Bone Harvest: James Brogden
Reviewed By J.A. Sullivan
The horrors of war, domestic abuse, murders, the harsh reality of dementia, a religious cult, and even cannibalism are just a few of the things that come together wonderfully in Bone Harvest. Sounds like a lot to cover in a book, and it is, but at almost five hundred pages this novel has room to explore all these elements. If you’re intimidated by book-length, don’t be. With unique twists and turns and James Brogden’s fantastic writing style, I found it nearly impossible to put this story down.
Beginning in WWI, a British deserter is trapped in No Man’s Land, surrounded by the dead and dying. Under the cover of darkness, the Grey Brigade (comprised of deserters from both sides of the war) scavenge bodies for rations, weapons, and flesh. When they happen across our main character, he’s given the option to join them or become a meal. Not having a death wish, the soldier becomes part of the Wild Deserters as they call themselves, and says his name is Everett. As an interesting aside, it’s clear this is not the character’s real name, but for the rest of the book it’s the only one he uses.
Once accepted into the fold, Everett meets Bill, a Welshman from a village called Swinley. As their friendship develops, Bill talks about his homeland and the Farrow, followers of an ancient god of the Welsh Marches. He demonstrates his supernatural ability to heal and reveals his unnaturally long lifespan, all granted to Bill by his deity, Moccus. Unfortunately, Bill’s powers have limits and he’s killed when a nearby battle destroys their hideout, which also leads to Everett being returned to Britain.
Filled with evocative descriptions, I could practically feel my waterlogged toes in combat boots, hear artillery fire, and was gagging on the stench of decay. This is the kind of writing that grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go.
As the story continues, Everett ventures to Swinley, locates Bill’s family and learns more about the Farrow and Moccus. The author creates a rich mythology for these people, infusing tidbits of facts into pure imagination, resulting in a religious cult tied to the phases of the moon, the seasons, and a boar-headed god who is literally eaten and reborn every twenty-six years. It’s a fascinating journey as the reader learns everything about the Farrow alongside the main character in an arc spanning from WWI to 2020, when Everett and two allies seek to steal the powers of Moccus and establish their own village to worship him.
This wraps up Part One of the book, and in many ways, including length, Everett’s journey feels like a complete novel onto itself, almost like a prequel. If you’ve read the synopsis on Goodreads, the focus is on Dennie Keeling, her struggles with ghosts of the past and strange occurrences of the present, which even she isn’t sure she believes as her mind in slowly being ravaged by dementia. But Dennie doesn’t make an appearance until Part Two, a sizeable one hundred-ish pages into the book. The switch in focus from Everett to Dennie is so abrupt, I struggled a bit here to carry on reading. My allegiance had been so strongly built with the story of the Farrow, that the introduction of a new location and new characters felt like a betrayal. I’m glad I did stick it out, though I wished there had been a smoother transition between the two parts.
Now, the main attraction begins, centered around the Briar Hill Allotment (not being from Britain I had to look up allotment, which turns out to be a sort of community garden where plots are rented out). Since her children are grown and her husband has passed, Dennie has been spending several nights sleeping in her allotment shed to escape the loneliness of her empty house. One night, she spots a hideous beast digging in a neighbouring plot, in the same spot Sarah Neary buried her husband years ago. The next day a new couple (Everett and his companion Ardwyn) begin renting the plot. Although Dennie and everyone else in town know the grisly history of the plot, what they don’t realise is that the bloodshed is precisely why the couple want the land – the perfect spot for human sacrifices to Moccus.
After nearly all the tenants of Briar Hill attend a huge cookout hosted by Everett and Ardwyn, the small community becomes at ease with these outsiders – except for Dennie. She can feel something is off about the couple, though can’t put her finger on what exactly. In the months that follow, the residents who dined on “pork” at the cookout miraculously heal from old injuries and diseases. Although they don’t know exactly how they’ve attained a new vitality, they acknowledge Ardwyn as the source and help her and Everett establish the new Farrow Farm. At the same time, other residents go missing, and the ghost of Sarah Neary begins visiting Dennie, to warn her of what is really going on. But as Dennie’s dementia progresses, will anyone believe her and help stop the followers of Moccus from destroying her village?
In some books too many characters can lead to confusion or lapses in tension, but that was not my experience in Bone Harvest. The author does a superb job of including a wide array of characters, each well developed and facing their own unique demons. There’s a father with a deathly ill child and needs to choose between accepting the Farrow to heal his daughter or inform the authorities. A young man who for the first time has a sense of belonging at the Farrow Farm, but to prove his allegiance he may need to commit murder. Even Dennie is more complicated than she first appears as her hands aren’t clean of bloodshed either.
The expansiveness of this fictional world and richness of the characters reminded me of reading Stephen King in all the best ways possible. After finishing this book, I’m really looking forward to reading more by James Brogden. If you’re looking for a satisfyingly thick and juicy book, I highly recommend Bone Harvest.
Bone Harvest: James Brogden
YOU SHALL REAP WHAT YOU SOW
Struggling with the effects of early-onset Alzheimer’s, Dennie Keeling leads a quiet life. Her husband is dead, her children are grown, and her best friend, Sarah, was convicted of murdering her abusive husband. All Dennie wants now is to be left to work her allotment in peace.
But when three strangers take the allotment next to hers, Dennie starts to notice strange things. Plants are flowering well before their time, shadowy figures prowl at night, and she hears strange noises coming from the newcomers’ shed. Dennie soon realises that she is face to face with an ancient evil – but with her Alzheimer’s steadily getting worse, who is going to believe her?
J. A. Sullivan is a horror writer and paranormal enthusiast, based in Brantford, ON, Canada. Attracted to everything non-horror folks consider strange, she’s spent years as a paranormal investigator, has an insatiable appetite for serial killer information, and would live inside a library if she could.
As curator of “Scary’s Voices” on Kendall Reviews, an article series reviewing horror podcasts, Sullivan loves listening to all things spooky. If you have a horror podcast recommendation, let her know.
On top of contributing short stories to Kendall Reviews, her fiction has appeared in Don’t Open the Door (2019), It Came From The Darkness (2020), and she acted as an assistant editor for Black Dogs, Black Tales (2020). Other spooky tales and updates on her writing journey can be found on her blog.
You can follow J. A. on Twitter @ScaryJASullivan
Check out her blog https://writingscaredblog.wordpress.com
Find her on Instagram www.instagram.com/j.a_sullivan