Camp Damascus by Chuck Tingle
Publication Date: July 18th, 2023
Publication Date: July 18th, 2023
Hardcover. 256 pages.
About Camp Damascus:
"A searing and earnest horror debut about the demons the queer community faces in America, the price of keeping secrets, and finding the courage to burn it all down.
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."
I honestly don't think I ever expected to be posting a review of a Chuck Tingle book (or at least a serious one?), but here we are! Camp Damascus is the perfect summer horror novel to read on vacation–what's more relaxing than some religious trauma, anyway? This book was definitely not what I expected and I ended up having some fun with this one. Before diving in to this review, I would like to advise caution for anyone who may be sensitive to reading a book that centers around a conversion camp and everything surrounding that topic, as those are obviously quite prominent topics featured throughout the story. I also think this fits somewhere between the YA and adult categories, as there was nothing that really made it seem like it had to be an adult book and could easily be read as YA, in my opinion.
In all honestly, I expected Camp Damascus to be a little more predictable in how the conversion camp was set up and what the horror elements would be, but it ended up being much different than I anticipated and really brought some new (and truly terrible) ideas to the table. I was absolutely riveted for the first half of this book as I watched everything slowly build up and eventually unravel, and I think the author does a great job of really creating a story that will keep you entertained.
We follow Rose Darling, resident of the somewhat secluded, sheltered town of Neverton, Montana. This town is also home to well-known conversion camp run by the local church, Kingdom Pine, that is considered to be one of the best and most successful (yes, residents actually are proud of this fact). Rose is a proud member of Kingdom Pine and happily commits her life to following God and her religion. Rose lives an extremely sheltered life when we are introduced to her, and I really liked getting this glimpse into her thought process, both from the start and through the many different tumultuous events that occur throughout the story. I won't be going into many more plot details than that because I feel like giving anything else away would be a bit too spoiler-y, so I'll be leaving the plot details a bit vague for this review.
I liked getting to know Rose and all of the different figures that make up her life, both those she knows when the story starts and subsequent characters we meet along the journey of this book. I would say that most of the characters felt somewhat like stereotypes of the roles they were meant to play, which works well for the story, but also gave it a bit of a 'campy' vibe than anything else, which was enjoyable to read while removing a bit of the more serious elements. The villains were bad in all the ways expected, and most of the things they had to say felt very predictable as well. There is definite character development of growth from Rose, but it also felt as though it went along a path that was well-defined by many stories before her. None of this predictability negates the enjoyment of reading this book, but it moreso took away from some of the more unique elements that this story does incorporate (such as the unique incorporation of demons in this story, which I won't say more about).
The pacing felt fairly consistent throughout and I think this book's shorter length worked in its favor. This story is very efficient at doing what it sets out to do. There aren't really any subplots or additional things to consider–the main plot is what we get and the story sets out to follow along that plot. There's nothing wrong with this–in fact, in a way it's somewhat nice–but it does leave this feeling much more like a one dimensional story that arrived to tell one story and did just that. I applaud Tingle for managing to convey such an important message of tolerance, acceptance, and found family in such a concise and entertaining way.
Lastly, I am not a religious person at this point in my life and, in all honesty, am not a huge fan of religion in general, and I really appreciated the author's rather nuanced take on religion and exploring the various consequences and influences of religion, both for the good and the bad. Although there are certainly plenty of anti-religion sentiments in this book, I actually appreciated that it wasn't outright hateful of all religion and actually does offer some strong points about why religion may work for some people–this felt like a more balanced approach than I sometimes see and I really liked how it was incorporated into a story that clearly poses the religious church as the main antagonist to our main character.
Overall, I've given Camp Damascus 3.75 stars! This is a super solid horror novel that incorporates plenty of demons and sin and all the best things that go into a horror book with a strong religious components.