Thursday, 30 June 2011

Review: The Damned by David Gatward

The Dead don't just want to return, they want Earth for themselves. And it's Lazarus Stone, Keeper of the Dead, who has to stop them. Trouble is, the Dead are the exact opposite of rotting, stumbling corpses. And they desire one thing only: to live again. To do that, all they need is a good supply of fresh, warm bodies... Lazarus now knows his mum murdered him, betrayed his dad, and is about to open a portal between worlds that will bring about the end of life as we know it. Trouble is, his best mate has disappeared (again), he still hasn't rescued his dad (but he will), and the only help he has is that of an undead priest (who carries a blunderbuss) and a female angel (who drives a 4x4 and has an alcohol problem). This isn't just about saving the world, this is personal...

A number of my friends think it is more than a little odd that I choose to read a great deal of books written for children and teenagers. Every time we have a conversation along these lines I implore them to have a try themselves as I know they will be very surprised at the quality of writing and story that is prevalent in the world of children’s and YA fiction these days.

This year, due to cutbacks in the school’s budget, we will not be buying in or (borrowing through the Education Library Service) as many adult books as we have in the past. The main reason for this is that our sixth formers rarely ever come in to the library to borrow fiction, and so we have to prioritise buying books for the younger readers. Every summer we hold a Staff Summer Reading Day where my librarian creates a huge display of titles that our staff can borrow for their summer holidays, but this year, because of these cutbacks, we are doing things a little differently. We are calling it “Embrace Your Inner Child” and the majority of titles will be from your main fiction shelves, sorted into various genres, and hopefully I will be able to bring many more adults around to my way of thinking:

A good story is a good story, whatever the age group it is written for!

David Gatward’s The Dead series is a perfect example of this within the horror genre and it will have a position of great prominence on the horror table on the staff reading day. He writes books that can be enjoyed equally by 12 year olds discovering horror for the first time, and forty year old horror fan-boys who have grown up loving the likes of HP Lovecraft and Clive Barker, and horror films such as Hellraiser and the giallo movies that came out of Italy during the 1970s, all this very much evidenced by the rave reviews he has received by many highly respected horror publications. The Dead was superb, The Dark even better, and the third instalment, The Damned, has raised the bar of children’s blood-soaked horror to an even greater height. It is nothing short of brilliant from beginning to end, and by far my favourite of the trilogy.

The end of The Dark was pretty brutal and left me as a reader craving to find out how on earth Lazarus would save his father and prevent the opening of a permanent portal between our world and that of the Dead. I say “how on earth”, but maybe it would be more accurate to add “and hell” to that, as this time Lazarus must travel even further beyond the world as we know it on his mission to save us all. As I said, I loved every moment of The Damned, but for me the story became more than special once Lazarus and crossed over to the other side and started to fight his way through to the realm of The Fallen. David’s story moves at a frantic pace, leaving his characters barely enough time to breathe, and his readers feeling pretty much the same, and yet his fast paced style does not come at the cost of poor descriptions of locations or the various entities that we encounter along the way that we sometimes see from other less accomplished writing. Despite the fast pace, every scene is brought alive by the quality of the author’s descriptive writing and reading this trilogy has at times felt like a cinematic experience. When describing the lands of the Dead and his version of hell his talent really shines.

I know David Gatward was a little down towards the end of 2010. Despite the amazing reviews his books were garnering, he had been asked by his publisher to bring the story to a satisfying conclusion at the end of the third book, instead of giving him the go-ahead to write more in the series (and if you go back to the interview he did for The Book Zone last year you will see that he already had books 4 – 6 plotted out, with a desire to write 18!). This of course meant quite a hefty rewrite of The Damned, but again, due to this man’s skill, this is not at all evident in the final product. The three books now read as a brilliant trilogy, and with the action of each book continuing straight after the climax of the previous book, they would even work very well as a single volume story. And even better news for Gatward fans…. although The Damned is brought to a natural and very satisfying conclusion, David has left the door wide open for a possible continuation of the adventures and trials of the Keeper of the Dead, Lazarus Stone.

If you like your horror to be fast paced and bloody then whatever your age please give this trilogy a try - I am sure you will not regret it.

1 comment:

  1. Oohh this is sounding rather special - I've not come across this series before but it's just the type of stuff I like to read (and write!). I'm particularly interested in crossing over into hell... it's on my amazon wishlist... and your blog is now on my RSS feed.

    Thanks for the review.