Book review – The Damned by Tarn Richardson

TheDamnedCoverI’m going to start this review with some up-front honesty; I know Tarn Richardson, I know some of the proof readers and, lastly, I know that Tarn will read this review. BUT to induce “squeaky bum time” for him, this is my completely 100% honest review of The Damned

I suppose I should start the review of The Damned with a mention of it’s prequel The Hunted. I read this back in February and my review can be found here. The prequel managed to do some very good things in a short story, but mainly it introduced Poldek Tacit in all his rock hard glory. If I had one resounding wish when I started to read The Damned, it was that Tacit would remain a strong and viable character. I was not disappointed. Poldek is most definitely built on extremes, but although violence and alcoholism are the two that dominate; a strong religious conviction, love and tenderness also filter in competently throughout the book. This leaves Tacit as quite a well rounded character (considering the genre we are dealing with!) I wouldn’t go as far as to say well adjusted, but where would the fun be in that? Tacit, although the main character throughout the book, is not the only strong personality. There is quite a wide range of characters and this variety successfully provides a required undertone of realism to the otherwise extreme events of the horror/Gothic/war/religious turmoil/death and love story lines! (I’ve probably still missed a few there?)

The catholic church features heavily throughout the book. It is nigh on impossible to write any book with the catholic church in it these days without there being shadows of Dan Brown lingering around. It’s also hard to write a fast paced story set partly in the Vatican without getting a little closer. Parts of the story did remind me of Brown a bit, especially the occasional mention of a servant called Silas! [1] The catholic storyline was however a strong part of the book, being the basis of the creation of werewolf and in being one of the few links between the wolf and war arcs.

The Damned is a horror romp made to be extreme, it is completely it’s own story and Poldek Tacit fits this world perfectly. The idiosyncrasies of the style suit the character and therefore the book well. I would be lying if I said that The Damned is not first and foremost a horror story about werewolves and the catholic church. There are numerous scenes that are nothing but well realised, full tilt gore. However, if I concluded my description there I would also be doing the book a great dis-service. Tarn originally wrote a much straighter World War One novel. You can see the detail of the locations and scenes bleed through (for once in the figurative sense and not the claret!) In fact, all of the story arcs come together well and the balance of the whole story grew on me the more I progressed through the book, continuing after I had finished as I thought about it. There is a lot of story packed into the book. The pace is tuned well, but I know I missed some subtleties of the setting and the war as I raced past. I did notice some distinct war details that I did not know about e.g. marching band at the front of the German line. In a trench based scene the description of a sound I didn’t expect added depth.

I found it interesting to see the backdrop of World War One used because there is a wonderful synergy between the two story arcs of War and Wolves. In one there is a question about good and evil; which is which in a world where the Catholic Church has gone to such great lengths to eradicate heresy and the werewolves who are a product of that work. In the other arc evil rises in the world; man against man in what we all know was the largest, darkest war in the history of the planet. Good and evil, men in trenches acting on orders, a very real history with a parallel story superimposed over it. These two stories wind into each other almost just by proximity; a few key characters link the two theatres of carnage and that is all. Now, I was going to say that I didn’t identify with the WW1 story line as much as the others. I have never been overly interested in war, just one of those things I suppose. That said, I just did quite a good job of describing the emotion of the situation above! Go figure?

The various threads of the story are laid out in just over 100 chapters and this gives the book a very particular, frenetic quality. I have read other books that are laid out in a similar way, but I did find the story line in The Damned whipped about quite a bit at the start. Ultimately I got used to it, and the device worked to greater and greater effect as the various story lines came together. This knitting together of the book really did work well as I progressed through it.

I noted down quite early on that Tarn had managed to create some insightful and strong descriptions. I love this type of writing; where a scene, a concept or an emotion is evoked. The relevance of the rest of the book can drop away from these passages, they define good writing whether in fiction, non-fiction, horror, fantasy or the newspaper. A writer’s task is to evoke reactions; to paint the story in all its sensory glory. Tarn manages this on numerous occasions. Unfortunately balanced against this quality, there were a few typos dotted throughout the book. They did detract slightly, but not enough to make me give them more than a passing mention.

In conclusion, it is pretty obvious that I really liked The Damned. The whole thing built towards a well integrated conclusion. I lament not being able to follow the characters further down their various paths, but hey, that’s what books 2 and 3 are all about 🙂

Rating 8.5/10

[1] Hello, this is my first ever foot note. I edited this bit out but still really want to mention it. There is absolutely no relevance to the book review, so I couldn’t leave it where it was! I was talking about a Catholic servant called Silas… The character is hardly ever mentioned in the book and as far as I could tell looked nothing like Paul Bettany. More to the point, he doesn’t get his bum out at all! (for those who aren’t aware, this reference is made as Paul B played Silas in the Dan Brown Film and usually does get his bum out whenever he has the opportunity. Significantly he didn’t manage it in Avengers: Age of Ultron which was probably a good thing…)

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