Black River Orchard by Chuck Wendig

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Rey

Date of publication: September 26th, 2023

Genre: Horror, Fantasy, Fiction, Thriller, Paranormal, Adult, Halloween, Suspense, Supernatural, Mystery

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

A small town is transformed by dark magic when a strange tree begins bearing magical apples in this new masterpiece of horror from the bestselling author of Wanderers and The Book of Accidents.

It’s autumn in the town of Harrow, but something else is changing in the town besides the season.

Because in that town there is an orchard, and in that orchard, seven most unusual trees. And from those trees grows a new sort of apple: Strange, beautiful, with skin so red it’s nearly black.

Take a bite of one of these apples and you will desire only to devour another. And another. You will become stronger. More vital. More yourself, you will believe. But then your appetite for the apples and their peculiar gifts will keep growing—and become darker.

This is what happens when the townsfolk discover the secret of the orchard. Soon it seems that everyone is consumed by an obsession with the magic of the apples… and what’s the harm, if it is making them all happier, more confident, more powerful?

And even if buried in the orchard is something else besides the seeds of this extraordinary tree: a bloody history whose roots reach back the very origins of the town.

But now the leaves are falling. The days grow darker. And a stranger has come to town, a stranger who knows Harrow’s secrets. Because it’s harvest time, and the town will soon reap what it has sown.

First Line:

Calla Paxson, age twelve, lurched upright in her bed, her heart pounding as if the nightmare she’d been having was still chasing her.

Black River Orchard by Chuck Wendig

Important things you need to know about the book:

Pace: Black River Orchard goes between medium and fast-paced. It is medium-paced until Dan loses his ever-loving mind (around the middle of the book). Then, it starts amping up the pace until the pacing is almost frantic. Then it slowed down again.

Trigger/Content Warning: Black River Orchard does have content and trigger warnings. If any of these trigger you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:

  • Violence (on page): This is a violent book right from the beginning. At first, it is subtle violence, but the violence is in your face by the middle of the book. It is graphic.
  • Blood (on page): This is also a bloody book. It is graphic and goes hand in hand with the violence.
  • Murder (on and off page): A murder sets the tone for the book, and the murders continue throughout the book. Some are described, and some are graphic.
  • Animal Death (on and off page): There are scenes towards the middle of the book where an initiation takes place, including murdering baby animals. I am not going to say much more because it is a spoiler. But it is graphic and almost fever-dreamish when described.
  • Homophobia (on and off page): There is homophobia directed at Emily throughout the book. There are blatant words spoken, and there are things done/threatened. There are other instances of homophobia throughout the book.
  • Grief (on and off page): Grief is one of the prominent undercurrents in this book. Dan is grieving the death of his father (years earlier), Calla is mourning the unexpected loss of a loving father, Emily is grieving her loss of self, John is mourning the deaths he caused during the first Gulf War, and Joanie (later on in the book) is grieving about something (I know it is vague but it is a spoiler).
  • Addiction (on page): The entire main storyline centers on the Harrowsblack apple addiction.
  • Suicide (on and off page): There are scenes where Dan remembers finding his father’s body after his suicide. Also, there is a scene where a police officer takes his service revolver and kills himself in front of Calla.
  • Abusive Relationship (on page): Emily’s wife changes after eating the apple and becomes abusive towards her (mentally, verbally, and physically). Dan becomes verbally and physically abusive to Calla.
  • Attempted Murder (on page): Joanie is almost killed by Prentiss in her house. Dan almost kills Calla.
  • Cheating (off-page): Emily cheated on Meg, so they moved to Harrow. Emily remembers it in a flashback, and Meg brings it up several times during the book.
  • Cults (on page): The book shows two different cults formed around the Harrowsblack apples. Since this will be a spoiler, I won’t say anything more.
  • Gun Violence (on and off page): Guns are used throughout the book to subdue and kill people.

Sexual Content: There is nongraphic sexual content in Black River Orchard. The author only gives bare minimum details about orgies. There is the remembrance of a sex scene between Emily and Meg, but it isn’t graphic.

Language: There is foul language used in Black River Orchard.

Setting: Black River Orchard is set almost entirely in Harrow, Pennsylvania. John Compass has a few side trips to New Jersey towards the middle of the book.

Representation: There is Native American representation (folktales, language) and queer representation (bisexual, genderfluid, lesbian, homosexual, and asexual) in Black River Orchard.

Tropes: Humans Can Be Evil, Monsters, Cults and Religious Extremists, Traumatic Past, Defeated Monster Comes Back to Life.

Age Range to read Black River Orchard: 21 and over

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

John Compass is searching for two things. One is a rare apple, the Harrowsblack, and the other is his best friend, who disappeared five years earlier. Careful tracking leads John to the small town of Harrow, Pennsylvania. It also is revealed that his friend had found the Harrowsblack before he disappeared. Meanwhile, in Harrow, a new apple has appeared. So red that it appears black, it is an instant hit at the farmers market. People who eat this apple cannot stop eating it, and they notice that when they eat the apple, they become stronger and heal faster. As John continues his search, the town slowly starts changing. In the middle of everything is Dan Paxson, the orchard owner. What is with the apples? How did Dan get them? What happens when John discovers the truth?

Main Characters

Dan Paxson: I felt for the guy at the beginning. He was determined to clear his father’s name and make something of the orchard that was his father’s. He was a loving father to Calla (almost too permissive, if I am going to be honest) and was somewhat of a pushover. But, the more he ate the apples, the more he changed. I almost hated to see him turn into what he became at the end of the book. It was nothing like he was initially written.

Calla Paxson: Calla is Dan’s seventeen-year-old daughter who wants to get into Princeton and is a wanna-be social influencer. I didn’t exactly like her at the beginning of the book. She came across as selfish and whiny. But she noticed something wasn’t right with the apples immediately. Calla started knowing that the more people ate them, the weirder they got. I liked her character’s development throughout the book.

John Compass: John is a Gulf War veteran haunted by what he did in the Middle East. He is so haunted that he becomes a Quaker (but will use violence to protect himself). John also becomes a hunter of rare apples. He becomes aware of the Harrowsblack apple when his best and probably only friend went missing five years earlier. I liked seeing John’s character progression in the book. But, what I liked the most was reading about the Native American legends attached to the Harrowsblack and seeing John piece everything together.

Emily Price: Emily is new to Harrow. Meg Price’s wife is feeling out of her element in a small town and in her marriage. Emily did something that strained her marriage and caused Meg to move them to Harrow. Their strained relationship becomes abusive after Meg starts eating the apple. So, I thought Emily was whiny, and she wallowed in self-pity until she met John. Then, I saw a side of Emily that I liked. At first, it was just a tiny glimpse, but by the end of the book, the true Emily was shown, and I loved her.

Joanie Moreau: Joanie showed up almost in the middle of the book. She was a character, and I liked her. She had an open marriage, rented her house out for sex parties (indoor only), and enjoyed teasing her neighbor, Prentiss. But things started to change when the Harrowsblack began making its rounds. It was after a specific event that Joanie showed how strong she was. It was also during the events at the end of the book that showed her character.

Secondary characters: The secondary characters in Black River Orchard made the book. They added so much to this book. The plotline was more flushed out, and the storyline had extra depth.

My review:

Black River Orchard was a well-written horror story that has made me never want to eat apples again. I was engrossed (and horrified) by how the storyline progressed. I couldn’t put my Kindle down. I needed to know how this book ended.

The main storyline in Black River Orchard centers around the five main characters and how those apples changed and affected their lives. It was a scary and often disgusting storyline that repulsed me and made me want to continue with the book.

The storyline with John and his search for the Harrowsblack and his friend was interesting. I didn’t know that there were people who went looking for rare strains of apples (so I learned something new). I liked that John wasn’t afraid to stand his ground when looking for his friend. By the middle of the book, John was central to figuring out how the Harrowsblack ended up in Harrow and who was behind it. He also was prominent in the events at the end of the book.

The storyline with Dan and Calla was sad. I hated seeing their relationship suffer the way it did because of the apples. But Calla was right about everything. When things started to change (and Dan started becoming abusive), Calla was right to begin to think things were wrong. I don’t think she realizes how bad it is until almost the end of the book.

The storyline with Emily and Meg was sad. But I did get annoyed with Emily at various points in the book. She was wallowing in remorse and self-pity until the middle of the book. Yes, she cheated, and her wife did something out of character (moving back to Harrow). But in no way did Emily expect what was going to happen. Her friendship with John was a lifeline.

The storyline with Joanie disturbed me. The amount of hate that she faced was unreal. It was that encounter that snowballed into the tragedy at her house. And the hatred by the cops when they came gave me shivers. But Joanie became a haven for Calla and her friends after everything. Even more so at the end of the book.

The horror angle was written perfectly. The gradual morphing into what happened at the end of the book was fantastic. I can’t get the images of those trees out of my head.

The end of Black River Orchard couldn’t have been written any better. The author ended all the storylines in one swoop. It was honestly shocking how he did it. I also liked the epilogue. But it was the very ending that made me go, hmmmm.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Rey, NetGalley, and Chuck Wendig for allowing me to read and review this ARC of Black River Orchard. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

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