Bring a strong stomach to Derek Landy’s latest demonic fantasy, Desolation, sequel to the surprisingly good Demon Road from last year. Blood drenches the pages (figuratively) from the very beginning, and the action doesn’t relent for the next five hundred pages – but there’s a rather human story being told beneath that devilish skin.

Thanks to Harper Collins Australia for providing me with a media release of Desolation for review.

I had one notable complaint with Demon Road – that the book felt too disjointed, like three TV shows crammed back-to-back – and so it was a very welcome relief that Desolation keeps itself fixed in one place: Desolation Hill, Alaska. This sleepy little town is hiding a terrifying secret behind its sneering citizens and their incredibly secretive ways – Desolation Hill reminded me a lot of Wayward Pines, Idaho, which comes as high praise.

Following their clever betrayal of Astaroth, the Shining Demon, at the end of Demon Road, Amber Lamont is running away from her murderous parents and from Astaroth’s loyal hunters, the Hounds of Hell. Accompanying our demonic teenager is silent, brooding Milo, whose Charger can devour souls and rapidly heal its driver.

Lovable Irish goof and newly-turned vampire, Glen, is strangely absent aside from two genuinely bizarre appearances. I miss his pathetic flirting and constant quips, but Desolation makes up for his absence with two new POV characters and a bunch of extra side characters. Virgil – an old retiree who once played a demon hunter on television in the ’70s – proves to be one of the most entertaining new additions, especially when he’s forced to work with a rival actor to solve a mysterious murder in Desolation Hill.

Kelly is the second newcomer, part of a foursome of vigilantes who roam the Demon Road, hunting evil wherever they find it. If there’s one thing Derek Landy does well, it’s inject comedy into what otherwise would be a complete horror-fest. All of the characters have witty banter, even in the midst of gruesome fights, and the comedy is delivered with such effortless ease that it becomes almost a joy to bounce between the dialogue-heavy banter and bloody action-packed fights.

Desolation manages to do something few sequels achieve – it actually moves the plot along, rather than relying on the final instalment to wrap up the storyline. There are plenty of twists and turns, and Amber evolves further as a character. I highly praised her character design in Demon Road, as a bullied and overweight girl who uses her demonic transformation as a crutch to deal with her own self-image.

The strangest part of Amber’s character was her apparently-new lesbianism. I enjoyed the lack of a traditional romance in Demon Road, but Amber fending off Glen didn’t necessarily make me equate her with being gay. The decision didn’t bother me particularly, although the subplot felt rushed and undirected, and ultimately left me feeling oddly empty – there was such a bold and important direction to take Amber, and the whole thing is cut short abruptly.

Desolation definitely leaves me wanting more, and with American Monsters coming out in August, I’m hotly anticipating the end of this incredibly entertaining series. Hopefully the third book will offer closure to a few outstanding plotlines – keep an eye out for my final review and series thoughts later this year!

The Good

A fast-paced combination of lightning-wit and blood-drenched battles, drawing on American myths and popular culture to great effect.

The Bad

Glen feels sadly forgotten, and sometimes the characters take far too much damage – even for demons – to be believable.

The Verdict

A great mixture of action and comedy keeps this demonic series on-track. New and old characters collide in an entertaining read that never lets off the gas.

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4/5 Stars

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