Title: The Damned
Author: Andrew Pyper
Release date: January 1st, 2015
I don’t often make it a habit to re-read books, but as time marches on and I get further from the books that first introduced me to Andrew’s work, I knew I had to dive back in. I’ve spoken many, many times of discovering ‘The Demonologist’ and purchasing both ‘The Damned’ and ‘Lost Girls’ immediately after finishing ‘The Demonologist.’
It’s an odd thing though, isn’t it – re-reading. Seeing different things pop up that you’ve some how missed or that now connect you to the book in a way you never expected.
When I read this, six years ago in Abbotsford, I was married and we didn’t have a kid yet. In October that year, we’d move to Calgary, as I pursued my Olympic dreams of competing for Canada in Bobsleigh and by August of 2016, our son would arrive. I was a completely different human. And maybe that’s why I really liked this book, but didn’t love it? Maybe that’s why some of the more emotional moments that reading now absolutely crushed me, didn’t have the same weight back then? I can’t say. While reading this for the second time, I came across a scene that left me so rattled, just bathed in sorrow that I had to put the book down for the rest of the night as the tears that came wouldn’t allow the Kindle screen to be visible. I actually messaged Andrew the next day about the scene. I can’t believe I’d forgotten about it, as I know it’ll never leave me now, but again – that may be because of where I am now versus where I was then.
What I liked: In my recent review of ‘The Demonologist’ I mentioned Andrew’s look at grief and searching for a missing loved one over a five book arc. ‘The Damned’ falls into the fourth of the five books, released in 2015 and just two years before the final chapter of this saga, ‘The Only Child’ arrived in 2017.
‘The Damned’ follows Danny Orchard, international best-selling author about his memoir where he died and came back to life. The reason this particular memoir exploded – he died trying to save his twin sister, Ash, from a house fire and he brought back proof of the afterlife. What proof? While he was in The After, the name given to the place between life and death, he found his mom and she gave him her watch that she was buried with.
I typically don’t like getting too personal in reviews, but with ‘The Damned’ I’m going to. So, apologies, as normally I try to just focus on the book itself. In ‘The Damned,’ when Ash and Danny were born, Ash died and was brought back to life, the doctors and nurses saving her. Danny alludes to the fact that throughout her entire life, Ash has been ‘evil,’ that something lies just below the surface that maybe she brought back with her from over there.
I’ve discussed it before, but I typically don’t share it that often, but when my son was born, both him and my wife were pronounced dead. They were both officially gone for six minutes before they were both able to be revived. Efforts had been stopped but for some unknown reason, the anesthesiologist suggested they do something for my wife and something for my son and both worked. It’s a moment in my life that was crushing as I signed papers for organ donation etc, but also a moment of sheer amazement and disbelief as suddenly the ER Nurse burst into where I was waiting and told me to follow her as they were back. Now, I don’t believe either of them brought anything back over from the other side, reading this part in the book was very surreal. I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten that this book had this story line.
The main plot point of ‘The Damned’ is that Ash continues to haunt Danny, working hard to prevent him from any happiness in his life. This ramps up when Danny meets Willa and her son Eddie and they become a family unit quickly.
If you’ve read any of Andrew’s writing before you know how devastatingly descriptive he can be. Simply turn of phrases have dagger-like impact on the reader and with ‘The Damned’ he doesn’t hold back.
One thing that I felt reading this was this was one of the few works that really seemed to wear the research books on its sleeve, and not in a bad way. ‘Proof of Heaven’ by Eben Alexander is a focal point of this novel. In Alexander’s non-fiction, real book, he describes what happens when he died and when into his after. Andrew offers up a number of philosophical questions throughout this one, but they seem to be rooted in the idea of what may await us when our time on this planet is over.
The book itself also reminded me of Richard Matheson’s ‘What Dreams May Come.’ Caveat here – I love the movie and as of yet, I haven’t been able to bring myself to read the book. But this idea of finding one’s loved one and trying to make things right follows along well with Pyper’s five book narrative.
The last research/inspired by book that I’m suggesting (and this is 100% a hypothesis on my end) is Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. Pyper has spoken before of how, no matter what you think of King/King’s writing etc, one thing you can’t take away is how he’s changed the horror world. King is to horror as Kleenex is to tissue paper. Within ‘The Damned’ I found a few suggestions (and again this may have been me looking too deeply into it) that this story was offset just slightly from the path of the one true beam. We even get descriptions of similar parts ie: a beast chase (which is even the beast featured on book 4.5 of the series), a train/monorail type vessel, the singular narrative of following a pull etc. Time and time again, I wondered if this was Andrew, not so much writing a book to be thought of as a Dark Tower book, but his own personal tribute to that fictional world.
The ending of this is superb. The book gallops along from start to finish, but I think this is the one book (out of the five narrative I’ve proposed) that ends decidedly on a different note than the other ones, but it is spot on perfect.
As for the scene I mentioned earlier that absolutely devastated me – if you end up reading this either because of my review or because you’re a Pyper fan – when you get to there, you’ll know. I almost wish I’d never read that chapter, so soul crushing it is.
What I didn’t like: With all the books I truly love, it’s often hard to find things I dislike, but I want to stay fair and objective. When it comes to ‘The Damned’ I think the character of Ash will be very polarizing for readers. A character you either loathe or absolutely wish wasn’t involved at all. She is the perfect character to pull Danny along – his twin and the ‘better’ version, but she was absolutely infuriating.
Why you should buy this: ‘The Damned’ manages to be both a fantastic thriller where our character Danny searches for the answers that’ll set him free, but also a possession-type tale where his twin sister comes back to haunt him and inflict trauma on him and his new family. Pyper is an absolutely stunning writer, and honestly if you’ve not figured out I love his work, I don’t know what else to say ha! My second go-around with this book really surprised me, especially with just how much of the book I’d not remembered and how much of it I connected with in a new and very emotional way. This is one of the very best by one of the very best and if you have it on your TBR, do yourself a favor and bump it up. Stunning work.