When it comes to supernatural YA, it’s easy to feel like we’ve seen it all before, that every successive YA is attempting to re-invent the wheel. Series like Twilight, Vampire Academy, Mortal Instruments and Half-Bad – just to name a few – have all attempted to take existing demonic/supernatural tropes and re-invent them to appeal to some misguided notion of ‘modern.’
Demon Road by Derek Landy, author of the Skulduggery Pleasant series, is a glorious throwback to traditional monster tropes, with a few newer legends thrown in for good measure.
We follow Amber, a teenage girl who has the ability to turn into a demon, as she attempts to escape her demonic parents who are intent on killing her and literally eating her body to honor their deal with an ancient servant of the Devil called the Shining Demon.
This is good, old-school satanic stuff, and if you don’t have a strong stomach, you might find some of the book a little much to bear. In a nod to traditional legends and the occult, most of the book revolves around various deals with the Shining Demon – it’s refreshingly original only because it does away with the need to re-invent anything.
Demons are real demons – red skin, horns, and talons; deals are sealed with blood and honored with souls.
As the single POV character, Amber is one of the better ones that I’ve read recently. She bucks the typical heroine trope of being perfectly athletic and stunningly gorgeous; she’s described as being shorter than average with a little extra weight, and she faces some truly sickening slurs about her weight that simply make the reader’s heart break. In her demonic form, she’s ‘beautiful’ and immensely powerful, and this dichotomy between an average human form and a stunning demonic form plays nicely throughout the narrative. Additionally, her personality in demonic form is massively different – she’s confident and aggressive, while her human self is quieter and more sensitive.
Demon Road is – as you may have guessed – a roadtrip story through the heartland of America, chasing down a man who escaped the Shining Demon in an attempt to barter Amber’s way to safety. Acting as her chaperone and protector is Milo, a middle-aged man with a demonic car called the Charger, a vehicle with a mind of its own and mysterious connections to its driver. Along for the ride is Glen, an Irishman who may or may not be Derek Landy himself in disguise; Glen’s banter with Amber and Milo is hilariously on-point and breaks up the action pieces nicely.
My only complaint with Demon Road – and admittedly, it’s a minor one – is that the book feels a little disjointed. At times it felt like watching three X-Files episodes back-to-back. First, the madman serial killer; next, the town full of vampires; and finally a weird tree-witch-monster thing. Linking it all together is the overarching plot that keeps the readers/viewers interested, but at times that ‘big picture’ is simply lost and conveniently forgotten. Amber’s time-based deadline to find the missing man seems important in the beginning, absent in the middle, then important again at the end but without enough emphasis on it to make sense.
Putting those few criticisms behind, Demon Road is still an incredibly good book. It’s well-paced, spending enough time on the characters but without sacrificing the intensity, and it explores a variety of traditional demonic legends and myths without feeling the need to ‘modernize’ them for a new audience.
Demon Road is out 28th of August, available in all good bookstores! This review copy was provided courtesy of Harper Collins Australia.
An impressive entry to a new YA series, with an endearing and surprisingly different heroine, and a solid focus on demonic legends.
The plot feels a little disjointed at times, like several X-Files episodes played back-to-back, and the overarching plot is forgotten at times.
An engaging narrative about demons, vampires, witches and the Devil, never shying away from its dark, occult past. Interesting characters with the perfect amount of banter, and a rapid-fire ending that will leave you wanting the sequel.