Epeolatry Book Review: Camp Damascus by Chuck Tingle
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Title: Camp Damascus
Author: Chuck Tingle
Publisher: Tor Nightfire
Release date: 18th July, 2023
Synopsis: From beloved internet icon Chuck Tingle, Camp Damascus is 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.
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.
And they’ll scare you straight to hell.
Ah, summer camp! Great memories of swimming in the lake, roasting marshmallows on a stary night, and staying up all night with your bunkmates, laughing until the sun comes up. Right? Actually, I have no idea. I never went to sleep-away camp. Welcome to Camp Damascus by Chuck Tingle. Readers be warned, this book deals heavily with indoctrination, brainwashing, and abuse by religious authorities. While the denomination of Christianity referenced The Kingdom of the Pine, a work of fiction, there are those that might find this story hits too close to personal trauma.
Rose Darling is a curious, logical, and insightful young woman. Just the kind of personality that the congregation of the Kingdom of the Pine discourages. As her final year of high school draws to a close, Rose experiences disturbing events: The appearance of a strange woman that no one else sees, bugs flying out of her mouth, and the mysterious death of a friend all point to something array.
When a car accident leaves Rose injured and laid up, the façade begins to fall apart as lost memories begin to return. Her questions draw unwanted attention from the congregation, and she flees her family and town to find answers. She meets Saul, a retired counselor from Camp Damascus, who will help her discover the truth. However, forces stand to hold them off and it will take special people from a forgotten past to stop the evil forces behind the camp.
In Tingle’s story, Camp Damascus is a gay conversion camp created by the Christian denomination of The Kingdom of the Pine. While demons and possession aren’t part of the normal religious conversion programs, it speaks volumes about the abuse that children who grew up in these communities endured. Tingle does an amazing job keeping the focus on horror while speaking to the harassment the LGBTQ+ community often sees from religious communities.
Rose is an extremely well-developed character. All throughout the book she continues to grow as she rediscovers herself. Little tidbits, indicated in italics throughout, show Rose’s personality. Random knowledge (that applies to the situation she finds herself in) develops into a personal scripture that shows Rose’s faith in herself rather than in religion.
The villains are just as well developed. Early on, the reader figures out who the bad guys are. Every single one of them are slimy, manipulative people you just can’t wait to see dealt with in a less than humane way. The interactions between these characters and Rose will get your heart rate up as the tension builds.
One of the sutler details throughout the book is the use of “industry”. The creator of The Kingdom of the Pine, Tobias Cobel, is referred to as a prophet from the Industrial Revolution. A machine is the focal point at the Camp and, when the reader is given a glimpse of Hell, Hell seems to have its own degree of industrialization. Even the finality of the big bad is met with an industrial aspect.
Throughout the book, the logic by which Rose and her friends defeat the baddies is pretty sound, too. Tingle uses well known references to build toward the final battle. Nothing felt forced or rushed or unreasonable, in a horror sense.
Overall, Camp Damascus by Chuck Tingle is an amazing read. Fans of multiple horror troupes will be happy. If this is the first time you’re hearing the name Chuck Tingle, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. You will not be disappointed.
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Joseph Pietris is a member of the United States Coast Guard by day and heavily involved in the horror community by night. His work has appeared in several anthologies. When not writing, he’s produced reviews and interviews preferring those works generally lost in the cracks. As an associate editor, Joseph has weeding through the submission piles of horror podcasts.
Joseph’s work can be found at Amazon.com: Joseph P. Pietris: books, biography, latest update