It is hard to believe that 'The Damned' is Tarn Richardson's début novel. The Salisbury-based author has a writing style that is engaging, intense and full of visceral descriptions. And what is better is that this is set to be the first of a trilogy of books. 'The Damned' is a sublime work of dark fiction meets mystery, meets horror that recalls the likes of 'Anno Dracula', 'Hellsing', and 'Constantine', with a hint of 'Fight Club'. It is dark, seedy and full of gore. In fact after 25 pages or so, you will lose count of the number of fictional casualties.
The book follows the life and work of Poldek Tacit, one of the Vatican's most effective and brutal Inquisitors as he navigates the carnage of the First World War to achieve his aims. It is set in an alternative history where the inquisition is still a real force, albeit one that works in the shadows, and something terrible stalks soldiers on both sides of the trenches, as well as a clergy who are mired in conspiracy.
The book runs on two timeliness – one which follows the young Tacit as he grows up within the church, and the other which follows his present mission. There are also two other strands, that of the beautiful and free-spirited Sandrine, and the British officer Henry Frost, whose stories all eventually intertwine. The author handles the separation of the timeliness well, however it is an element that does become rather tiresome, especially seeing as there are a lot of predictable plot devices employed. However, Richardson's writing style still has you glued to the page.
Another element that walks the line is the author's use of metaphor. The text is wonderfully descriptive with a very cerebral and visceral attention to detail, and a lot of the times the metaphors and similes employed are apt. However, there is a tendency to over rely on metaphor and this does lead to some rather clumsy text in places. This isn't a common occurrence, but when it does happen it glares out of the text.
With the narrative being very character driven, Tacit and his supporting cast of allies, and enemies grow as they struggle morally with their situation and try to stay alive amidst the supernatural horror and mechanised slaughter all around them. There is no real sense of good versus evil at work here. It is a battle of wills with the different faces of mankind's desires for love, compassion, honour, loyalty against its lusts for destruction and avarice. Tacit in particular is by no means a hero, but neither is he without any redeeming features. He is the dirtiest of those who carry out the churches dirty work, and a victim of his own ruthless efficiency.
It is anachronistic at times, and the plot does have moments of predictability. But as a first novel this is a very promising and unashamedly addictive read. It is fast paced, atmospheric, it blends genres with ease and it keeps you hooked throughout. By the end of the book you will be looking forward to the further mission's of Poldek Tacit. Fans of modern horror fiction, alternative historical fiction, werewolves, and even thrillers such as the 'Da Vinci Code' will be gripped by 'The Damned'.