Please note that this review may contain spoilers for its prequel, Demon Road. You can read my review of this novel [here].
Desolation was written by Derek Landy and first published in 2016. It’s a horror novel that follows Amber’s continuing escape across America as she tries to avoid both her parents and the Hounds of Hell. The novel is the second part of the The Demon Road Trilogy and follows on directly from the events of Demon Road (2015), so you really need to read the novels in sequence to fully appreciate them.
Amber and Milo are on the run. The Shining Demon hasn’t taken Amber’s treachery lightly and has now pulled out all the stops to claim her soul. Not only has he made deals with every serial killer in America, promising them their heart’s desires in return for Amber, but he has also unleashed the Hounds of Hell. The demonic biker gang exist to follow his orders and will never rest until they have tracked Amber down.
The only safe place for them now is the Alaskan town of Desolation Hill, a place surrounded by a magical barrier that blocks the Shining Demon’s power. However, the town is not without its secrets. Everyone who lives there seems to be a little too friendly with each other and unwelcoming to outsiders. Amber also soon learns that a festival – Hell Night – is about to take place and no strangers will be allowed to stay in the town over that period.
As Amber and Milo explore the town they begin to uncover a sinister mystery spanning two hundred years, one that hinges on annual child disappearances and the presence of a sinister figure called the Narrow Man. They also join forces with a team of paranormal investigators who have come to Desolation Hill to investigate the same happenings. They only have a few nights to discover the true secret of the town and how it ties back to the Shining Demon because, once Hell Night falls, they might never be able to leave the town again…
Before I begin, I’d just like to note that I am reviewing this novel based on an advanced copy that I got on Netgalley, therefore I’m aware that it might not be exactly the same as the published version. I also want to comment on the tone of this novel. Desolation is a wholly nasty and mean-spirited story, far more so than Demon Road. The novel opens on a prolonged sequence of a serial killer breaking Amber’s fingers with a hammer. Very slowly. One by one. While she begs and cries. And this is only a taste of what’s to come. Not only is the story very gory but it also contains sexual language throughout and even a brief glimpse of a demon orgy in the climax. This really isn’t a novel for young or sensitive readers as it does push the boundaries of what constitutes young adult content.
It quickly became apparent that Desolation had managed to resolve one of my issues with Demon Road. The story has lost its episodic structure and instead all takes place in a single location. However, I don’t think that this is necessarily a good thing. While the rapid pace last time kept my attention, this time story felt slow and over padded. While there were still action sequences, they felt a little as though they’d just been thrown in there are random (such as the sudden appearance of Amber’s parents half way through) just to break up the monotony of the dialogue.
The novel also doesn’t only focus on Amber’s perspective this time round, instead alternating between the POV of four different characters. Personally, I found the constant flipping between them to be distracting and made the story twice as long as it needed to be. It was really hard to remember which characters knew what and often meant that if one chapter ended on a cliff hanger, it wouldn’t be resolved for three to four chapters. I kept forgetting where every member of the huge cast was and (particularly during the climax) found myself constant flipping back through previous chapters to remind myself.
In terms of ground covered, I don’t think that what we learned over the novel really warranted its length. The story pushed 500 pages long and yet, now I think back over it, it didn’t seem to do much to further the overarching plot. We discover a little more about the Shining Demon and the final couple of chapters mark a drastic shift in Amber’s character but, beyond this, little seems to have been developed. There is just dialogue and lots of it, some of which is amusing at first but it quickly grows tiresome to read. It made me wonder if Demon Road wouldn’t have been better as a stand-alone story and if the series will have enough material to carry it over a final novel.
One of the new things that were added to the mix this time around was a love interest from Amber, although I do mean this in the loosest possible way. I’m usually all for the inclusion of lesbian characters in YA fiction as they’re sorely misrepresented and this could have spelled some real character development for Amber, a girl characterised by her constant self-doubt and negative body image. However, it only really seems to have been added to this story for the sake of titillation.
Amber and Kelly only have two conversations over a 48 hour period and then they’re suddenly topless and making out. This is made even creepier by the age gap. Amber is 16 (below the age of consent in her home state) and Kelly seems to be in her mid-twenties at the very least. She almost seems like she’s forcing herself on the quiet, embarrassed Amber when she describes how she wants to grab a fistful of her hair and pull her head back to kiss her throat. To make matters worse, little is made of their relationship after this scene. Amber and Kelly don’t share any more moments together and hardly talk, adding to my belief that this was added entirely for the “benefit” of the male readership (one male character in the story who witnesses the above mentioned topless scene later refers to it as being “steamy lesbian action”, rather than a fair representation of a lesbian relationship).
As the plot fails to develop, I’d like to say that time was instead spent on character growth but unfortunately this wasn’t the case either. Although the opening chapters tease about Milo’s past, the story doesn’t make any effort to fill in any more blanks after this. Milo is really relegated to a secondary character this time around. While I liked some of his interaction with Amber, there wasn’t really enough of this on the whole. Glen’s refusal to stay dead also didn’t get any explanation. I thought that this was going to be a big thing but he only appeared twice in all, never spoke and only seemed to be included to get Amber out of tight spot (kind of a Chekhov’s Vampire, I suppose).
Amber’s development within the story is entirely negative. Last time, I criticised the fact that the novel told us over and over again how ugly and fat Amber was. This is still the case. Everyone in the story (except for Kelly and Milo) repeatedly comment on how Amber is repulsive as a human but beautiful as a demon. To make matters worse, Amber has come to believe it and now talks about herself the same way. Because of this, she spends most of the novel as a demon and grows increasingly vicious and unpleasant. I won’t spoil the ending here but I’ll just say that it really left a bad taste in my mouth and made me wary about the direction that the final novel will take.
As for the new cast, well, they were just really a bunch of non-entities. Virgil and Javier’s plot was amusing at first but had a disappointing reliance on gay jokes. Everyone who meets them seems to assume that two old men hanging around together must mean that they’re a couple. Yeah, that’s just weird. In addition to this we’re also introduced to Kelly’s posse of paranormal investigators, a group who travel the demon road to fight the forces of darkness (which goes against the rules of the road that were expressed in the first novel but I’ll let that slide). The group are a thinly veiled homage to Scooby Doo, a team consisting of two men, two women, a dog and a van. In this team, we had Kelly (the only character with anything resembling a personality), Warren (the stoner), Ronnie (the character who was supposedly the leader but never spoke, thus existing to be the horror story’s “token black guy”), Linda (who had big boobs but no character beyond this) and Two the dog (who humped everything). Hilarious.
This review is getting long so I’ll wrap up. I think you can see that this series has taken a definite nose dive. It was long, padded to all Hell and seemed to be trying just to be controversial. I’ll probably read the final book because I do still want closure on Milo’s back story but I’m really not optimistic that it’ll be any better.
Desolation can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk