Wednesday Oct. 27 the next contest and prizes are announced
Tuesday Nov. 9 @ 1pm EST is the LIVESTREAM event and giveaway!
Friday Dec. 10 the next contest and prizes are announced
Tuesday Dec. 21 @ 1pm EST is the LIVESTREAM event and giveaway!
CRAZY End of year LIVEstream will be on Dec 21, 2021! There will be books for international fans, there will be at least one custom Rune Works book case being given away and a TON of other surprises! Stay tuned for more info on this!
Dark Across The Bay By Ania Ahlborn Coming From Earthling Publications in a S/L edition befitting the thrilling new novel.
The Following TFF Preview Review Will Only Contain **Mild Spoilers** To The Initial Plot Of The Book’s Opening.
Best-selling author Ania Ahlborn takes a fractured family to a secluded vacation home where unnerving and horrific hauntings rattle the reader and the Parrishs alike, and then the stalking begins to slowly unravel everyone’s nerves.
Dark Across The Bay bleeds mysterious hints at insidiousness growing rampant, from the creepy island rental besieging the vulnerable family to the stalkers intruding on them.
Before a marriage can formally dissolve, or Lark and Leo can attempt to move on, everyone is brought to the beach house Airbnb off the coast of Raven’s Head, Maine, 1000 miles from their family home, for a weekend retreat.
The island has only the one house and only one way on or off its shores: by boat.
The expansive residence contains wonderful window views out onto foggy waters, but it seems to be off somehow.
It makes for a great setting, as everything from the building itself to its innards seem creepily askew.
It holds myriad secrets that are tucked away, like the odd nooks and hallways full of unsettling amounts of fishing paraphernalia and hidden corner cubbies full of shabby books.
And ‘Mom’ wants ‘family time’ to be devoid of cell phones in the house, and so the modern interconnectivity of the world and its people easily communicating is stoppered bringing further isolation at times. When the phones come to back to life it is alarming.
The characters are each well met in the story, and the relatable, familiar family interactions spark lots of memories of growing up.
You may not like each member of the Parrishs, but they are certainly all intriguing, from the nearly divorced parents almost certain of their fate, to their two children, who are young adults struggling through recent trauma.
Lark is a novice novelist, battling through a bad break-up, and her brother, Leo, is distanced from her (and everyone), as he aims to leave the grief of his best friend’s death behind with an escape to the shores of Thailand.
Ania Ahlborn brilliantly keeps the characters off balance, as well as the reader.
The seemingly discernable arcs of each of the characters become further and further confused as their sense of calm and, at times, outright sense of terror is ratcheted up in stark, unexpected ways.
Who would torment the family of four? Is it personal, and if so, why travel 1000 miles to dole out such cruel punishment? Are there any supernatural elements at play?
The prose is wonderfully written, painting clear, boisterous scenes with visceral jolts to the heart.
Suspense and old fashioned, yet modernized, and innovative mystery meets elements of horror in this fantastic phantasm of a tale.
Dark Across The Bay by Ania Ahlborn is an amazing work from one of speculative fiction’s brightest minds.
Her use of world building and literary prowess makes for one hell of a story, and Dark Across The Bay debuts on a fine press publisher with Signed and Limited editions from Earthling Publications.
There are 500 numbered, Smyth sewn, offset printed copies, signed by Ania Ahlborn and Josh Malerman, as well as 15 lettered, offset printed, tray-cased hardcovers, with both the book and the tray-case being hand-made using the finest materials, and signed by all contributors.
The gorgeous cover art and interior art is brought to us by renowned illustrator Vincent Chong, and the book contains an introduction from the author as well as best seller Josh Malerman (author of Bird Box and Goblin).
They still have copies available! Take a look here!
If you are not familiar with Earthling, they have made some of the finest hand-crafted editions of books, each with their own unique feel.
An all-time grail for this reviewer is Earthling’s lettered edition of The Hellbound Heart: 20th Anniversary Edition (2007) novella by Clive Barker, and I cannot wait to see what they have in store for the design of Dark Across The Bay by Ania Ahlborn.
We already know the cover art from Vincent Chong is outstanding.
We will conduct a more in-depth review after the book is released, going further into the novel and into the book edition.
But for now this has to be one of the most eagerly awaited suspense and horror books coming this year, and our rating is: