The Damned by Renèe Ahdeih
Hodder, pb, £7.99
Reviewed by Siobhan O’Brien Holmes
Renèe Ahdeih’s YA vampire romance The Damned is the sequel to her 2019 The Beautiful and once again follows teenager Celine Rousseau navigating life and love in 19th century New Orleans. In the previous book, Celine’s passionate affair with charismatic bad boy Bastien Saint Germain ended in tragedy when a serial killer murdered him and Celine chose to save her true love by swapping her own treasured memories of their romance for his eternal life as a vampire, knowing she could never be with him again.
The Damned opens with Bastien’s point of view as he wakes to his new existence as a ‘soulless son of Death’; he feels cursed, monstrous, trapped and longs to return to his mortal self. As he comes to terms with his wretched future, war is breaking out around him now that the tenuous treaty between his own kind, the Fallen, and the werewolf Brotherhood has been broken by Bastien’s forbidden transformation.
And though Celine’s memories of Bastien should have been wiped for good, she can’t help being drawn to him in her dreams and is determined to find out what connects them. If only she knew just how dangerous their love could be for her and for everyone around them. As Bastien fights his new bloodlust and Celine unravels her foggy memories and bewildering feelings, a long-awaited plan is being set in motion that could change the future of the Otherworld forever, and Celine is right at the centre of it.
If you’re a fan of sexy, charismatic vampires lounging on sumptuous chaise longues and battling for their survival against glamorous backdrops, The Damned will give you everything you ever wanted. The writing is excellent and there is some really interesting world-building, particularly as we learn about the rules and rituals of the vampires and werewolves and as the Otherworld’s Winter vs Summer Court backstory is built up. The romance between Celine and Bastien isn’t as steamy as in the first book but their bond feels stronger than ever, especially as we discover that they may be more alike than they realise.
For those who prefer their vampires a bit more, well, bitey, this might feel a little tame and slow paced. The Damned is a paranormal romance rather than horror or dark fantasy and any hints of the beastly, sinister side of Bastien and his sharp-toothed friends are eclipsed by their humanity and love for one another.
While the first book in the series was told from Celine and Bastien’s alternating POVs, The Damned switches between several narrators, with Bastien’s perspective in first person present tense and the others in third person past tense. Because there are so many POVs, including some minor characters who aren’t particularly central to the narrative, it’s sometimes hard to feel connected to the action and build up any real investment in the plot. Bastien’s chapters are by far the most compelling and, importantly, they’re where the real action happens, so I think the novel would have been far stronger if the entire story had been told in Bastien’s voice, perhaps with just a few Celine POV chapters to offer her perspective on the romance.
That said, there are some elements of the story that feel epic and gripping enough to hold even the most bloodthirsty readers’ interest until the end and Ahdeih masterfully leaves us wanting more by revealing secrets, twists and choices with far-reaching consequences, only to be revealed in the next instalment.