Fourteen years ago a pack of wendigos killed Matt Hollis’ family and damned his soul. Now, Matt is a demon hunter armed with a holy revolver named Dämoren. After a violent series of murders leaves only fifty holy weapons in the world, Matt is recruited by the Valducans, an ancient order of demon hunters. Many of the knights do not trust him because he is possessed. When sabotage and assassinations begin, the Valducans know there is a spy in their ranks, and Matt becomes the core of their suspicions. Desperate to prove himself, and to protect Dämoren, Matt fights to gain their trust and discover the nature of the entity residing within him.
The best way I can describe Damoren, a new urban fantasy novel from Seth Skorkowsky, is to say it’s sort of a cross between The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher mixed with a healthy dose of Supernatural and a dash of Hellboy.
Things start off with a young boy, Matt Hollis, who witnesses a demonic attack on his family as well as a man who busts into his house and appears to be fighting the hellish creatures. Matt becomes something to worry about for the man, a hunter named Clay, who notices that Matt has a lot of traits of demons and yet he isn’t one. He turns to his weapon, Damoren, which is part gun and part sword, for guidance. It’s a special kind of weapon. With that, the first chapter ends with a momentous decision and a big bang (pun intended) that sets the tone for the rest of the novel.
Fast forward to when Matt is all grown up. He’s pursuing a lead somewhere in Calgary where he finds out there’s much more to his presence than the elusive aswang whose trail he’s been on. He finds a red envelope with his name and finds out that there are some very interesting people who wanted to get his attention. Those folks are Valducans, members of a society of demon hunters that has existed for centuries. Although they say they mean him no harm, Matt isn’t so easily persuaded, especially because Clay told him to steer clear of their order. We also discover that Clay has a history with them and that it didn’t end well, to say the least.
Matt finds out he’s by no means unique in the sense that he’s not the only demon hunter with a holy weapon that can do some serious damage. He finds himself in a house with the rest of the Valducans. Although most of them tolerate Matt, while a few in particular take a shine to him, notably a hunter named Luiza, others are not so welcoming. They don’t trust Matt because to them he is a demon or at least gives off enough demonic energy that he gives them cause for alarm. One of them, Malcolm, seems to despise Matt from the beginning, creating an uneasy tension between the two that makes their passages all the more interesting.
Aside from creating memorable characters with interesting backstories the reader can really get into, Skorkowsky’s real strength lies in his unique world-building. One of the most critical components to a compelling urban fantasy tale is in how intricate the world-building—the consistency of the rules of the world, and how the author blends everything together to create a satisfying reading experience. I can’t say enough good things about the fascinating aspects of the history of the holy weapons, the history of the order of the Valducans, the mysteries behind Matt’s “is he or isn’t he” demonic vibes that seem to give him leverage in battle (including the very cool ability to heal by touching the blood of a dead demons), and finding out why the conclave of these hunters is so important.
Too often we see urban fantasies that focus mostly on a big American city, or some Canadian ones more recently, some UK ones (I’m sure there are also Australian ones but not any that I can think of off the top of my head). That can get dull after a while. Needless to say, I’m always more intrigued when the action in any story shifts to Europe, so I was pleased with the European locales in this novel, including Italy, which was a nice change of pace.
Although there are a few werewolves and vampires that make sure the central characters have their hands full, there are enough eclectic, not-often-seen demons in the mix to freshen things up here, as well, including the aswang and the Oni, which is sort of like a troll but kind of like a dragon too, and just generally not the kind of demon to be trifled with.
Interspersed among the main narrative are snippets of historical entries from past members of the Valducans that contain information about ghouls or demons in the Old World vs. the New World. While I think some of them were more interesting or relevant than others, or may have been good material for a “bonus features” type of section at the back of the book, they were short enough and placed strategically enough that they added to the story.
Near the end of the book, the mysteries of why Matt is the way he is and why he has certain enhancements start to unravel and things become clearer, built up with subtle hints and cues. Things get progressively worse for the central characters and it leads to an all-out epic demon brawl to basically stop demons from running the show on Earth, with some bad-ass Mortal Kombat style action thrown in that leads to a satisfying conclusion.
Far from giving readers what now seems like the requisite “dun dun dun!” cliff-hanger ending, Skorkowsky wraps things up with Matt and sends him on his way, but at the end of this book there was a preview for Hounacier, which is another one of the holy weapons belonging to another hunter, Morgan. If the teaser included with Damoren is any indication, this second volume in the Valducan series is going to be just as thrilling and action-packed and I can’t wait to read it when it comes out.
Skorkowsky does a great job early on of establishing the parameters of his world-building, the rules under which his demons operate. In this universe, “demons” are more like an umbrella that includes everything from vampires, werewolves, wendigos, and other more eclectic creatures like the Arabic ifrit and the Asian aswang. Demon hunters must use holy weapons to destroy both the body and the soul of a demon, which, once the creature is dead, emits a different coloured glow depending on the type of demon.
So, to sum things up, as some other reviews have pointed out, if you’re a fan of Jim Butcher’s style of urban fantasy, you can’t get enough of Supernatural and you like original urban fantasy that places less emphasis on the romance (although there is an appropriate romantic subplot that’s far from filler, and far from being there for the sake of being there) and you like your world-building, but you especially like your demons, buy this book.
It’s been a long time since an urban fantasy novel has knocked my socks off—probably hasn’t happened since I read Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey a few years ago, which in case you haven’t read that, is also a must-read for die-hard urban fantasy fans.