Book Review: The Damned by Andrew Pyper
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (Paperback release: February 9, 2016)
Length: 308 pages
The Damned somehow missed my radar when it was first released, but I’ve wanted to read it ever since I found out about it last summer. So when a review copy from the publisher showed up on my doorstep in advance of its paperback release complete with a brand new cover, I dropped everything else and jumped into it that very same day.
I ended up devouring the book. Partly, it was because of its quick-pacing and slickly written style, but also, it simply might have been the fact I was really hungering for a good horror novel. It’s been quite a while since I’ve revisited this genre, and by that I mean pure, psychological paranormal Horror with a capital H—the kind designed to chill you to your bones. The Damned fit the bill perfectly, delivering in spades what I needed.
The story held promise from the very start. It introduces us to our protagonist Danny Orchard, who is no stranger to death. It’s even the topic of his bestselling book, a memoir about his trip to the “other side” after almost dying in a fire that claimed the life of his twin sister Ashleigh when they were both sixteen. His writings have made him a celebrity in certain circles, and Danny often finds himself on the road signing books or giving talks at near-death experience groups all over the country, meeting others who have had their brushes with the afterlife and survived to tell the tale. Often, their accounts are of hope and filled with a sense of peace, with most grateful to be given a second chance at life.
Danny’s own experience, however, was a lot different. His sister has been dead for twenty years, but her presence haunts him still. In life, Ash was the picture of perfection—smart, beautiful, popular—eclipsing her twin brother in every way. But behind that façade, she was pure evil, as the Orchard family have always known even before she started outwardly exhibiting her psychopathic tendencies. Ash reveled in hurting others, manipulating their emotions and destroying their lives. And unfortunately for Danny, death hasn’t changed her one bit. For so long, he has remained alone and detached, afraid to truly live his life again lest the ghost of his vengeful sister decides to take it out on those he cares for. But a twist of fate leads him to fall in love with a woman named Willa and grow close to her young son Eddie, and now just as Danny had feared, Ash is out to take his happiness away from him.
This was truly a nail-bitingly intense story, expertly structured and paced to give the reader the full effect of the horror that has plagued Danny his entire life. Pyper knows it’s no fun when the author shows his hand too early, so he teases us, doling out the details one agonizing morsel at a time, and I couldn’t help but eat it all up. Danny’s past is gradually revealed, starting from the beginning when he and Ash were almost declared stillborn in the delivery room—until miraculously, both babies managed to pull through with strong, steady heartbeats. But was it really a miracle? Or was it something more sinister? These are the kind of surprises waiting for you when you read this book.
Hands down, my favorite thing about this book was Danny’s relationship with his sister, especially before she died. As a ghost, Ash is terrifying—but she was also a lot more complex and interesting when she was alive, her personality and misdeeds recounted in Danny’s memories. Ash is as evil as our protagonist is not, but in spite of this, there’s a bond between the two siblings that can never be severed, which puts a knotty twist into the dynamics of their relationship. As Danny searches for a way to free himself from Ash, the story even takes a mysterious turn, leading readers on a hunt for clues to discover the truth behind the circumstances of the fatal fire that one twin came back from but the other did not. As it turns out, there was a lot more to Ash’s life that was hidden even from Danny, and I do enjoy a good mystery with my horror.
The phenomenon of near-death experiences is also an ideal topic for a book like this. It’s a subject rife for speculation about what lies beyond, and Pyper uses our natural fear of the unknown to make The Damned even more psychologically nerve-wracking. The best part about this novel is what it doesn’t tell you, allowing your imagination to fill in what is implied so you can draw your own disturbing conclusions.
I am immediately adding Andrew Pyper on my list of must-read authors. It’s not often that I come across a horror novelist whose style I enjoy so much, whose prose includes more than just the stark display of frightening elements, because it’s clear that he takes the time to infuse his writing with a poignant, artful quality as well. Plus, I love supporting Canadian talent. I highly recommend The Damned if you’re looking for your next spine-chilling read.