I'm currently behind on reviews, so don't be surprised if the recent reviews are a bit sparse.

Camp Damascus

Cover of Camp Damascus.

Gay horror โ€“ and man, am I not sure how I feel about this book. I’m not one for horror generally, to be fair, and it doesn’t help how uneven this book is.

It’s got a lot of high points, especially in implicit worldbuilding. Showing off that the protagonist is very brainwashed by the Christian cult she grew up in: done very well. Showing (with only veeeery late telling) that she’s autistic: also done well. Bits of everyday horror (“Dad, what happened to my door?” โ€“ “You never had a door, honey”) โ€“ yup, that works. The whole setting: taking a gay conversion camp and making it supernaturally worse? Way cool.

But then, the writing is extremely uneven: one moment strong, the next wooden and distant (and not just in the protagonist’s thoughts, where I suppose it could be read to reflect her autism). The plot is rushed and not strong in the first place. I lost my suspension of disbelief around the place where the protagonist does a 180 in terms of worldview, and we’re sometimes told that it’s not easy, but โ€ฆ not shown, because it sure looks unreasonably easy. And either I started noticing it more and more, or the writing gets worse as the plot moves forward. I just couldn’t take it seriously at some point, and then only continued to skim to see the ending.

Plot summary

Beware: full spoilers! Also probably incomplete and possibly incomprehensible.

Rose, the 20-year-old protagonist, is growing up in a Christian cult town that runs a conversion camp, among other things. She’s autistic. She’s also figuring out that she’s gay. The cult is “garlic is bad” levels of bonkers, taking children out of school for a year twice during their time at school to focus on their lessons. Her therapist is in on it, too, of course.

When the protagonist thinks about girls, she starts seeing a mysterious dark woman, and then starts vomiting bugs. At a party with her newly developed crush, this woman shows up, walks through walls and kills said crush. When her therapist is familiar with the name of Pachid, that demon, she gets suspicious and investigates. She meets a girl who she seems to remember โ€“ her former partner, who will die if they meet again. The demon Ramiel catches up with her, causes her to crash her car, and she accidentally burns him alive. The time in the hospital afterwards (including a flashback to a seriously weird ritual) and the shock and the whole theodicee thing gets her to reevaluate things.

She figures out how to trigger Pachid’s appearance (gets her hand broken) and how to make her disappear again, just by controlling her thoughts. She investigates some more, finding a bunch of people who are unwilling or unable to talk about Camp Damascus. Turns out that she has been to Camp Damascus, which is so extremely successful because they use conjured demons/entities to keep people from reverting. Her parents throw her out, and she finally finds Saul, who used to be her councilor at the Camp (who still believes in a good God, whereas Rose is all for atheism now).

They rig a trap and kill her demon. They get her ex, Willow, to join them. Deciding to put an end to it, they go to Camp Damascus. There, they find the tanks with demons. Drama, action, the baddie gets eaten by a demon, our heroes release the demons from their bonds, and they proceed to torture and kill all the baddies, breaking all the bones in their bodies etc etc.