Sorry that reviews are being a bit slow at the moment. Most of my time this month is being eaten up by the NaNoWriMo but rest assured, I’m still very much alive and have plenty of novels lined up for this blog.
Demon Road was written by Derek Landy and first published in 2015. It’s a horror story about a teenage girl who is forced to go on the run to escape her demonic parents. The book forms the first part of a planned trilogy and its sequel, Desolation, is due for release early next year.
Amber has never had a great relationship with her parents. Although they make sure she’s provided for, they’ve never been all that loving or keen to spend any time with her. Shortly after her sixteenth birthday, she finds out why. They’re demons who are keen to eat her flesh in order to absorb her developing powers.
Narrowly escaping from their clutches, Amber goes on the run across America. Along the way, she joins forces with a mysterious man named Milo whose car seems to have a will of its own and Glen, a young Irishman with a terrible curse. She also makes a deal with the same demon lord that granted her parents their power, promising to do something for him if he helps to protect her from her parents. The Shining Demon agrees to her terms but gives her a strict time limit. If she doesn’t complete his quest within five weeks, he will return for her soul.
Together, Amber and her new friends travel America via the mysterious Demon Road. Not only are they pursued by Amber’s parents and their equally cannibalistic friends but their path is also blocked by many dangers. The Demon Road has a habit of drawing creatures of the night together and Amber must face witches, vampires and serial killers in her quest to save herself. To top it all, Amber is forced to come to terms with her dark heritage. As the child of two demons, she is also far from ordinary…
Before I start this review, I’d just like to note that this is first of Landy’s novels that I’ve ever picked up. Although I’ve heard very good things about his Skulduggery Pleasant series, I’ve never had the pleasure of reading any of them and therefore this review isn’t going to be a comparison between them and Demon Road . I’m also writing this review based on an advanced copy of the book that I received from Netgalley and so am aware that there may be differences between the published work and what I’ve just read.
My feelings about Demon Road were unfortunately a little bit mixed. I really did like the premise of the story. It was a bit of a wild ride, throwing Amber immediately into a difficult and time sensitive mission. I especially liked the fact that the outcome of her quest was not made obvious from the word go. The Shining Demon never tries to pretend that he will actually save Amber if she completes her quest. Even if she succeeds in completing his mission, there is nothing to really say that he won’t find some loophole in their deal or things won’t entirely work out the way that Amber hopes. This sense of doubt really helped to keep the story flowing for me. It made me want to keep reading just to find out how everything would pan out in the end.
Landy’s dark humour also helped to carry the story as it gave the whole novel a dry tone. The book also contained many references to other popular horror stories. Unfortunately, I did think that some of these references would go straight over the head of some younger readers. For example, in one scene Shanks requests a prison with a view in a very similar turn of phrase to the one used by Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. As this is an adult book and an 18-rated film, I’m going to go out and a limb and say that many of the book’s target readers will be unfamiliar with it. That said, these references were just the icing on the cake for me and the novel really won’t lose anything if you don’t pick up on them.
Landy also conjures a lot of original monsters for Amber to face in her quest and even those that are a tad familiar (red skinned demons and vampires that cower from the cross) were twisted just enough to keep them feeling fresh and interesting. One of the things that I felt the author to be good at was his ability to take existing ideas and make them his own. Although the story is rather gory in places, it’s nowhere near as gritty as the likes of Higson’s The Enemy or as grotesque as Shan’s Demonata. It was closer in tone to an episode of Supernatural, which unfortunately leads me to my primary issue.
I personally felt as though this premise would have worked a whole lot better as a TV show. As it stands, the novel just feels too episodic. Amber, Milo and Glen travel to a town, supernatural stuff happens, they resolve it and then they leave again. Although they do gather a clue in every location that eventually leads them to their end goal, the story doesn’t really feel all that focused. Amber’s parents very rarely exert any kind of pressure on the proceedings. It’s not really until around the 85% mark of the Kindle version that the plot really feels as though it kicks in.
This probably would lend itself really nicely to adaptation but unfortunately books just can’t work that way. A story is far more than just a sequence of events. The places that Amber visits include a a town where everyone lives in fear of a supernatural serial killer and the story of a man who can’t leave his house because of a witch. Both of these could have been expanded into a story in its own right but instead were reduced to mere distractions. A lot of these sub-quests could have easily been cut from the plot as they really just serve to keep Amber from reaching her goal, to pad the novel and ensure that the clock has ticked down nice and low before she finally faces her parents.
While I’d like to say that the story is stronger in other areas, I also felt as though the characters were a bit of a mixed bunch. The best of the lot was probably Amber as she was a fairly sympathetic protagonist. I did find her immediately likable and certainly didn’t want to see her get hurt. She was actually fairly well rounded for a female character in a horror novel, even though I felt that she could be a little too naïve at times. While she did become a bit more savvy as the story progressed, I did find it initially a little frustrating that she was so quick to believe people that she knew full well were mass murderers.
My only real issue with Amber was her appearance. It’s established early on in the story that she’s overweight and plain. At first, I really liked this as characters like this are usually relegated to being jolly best friends or comic relief and so the diversity was well received. Unfortunately, my problem with the way this was handled is two-fold. First was the fact that everyone was constantly insulting her about her size, even complete strangers in the street. This treatment got old really quickly. It really felt unnecessary and also a little unbelievable that so many complete strangers in public places would go out of their way to fat-shame a sixteen year old girl.
My second issue was the that Landy portrayed her demon form as being better in every way, including being tall, skinny and beautiful in the way she wasn’t as a human. Really, this annoyed me every time someone commented on it. The novel didn’t really teach that beauty could be found within but more that it’s better to have it going on in the physical sense. It might have been more tolerable if Amber’s demon side had some negative points but it didn’t really. Sure, it made her a bit over-confident but this seemed to save her life far more often then it endangered it.
Beyond Amber, the supporting characters are bit mixed. While I liked Milo, I found him far more interesting when he was shrouded in mystery. Once his backstory is revealed, I lost interest in him a bit. I think there is still a little room for development within his missing memories but his identity was far too well signposted and so didn’t really come as a surprise at all.
Glen, on the other hand, annoyed the Hell out of me. He’s one of those fast-talking, “funny” Irish characters that always have a witty comeback (even when innocent people are bleeding to death in front of them) and never seem to shut up. I do see him being one of those characters that readers will either love or hate. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stand him and spent most of the novel hoping that he’d meet with an unpleasant and painful accident.
All in all, this certainly wasn’t my favourite horror novel. It had a nice premise and some fun scenes but it was just far too drawn out to really capture my imagination. I am curious to see what direction the story will take next and hope that future instalments are a little more focused than this one.
Demon Road can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk