Demon Road by Derek Landy

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Demon Road by Derek Landy

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Nigethan Sathiyalingam
Reviewed by Nigethan Sathiyalingam
Summary: A dark and action-packed first instalment of a new supernatural trilogy, written with typical confidence and flair by the inimitable Derek Landy.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 512 Date: August 2015
Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780008140816

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Amber Lamont was a relatively ordinary 16-year-old, living a pretty quiet, uneventful life; she went to school, had a part-time job, and a decent relationship with her aloof but loving parents. But over the course of just one day everything goes completely to hell. Amber discovers that she can turn into a demon, a genuine, red-skinned, satanic monster, with horns and talons that can rip a human to shreds. Her demon side is the least of her problems, however. For Amber's parents are also demons, and now that her powers have manifested, they are intent on eating her and absorbing her power for themselves. Amber finds herself on the run, travelling the Demon Road across America in a desperate attempt to escape her parents, accompanied by Milo, an enigmatic guardian, who has dark secrets of his own.

This is a hard one to review for me. I'm a fervent fan of Derek Landy's incredibly successful Skulduggery Pleasant series, which concluded in stunning fashion in 2014. So despite the fact that Demon Road marks the beginning of a completely new trilogy, it was hard to go into it without unfairly high expectations. What makes comparisons even more difficult to avoid, is that Derek Landy's trademark style, full of confidence, intensity and irreverence, is apparent from the very first page. His action scenes are exquisitely written, as readers have come to expect, with plenty of gore that is used in such a way that it maintains shock value throughout, rather than feeling gratuitous. You feel every punch, kick and rake of a talon viscerally, and more importantly, the fights are realistic, with each win being hard-earned; the ability to turn into a demon with enhanced strength doesn't automatically make Amber a brilliant fighter, and it is only after multiple failures that she slowly learns to rely on her wits as much as her fists. Unfortunately, I felt that Landy's razor sharp dialogue didn't transition quite as well to the tone and setting of Demon Road. In particular, comic-relief character Glenn, who would have fit in easily in the world of Skulduggery Pleasant, felt consistently out of place and distracting throughout Demon Road, despite his dialogue being really funny in places.

Fortunately, Amber herself is a very likeable protagonist. She is far from your typical badass female heroine and you can't help but root for her as she is thrown completely into the deep end. Her parents are trying to eat her. The various nasty supernatural characters she meets in her road trip across the black roads are out to hurt her. She can't even be sure her companions Milo and Glenn can be trusted. Her demon form is powerful, beautiful and alluring, but it also makes her scarily okay with committing violence. Despite all the odds being against her, Amber proves herself to be a fighter, who is determined to survive with her humanity intact. My only major quibble with her character is a tendency to make poor, reckless decisions, that despite the tension she is under, does at times feel at odds with the intelligence and maturity that she generally portrays.

The road trip style of the story means that a lot of different characters are met across the different settings. On the most part, these characters are interesting and distinct, though I was left feeling like I wanted to spend more time getting to know a lot of them. The same applies to the other major characters including Milo, Imelda and Amber's parents, all of whom seem like characters with a lot of interesting backstory that is only explored or hinted at quite superficially. In particular, Amber's parents are very scary villains, exuding genuine menace and darkening the atmosphere of any scenes they appear in. Landy does a great job of getting across just how horribly, unnaturally wrong the idea of parents hunting their children is. While the first 100 pages seemed to fly by, the middle 300 pages did seem to drag a little. While each of the various stops on the Demon Road provided their own tension, twists and excitement, they felt slightly disjointed at times. However, the final 50 pages stepped everything up a couple of gears, accelerating into a thrilling climax. Readers craving more of the inimitable style of entertainment provided by Skulduggery Pleasant might find themselves a little disappointed, but this definitely doesn't mean they shouldn't try Demon Road. More akin to a traditional horror story, it is a very different beast, immersed in the occult and full of scary, horrible characters and a consistently grimmer tone. I found it an enjoyable read and I loved the ideas underlying Demon Road; the plot, setting and characters all have more than enough depth and intrigue, such that I'll definitely be back for the sequel.

Thank you to the publishers for sending a copy to TheBookbag.

Aside from the aforementioned Skulduggery Pleasant series, fans of Demon Road might also want to check out Darren Shan's highly gory and hugely entertaining Demonata series, as well as Half Bad by Sally Green and Smoulder by Brenna Yovanoff.

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