Damnation by Peter McLean

May 4, 2017

Please note that Damnation is the third book in The Burned Man series and if you haven’t read books one and two then this review is highly likely to contain spoilers… I’m not kidding… seriously there is one in the first paragraph. Ok, consider yourself warned.

Shambolic demon-hunting hitman Don Drake is teetering on the edge of madness in this smart, witty urban fantasy novel.

Don Drake is living rough in a sink estate on the outskirts of Edinburgh, doing cheap spells for even cheaper customers while fending off the local lowlifes. Six months ago, Don fled from London to Glasgow to track down his old girlfriend Debbie the alchemist.

With the Burned Man gradually driving him mad, Don meets with an ancient and mysterious tramp-slash-magician, with disastrous consequences. Now his old accomplices must step into save Don from himself, before he damns himself for good this time.

The thing I like most about this book, and by extension this series, is Don Drake himself. You would think that someone who had the ability to control magic would be a bit more together. Not in this case. You can almost guarantee that if there is a wrong thing to say, Don will say it. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not malicious or evil, he is just capable of extreme thoughtlessness. It’s that singularly profound lack of engaging his brain that tends to lead Don into the vast majority of his troubles. His latest adventure is no exception.

Damnation begins on a downbeat note, roughly six months after the events at the end of Dominion. When we last left Don, he had managed to find himself in the employee of a rather vengeful Goddess. How does he react to this rather drastic change in circumstance? The only way he knows how; he does a runner. Don has reached what can best be considered rock bottom. He is a complete and utter mess. His previous life is in tatters and the only way he can avoid his mental companion, the Burned Man, is by seeking peace in chemical oblivion. We’re off to a good start. Think Trainspotting with added demons and you’re about halfway there. The seedier sides of my old stomping grounds, Edinburgh and Glasgow, even get a few mentions here and there.

Don’s relationship with Trixie continues to best be described as complicated. He knows he loves her but he is also completely terrified of her. Their interactions all seem perfectly gauged. Whenever they get a break from the near constant chaos that surrounds them, both neither know quite what to say to the other.

There is a new character introduced in this novel, a nasty old sort called Davey. Don meets him in a pub in Glasgow. I have to admit Davey reminded me a bit of my dad. Davey exhibits that same roguish charm as Don, and I enjoyed the scenes where they go toe to toe. I’m still trying to decide which one of the two has the filthiest mouth. We are talking epic amounts of profanity here. Those amongst you who blush easily may wish to block your ears and cover your eyes.

Historically Don has treated everyone he knows, including himself, badly. He has made decisions without considering potential consequences, and the results of his folly have had serious repercussions.  I realised though that Damnation is ultimately a novel about finding redemption. Yes, Don may be a mess of a man, but there is a wonderful moment of epiphany where he suddenly accepts that and starts trying to move on. He finds something bigger than himself to believe in. By the end of the novel, Don has finally discovered a very specific direction in his life and he will stop at nothing to achieve his goal. I can’t wait to see how all this is going to play out. I can only hope there will be plenty of mayhem along the way, I rather suspect there will be. No one ever said being good was going to be easy.

If you’re looking for genteel, cheery urban fantasy then The Burned Man series is not for you. As I mentioned before there is lots of swearing, honestly, tons of it. There is bucket loads of violence. My personal favourite being the description of the one poor bystander who literally gets ripped in half. If you haven’t already guessed, let me confirm it for you, Peter McLean doesn’t play nice when it comes to his writing thats why I love it.

My music recommendation for Damnation had to be something suitably dark and brooding so I’ve gone with the video game soundtrack to Darkest Dungeon by Stuart Chatwood. C’mon… we’re talking angels, demons, magicians and mobsters here people. The music needed to properly reflect the mayhem in Don Drake’s less than normal life.

Damnation is published by Angry Robot Books and is available now. This is a cracking book that is part of a cracking series. Highly recommended.

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