Let it be known that Andrew Pyper’s Demonologist did scare me a little. I went into that book thinking it was something along the lines of The Da Vinci Code only to find that in this book the demons are real and the bad guys are pretty powerful.
Which brings us to his recent novel: The Damned. In this book we deal with all the good things: creepy twins, ghosts, love and well, hell.
Danny has been haunted by his dead twin sister for as long as he can remember. She’s made it difficult for him to live a fulfilling life, scaring off any chance of friends and family. That was until he met Willa. For the first time in his life, Danny has a chance to have everything and anything he has ever wanted. Of course this doesn’t fly well with Ash.
When more information comes to light about how Ash died, Danny decides he is going to solve the case once and for all in the hopes that his sister will finally leave him alone. The Damned follows Danny on this quest, as he digs up the secrets of his past and his sister.
The pacing of the book starts off a little rough, but once it hits it’s stride it becomes positively addicting. Danny is racing against the clock to find an escape. It’s well executed. But it wasn’t the story of this novel that left a lasting impression in my mind. It was Pyper’s use of setting.
Okay, lets talk about Hell, because Pyper’s Hell is one of the best adaptations I have come across in a very long time. The After (as Danny calls it) is his town Detroit. He muses that the After is what you make of it. Over the course of the novel we see multiple versions of Detroit. The real Detroit, Danny’s idealized Heaven-Detroit and the multiple versions of Hell-Detroit. Pyper’s Hell reminded me of a cross between Dante’s Inferno and Homer’s Odyssey. The people that Danny encounter in Hell have in a way chosen their punishments. Danny explains his interpretations to the reader in a way bordering on a final moral judgement. It was really well done.
My favourite bit about hell though (never thought I would type that sentence) happens near the beginning of the novel. Ash is describing to Danny an event that she remembered taking place soon after their birth.
She stood barefoot on a frozen river. Somewhere off to one side, a huge tanker was nosed through the ice, its stern raised in the air, the rotors rusted the color of dried blood. Nothing on the far side of the river but a row of gray, uninhabited houses. But turning around to face the shore behind her she found a city. Older, Art Deco buildings with graffitied water tanks tilted on their rooftops. Five round, black-glassed towers almost touching the ice. The skyline of Detroit.
Along with a solitary figure standing on the bank at the base of the Ren Cen buildings. Squinting, she could see it was a grown-up me. Making the first steps down to the ice to join her.
That’s when she heard the thuds.
A spasmodic drumroll, low as far-off thunder. As soon as she registered it the banging grew louder. More and more bass notes beneath her feet. So strong the vibrations made it hard to keep her balance.
Along with the sound of cracking ice. A spiderweb of fissures radiating out across the river’s surface. Spits of oily water coming up through the gaps.
She looked down. Saw the thuds were coming from a million human fists.
All of them punching up against the ice from below. Scratching, too.
Fighting to find a way up to the air. To her.
Ash glanced to the shore. I was at the ice’s edge now, testing it with my foot, about to step onto its marbled surface.
She tried to shout but little more than a rattled breath came out.
Her arms raised, waving me off. I saw her and paused. A look of bafflement on my face that changed to horror when I heard the pounding from under the ice as well.
The fists stopped at the same time.
Pulled their hands away to let their faces float up. All different. Black, white, mothers, men. Staring at her through the river’s mottled window….
Ash believed that this dream of the one and only decision she made while in possession of a soul—preventing her brother from going to the darkest place one could go after death—was proof of her fate, and that it was determined before she was an hour old. It meant that while she appeared more outwardly blessed than her brother, her self-sacrifice gave him the capacity to feel and live where she could not. It explained why she could act alive without being alive. (69.5/467)
Pyper doesn’t give the reader many details. It’s creepy and straight to the point. In The Damned, there are consequences to actions and his Hell reflects that. Heroic choices don’t guarantee your safety, in fact they may even turn you into a monster.
Ash makes a great villain. Though she is a monster and has done everything within her power to ruin her brother’s life, Danny still cares about her. Pyper plays off of unknowable bond shared by twins. Even though Danny wants to stop his sister he doesn’t necessarily want to destroy her. He needs to overcome his own personal guilt about her death. All in all, everything just tied into itself really well.
Once you realize that The Damned takes place in a world that’s like our own but isn’t, it’s easy to get lost in the story. It’s clever, creepy and makes you think. If you liked The Demonologist you should pick this book up, it has the same kind of feel. Damned may not have struck a chord with me as Demonologist did but it was still a solid horror story.