The Damned, the debut novel from Tarn Richardson, released this month from Overlook Press is definitely eye-catching. Part one in a trilogy, all featuring the main character, Poldak Tacit, The Damned takes place in an alternate history WWI setting, where werewolves are real and the Catholic Church’s Inquisition never actually disbanded.
Tacit is one of the Inquisitors, someone who is very good at the job he was selected for, which both comforts and bothers some of his superiors at the Vatican. He is sent to Arras in 1914 to investigate the murder of a priest there, not knowing that there is far more on the line than what he’s been told. To uncover the truth of what happened at Arras, Tacit must confront some of his own inner demons as well as the tricks and schemes of the people who will stop at nothing to get their way.
He’s aided by his Vatican assigned partner, Sister Isabella, who is described as a beautiful woman and it’s clear from the text that she’s no ordinary nun, that her missions run more towards the seduction, interrogation, and espionage type thing. She’s placed with Tacit specifically to watch him and send any reports back to her superiors in the Vatican, in case he’s fallen over to corruption and they need to dispose of him.
The secondary plot lies with Lieutenant Henry Frost, a British officer, and Sandrine, a woman who is as beautiful as she is mysterious. Their fates intertwine over the course of the novel and their plot weaves into the main plot in several places. They very predictably fall in love and he winds up deserting in order to be with her.
Overall, as a lover of alt-history and dark fiction (and also werewolves), I really wanted to love this book. The history is very solid and it’s clear that Richardson did his research, and did it well. The suspense is fairly well-paced and the concept of the novel is fantastic. The Inquisition still being around, the Catholic church being responsible for the existence of werewolves on Earth? It’s brilliant.
Sadly, the execution of it isn’t. It’s very clear this is not only a first novel, but the first booking in a series as well. The prose is clunky and anachronistic in places and it sort of jolts you out of the novel. Richardson is good at crafting scenes that are very vivid and give you a good mental portrait of what’s happening, however there are places where there’s too much description. The somewhat awkwardly constructed sex scenes were not really necessary to the plot and probably should have edited out.
The plot is confusing, sometimes leaping off on tangents that leave you, the reader, wondering exactly where you’re going and why. However, the resolution of the main plot was very predictable. Anyone who’s ever seen an episode of a mystery sitcom could pinpoint who ultimately was behind the murders in Arras.
Characterization was a little slippery, some characters like Tacit and Frost got a decent amount of characterization, as did many of the priests from the scenes that took place at the Vatican. Every female character seemed to come from a book of common female stereotypes, Isabella was the seductress with a heart of gold, Sandrine is the beautiful woman with a dark mysterious past, and then you have Mila, who’s the faithful good woman who gets fridged for the sake of her partner’s characterization.
There’s still several unanswered questions that have been left hanging at the end of The Damned that will leave readers wanting to know what happens next. But this isn’t something I’d recommend unless you want to read about some very well portrayed battles and the cost of fighting a war. Richardson does an extremely good job of showing us the effects that war can have on the soldiers fighting in it. The potential for an amazing story is there, but the execution needs further refinement. Book two in the series, The Fallen should come out this May, according to Amazon.com.uk and we’ll see if the issues with the first book get resolved.