The Damnation Affair by Lilith Saintcrow – Review

Book Jacket:

The West is a wild place, where the poison wind blows and the dead walk. But there is gold, and whiskey, and enough room for a man to forget what he once was. Until he can no longer can.

Jack Gabriel’s been the sheriff in Damnation almost since the town grew out of the dust and the mud. He keeps the peace – sort of – and rides the circuit every dawn and dusk with the chartermage, making sure the wilderness doesn’t seep into the fragile attempt at civilization. Out there, away from the cities clinging to the New World’s eastern rim, he doesn’t remember what he was. Or at least, not much.

But Damnation is growing, and along comes a schoolmarm. Catherine Barrowe is a right proper Boston miss, and it’s a mystery why she would choose this particular town, where everything scandalous and dangerous is probably too much for a quality lady like her. Sometimes the sheriff wonders why she came out West – because everyone who does is running from something. He doesn’t realize Cat may be prickly, delicate, and proper, but she is also determined. She’s in Damnation to find her wayward older brother, whose letters were full of dark hints about gold, and trouble, and something about a claim.

In a West where charm and charter live along clockwork and cold steel, where hot lead only kills your enemy once but it takes a blessing to make his corpse stay down, Cat will keep digging until she finds out what happened to her brother. If Jack knew what she was after, he could solve the mystery – because he killed the young man, and for good reason.

The thing is, Cat’s brother just won’t stay dead, and the undead are rising with him…


This books is just…fun.

With two colorful main characters, a spanking clean narrative – one that went by so fast it almost felt like I was reading a short story – a wonderful sense of time and place, a dry sense of humor, and slightly subversive ending, this book has everything you could hope for in a zombie western.

Although technically part of the Bannon & Clare series, The Damnation Affair functions entirely as a stand-alone, with a brand  new set of characters, and a story that takes place on an entirely different continent, no less. Being a fan of The Iron Wyrm Affair (Bannon & Clare #1), I did very much enjoy the opportunity to explore new corners of Saintcrow’s  magical world – and can I just say how much I adore the magical system of this series? Particularly as Saintcrow has devised an entirely new type and breed of magic for her New World, a change-over that makes complete sense in her universe and yet still is new and interesting – but aside from being able to join me in dying to know how this story will tie into the larger whole, you’re really not going to miss anything by picking this book up cold, as the story is complete in and of itself.

As for our leading lady and gent, well, they may stray perilously close to an archetype or two – oh, you know the types, the strong and silent Sheriff, running from a dark past, and the proper young lady, out of her depth on the frontier – but both skirt the obvious by having very definite personalities, and very decided opinions. Both are stubborn as the day is long, which made it highly amusing to watch them butt heads – but I’ll admit, as a modern reader, I did get a bit irritated at some of the chauvinistic condescension and man-handling that went on, but I guess that just goes to show how well Saintcrow captured the flavor and mannerisms of a different time. And I’ll admit I particularly enjoyed Cat’s inner commentary, as her sense of propriety kept running up against the practicalities of frontier life – watching her wince internally ever time she wondered WHAT her Mother would say was highly amusing, but even more amusing was how it never once stopped Cat from going ahead and trampling on conventions left and right. And as for our leading man, Gabe is something of a straight arrow – very much the, what you see is what you get, type – but I really loved his backstory, which came out very organically over the course of the story, and I particularly loved the understated yet bald flavor of the budding attraction between him and Miss Cat.

As for the small town of Damnation (what a great name) itself, it too is as colorful as you could wish, populated with everything from hookers to dark-magic practitioners to Chinoise (i.e. Chinese), and I very much enjoyed the duality of the stifling, claustrophobic nature of a small town, and yet the agoraphobia of that same town, as it’s so very, very alone in the middle of nowhere. And as everyone in this story is painfully aware, if trouble comes calling, there will be no one to come and rescue them – which added a nice flavor of desperation to when the danger did come a’ calling.

Now I’m not going to get too much into the plot, so as not to give anything away, but I really liked how Saintcrow managed to slyly subvert my expectations more than once, and I was entirely satisfied by how it all came together at the end – and as I said before, I really, really enjoyed the ending of this story. Let’s just say, for those expecting our duo to ride off into the sunset, well, you won’t be disappointed – but you still will be surprised. And I liked that, a heck of a lot.

All in all, The Damnation Affair is a rollicking yet laid back kind of read, smooth and easy going down, and I for one can’t wait to see if and when these characters cross paths with Bannon and Clare. Oh, this is going to be fun…

Byrt Grade: A-

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Badass Book Reviews says:

The narrative was well paced and there was a point where I didn’t know what was scarier – the townspeople, the undead, or that mysterious thing in the mines. Yes, there was a scary monster in the mines. A little ode to Stephen King, but awesome nonetheless.

RT Book Reviews says:

The unusual characters are surprisingly relatable…and, at the close of the novel, you’ll be completely engrossed in the characters’ fight against the evil that is lurking in Damnation.