The Damned by Tarn Richardson

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Rating 8.0/10
A really engaging alternative history with hints of magical realism

Set over six days in 1914, The Damned intricately weaves different character stories that stretch through time and continents. Allowing us to see different perspectives of not only World War I, but also how different groups of people decide to handle large amounts of bloodshed and loss of life. Within all of this is a deep conspiracy in the Catholic Church and a dark secret they want to keep contained.

Although the book begins in 1914, The Damned encompasses a much larger time frame as we jump between the present day of the book, back to 1889 to follow the story of Poldek Tacit, who after witnessing the deaths of his family is taken in as a ward of the church, eventually becoming an Inquisitor. The Catholic Church plays a large role in the story as we find out that in this book, the Inquisition was never dissolved, instead it hides in the shadows, forever cleaning up the church's messes and destroying their enemies, who range from witches, heretics, spirits, demons and Hombre Lobo (werewolf).

The bloodshed and horror of World War I plays a large part in the set up of this story, focusing on the town of Arras in France and the trenches near by. Here we are introduced to Lieutenant Henry Frost stationed on the Front Line, as he starts to realise that the Germans may not be the worst thing hiding in the dark. As his troop are confronted by a brutality that none of them can believe has been done by man Henry is faced by the bureaucracy of war, and realises life in the army may not actually be for him.

We learn throughout the story that being an Inquisitor is a hard life, you are always moving from one place to the next, facing the dark and having to stay strong in your faith and not succumb to the darkness. Tacit in his lifetime has survived many such encounters and has gone from an intelligent boy who inspired happiness in others, to the silent man who deals with his life by continual drinking. As one of the best inquisitor's the Inquisition has, Tacit is used to working alone and handling situations in a violent manner for survival, but his faith is about to be tested once more as he is sent to investigate a well-liked priest in Arras.

Which brings us to our two female characters, Sister Isabella, who is not your typical Nun, as her mission is to test wayward priests faith. Sister Isabella is described in a way that reminds me of Jessica Rabbit (I can't help the way I'm drawn), but uses her charms for what she believes are the forces of good. Isabella is quick witted and capable, finds herself working with Tacit, to find out what is happening in Arras.

The other character is Sabine, a mysterious woman from Fampoux, a neighbouring occupied town near Arras. Sabine is sexually liberated and very expressive, knowing exactly what she wants and from whom. Sabine's role in the novel is more complicated and you are constantly guessing if she is a hero or a villain, and if she is either, who is viewing her in these roles.

The strength of these characters and how they all fit together really holds The Damned together, not that it is a badly written story, more that it can be quite convoluted as you work out who is conspiring against who and who can be trusted, especially when we see the in fighting amongst the Cardinals and priests of the Catholic Church in Rome.

The Damned is a really engaging alternative history with hints of magical realism, which shows real pathos for the Catholic Church's victims, as well as the characters that serve to protect those secrets. The story is nicely paced and you really hope that the characters mentioned above will survive the war around them which has parallels between World War I and the supernatural war Tacit fights. I wasn't sure if this book was going to be for me, when I read the synopsis, but I found the story to be truly riveting and I can't wait to read the sequel The Fallen.

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