Article by: Will Blosser
Chris Miller’s epic coming-of-age horror novel The Damned Place centers on a group of young kids in small town Texas. Just trying to enjoy their summer vacation, the kids are pursued by a gang of psychopathic older kids out for blood. While fleeing the bullies, the young kids stumble upon an ancient, world-destroying evil in a strange, abandoned house in the woods. As the kids learn more about the evil place and the darkness that occurred there, they realize that they may be all that stands between their world and violent destruction.
Miller’s story is clearly influenced by Stephen King’s IT and the Stranger Things franchise. This is especially apparent in the first quarter or so of the novel. A group of young boys and a girl, being hounded by brutal bullies seems very familiar. That same group stumbling upon and fighting against an ancient, evil terror only brings the likeness home. Miller really hits his stride and brings out his own voice in the second part of the novel, which I’ll refer to as the historical interlude.
This historical interlude is where Miller’s writing really starts to shine, where I started getting invested in the story. The interlude tells the tale of what occurred in that house in the woods nearly a hundred years ago, and serves to shed some light on the evil that resides there. The interlude is told in the form of journal entries written by Johnathan Michael Brogan, a member of the family who built the house in the early 1900s. The entries do an excellent job of depicting Johnathan’s slow descent into madness as his family’s situation grows darker and darker. Miller skillfully applies the use of first person narrative passages interspersed among the journal entries. While it seems like an odd stylistic choice at first, it serves to better illustrate certain moments that wouldn’t have been well captured by a journal entry. The historical interlude section was so captivating, it could have easily been a stand-alone novella.
One of the more interesting things to note about Miller’s writing style is his ability to write believably through the eyes of a child. In the first few chapters of the novel, I noticed a very childlike prose and word choice. The writing seemed rather immature. It was almost a turnoff, until I realized how rare and skillful it was. Most books with small, preteen kids as the protagonists are written sort of unbelievably. The kids think, talk, and act like adults. They are shown to be incredibly mature, brave, smart and responsible. They are the stars of the story, right? Miller’s writing is much more believable. His kids are immature, scared, and flawed. They think and act like actual kids. Of course, this leads to some immature word choices and narration. Overall, however, it’s much more believable and likable.
The one thing that detracts from the story for me is the human antagonists. Of the three bullies, two of them, Jake and Bart, are literally psychopathic. Jake takes things to an entirely different level. The things he does and the things he thinks about are extreme, to say the least. His home life is especially hard to believe. While none of it is poorly written, I feel as if Jake could have been toned down by a notch or two and still served his purpose in the story, but more believably.
While the human antagonists are perhaps a bit off, the inhuman antagonists, and the lore behind them, is fascinating. Miller does an excellent job of balancing the seen with the unseen; the explained with the imagined. I thoroughly enjoyed the historical interlude segment, where Miller really fleshes out the mythos and history of these monsters.
Despite its somewhat familiar beginnings, The Damned Place quickly becomes its own. Miller’s ability to write believable young protagonists is unmatched. His successful portrayal of these kids and their relationships serves to fully invest the reader in their struggles. Miller does an excellent job of getting inside the head of whoever he is writing about and explaining their thoughts and emotions. You genuinely feel for these kids, and root for them. The action is quick and the monsters are dark and bloody. Miller does not shy away from brutality in support of the story, but is not overly graphic. The Damned Place is a well written, epic horror novel with great characters, terrifying monsters, and true emotional depth.
You can find more content by Will Blosser at https://hghorror.wordpress.com/