Thursday, August 24, 2023

Review: Camp Damascus by Chuck Tingle

by Chuck Tingle
Release Date: July 18, 2023
2023 Tor Nightfire
Kindle & Audiobook Editions; 256 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250874627
Audiobook: B0BFFKNHV3
Genre: Fiction / Horror / LGBT
Source: Review copy from publisher
3.75 / 5 Stars
They’ll scare you straight to hell.

Welcome to Neverton, Montana: home to a God-fearing community with a heart of gold.

Nestled high up in the mountains is Camp Damascus, the self-proclaimed “most effective” gay conversion camp in the country. Here, a life free from sin awaits. But the secret behind that success is anything but holy.
My Thoughts
Camp Damascus had a terrific premise and overall, I enjoyed the story.  I do have to say that the lure of this book was definitely the author as having read some of his cosmic fantasy books I was interested to see what this book was all about, and this is about as different as you can get. I mean, we've gone from a sentient flying ass (yes, you heard that right), and all the raunchy stuff that goes with that, to a horror novel, so how could I not be interested?  So, while I enjoyed the story, and there were some very interesting elements in here, I did think the marketing was an issue and some of the overall elements needed to be tightened up. 
First of all, I did love the main character Rose. Being autistic, I thought the author did a great job portraying her idiosynchrasies and those things that are unique to autism, but making her a strong and powerful personality at the same time; it was something I definitely appreciated. She was able to see through the lies and what was happening, always questioning, which made the reader question along with her, but without being led by the nose.  That being said, I did think that she could have been developed even more.  For example, I would have liked to have seen more struggle trying to shake off the indoctrination she grew up with rather than just from 100 to zero and back to fifty percent without a lot of struggle.  Indoctrination isn't something you shake off in such a short time.  A little more exploration into that would have been beneficial.
Camp Damascus is a gay conversion camp and its success rate is known around the world.  The whole town revolves around this camp, and while I found the discussions around it quite interesting, and I love the subtlety the author uses in discussing the moral issues around it, it does come at the cost of character development of some of the main players in the book, other than Rose.  When the big denouement happens, I didn't really feel any of the horror, and that was toned down quite a bit, simply because we didn't learn too much about the motives, feelings, and emotions that drives these characters. Just labeling them as monsters is not really enough.

While I liked the writing style, I did have some issues with the pacing and the overall storytelling. It actually took me surprise when I discovered Rose was twenty years old as the book had the feeling of a YA novel throughout.  I don't know if the author was trying to portray how innocent the characters were by growing up in such a town, but I don't think it quite worked.  Furthermore, the marketing team put a great emphasis on the camp so I was a bit disappointed when I realized most of the book didn't actually take place at the camp, but was used as background for what happened to Rose. It made sense and worked rather well, but I have an issue when the blurb is misleading.  

Camp Damascus is a good start by this author, and I did have fun with this story.  I did think there needed to be more character development to really get a feel for what drove these people to do what they did, and more exploration into Rose's conflict would have been beneficial. However, that being said, there was enough here that was riveting, that I would happily dive into another horror novel written by this author.