American Monsters was written by Derek Landy and first published in 2016. It follows the continuing adventures of Amber and Milo as they try to find a way to finally stop Amber’s twisted parents. The book forms the final instalment of The Demon Road Trilogy, and is preceded by Demon Road (2015) and Desolation (2016). I’d strongly advise that you read the books in sequence if you want to have any idea of what’s going on.
Amber is struggling to come to terms with her new role as the Shining Demon’s representative on Earth. She’s stronger than ever, her demonic side fuelled by vials of her benefactor’s blood, but using these is starting to come at the cost of her sanity. And then there are the things she must do – things that enable serial killers to go on killing. She knows that she needs to find a way to break her contract before she completely loses her soul.
And then there is the problem of her parents. Bill and Betty are still on the run and know that they’re living on borrowed time. When Amber finally catches up with them, they cut a deal. They know that they won’t live long while the Shining Demon is still in power. They want Amber to deliver the monster to them so that they can devour him and take his place. If Amber can do that, they promise that they’ll leave her alone to live her life.
Amber knows that her parents can’t be trusted, but there is one small problem. They’ve taken Kelly hostage and will kill her if Amber doesn’t deliver the goods within six days. With Kelly’s life on the line, Amber and Milo have no choice but to hit the road to find chains powerful enough to bind a Lord of Hell. However on the way they will encounter many old friends and enemies and, now that it’s known that Amber is the Shining Demon’s lapdog, it’s difficult to know who they can trust…
Before I begin, it’s time for my standard words of warning. For a young adult novel, American Monsters is pretty grim. While its humorous tone sometimes takes the edge off this a little, it’s still chockfull of gory deaths, torture and visceral descriptions of Hell. If you’re an American reader, it should probably be noted that this book also contains an underage relationship (as Amber turns seventeen in this novel and Kelly is somewhere in her twenties). While neither myself or the author are American, the book is set in the US so I thought it best to mention that here.
If you read my review of Desolation, you might remember that I wasn’t a fan. I’m happy to say that American Monsters is a bit better as it resolves a lot of the issues that I had with this book. It still fell shy of being as enjoyable as Demon Road, but at least it didn’t make me quite as angry, so I guess I need to be thankful for small mercies.
While Desolation was set entirely in one location and told a linear story from the perspective of four protagonists, American Monsters returns to the episodic feel of the first novel. While the story does have a bit more focus than Demon Road in that Amber is working towards the final goal of defeating her parents and breaking her contract, there is a lot of busywork for her to do along the way. A few of these are designed to wrap up loose ends from previous instalments, such as Amber’s final face-off with Elias Mauk, but most of them just felt kind of pointless.
The pacing was one of my biggest issues with the story. After the drudgery of Desolation, the style of the prose seemed to have flipped too far the other way. There is a lot of action (if that’s all you look for in a story) and some genuinely creepy moments but a distinct lack of purpose. Amber and Milo pelt from one situation to another with alarming speed but there is no real sense of closure. Plot threads are explored – like the reason why Abigail never ages – and small discoveries are made but then they are dropped without resolution and never mentioned again. It’s possibly because the author was very mindful that he had a lot of ground to cover and only one novel in which to do it all.
And then there are the character deaths. This is purely personal but I don’t like shock deaths in stories. While I don’t have a problem with killing of characters, I want it to mean something. I don’t like it when deaths are purely to give another character development or (worse still) be a gruesome little surprise for the reader. This is something that American Monsters is very guilty of. A lot of secondary characters meet their ends over the course of this novel. Many of these actually happen off page, only for Amber to discover their mangled corpses later. This is lazy writing. There is no need to slaughter so many secondary characters. It just makes them feel utterly unimportant.
The climax of the novel also lacked something. Even though this was the final book of a trilogy, the showdown between Amber and her parents didn’t really begin until the last forty pages or so. It was brief and largely unsatisfying, mainly because Amber ultimately didn’t have much involvement in it. A lot of the actual fighting is done between the other demons of the story, Amber just mostly sits on the side-lines and watches. While I won’t spoil it for you here, I felt that it wrapped up Amber’s impossible situation a little too neatly. It also involved (you guessed it) a pointless character death, though by this stage I was hardly surprised.
And then there were the characters. Let’s start with Amber. One of the most positive things that I can say about this novel is that it stops fat-shaming her. Amber has grown to accept that being overweight and plain is not the end of the world and start to prefer her human form over her demonic one. Trouble is, I’m not sure where this sudden shift in personality came from. It’s kind of implied that Amber doesn’t hate herself anymore because Kelly is attracted to her but this feels weak. The best sort of character development comes from within. Amber’s self-loathing is just kind of shrugged off with a “well, someone finds me attractive so I can’t be that repulsive”.
The other characters still don’t fare much better than this. Kelly is less of a stereotype this time around, but that’s partially because she’s hardly in the novel. She spends most of her time as Bill and Betty’s hostage and so, while still in a loose relationship with Amber, we don’t get to see this develop. On the one hand, this frustrated me as YA fiction needs more lesbian characters. On the other hand, at least it meant that Landy didn’t mess it up like he did in Desolation.
The male characters fared a lot worse. One of the reasons I’ve stuck with this series was because I wanted to find out Milo’s backstory. Bad news, everyone – this is never revealed. We don’t discover anything about what Milo was like before he became the Ghost of the Highway. While Demoriel exposits that he chose to wipe his memory of twelve years earlier, we never discover why. Oh, and Glen is Glen again. This reminded me of how much Glen irritated the Hell out of me in the first book. Yet, if you were a Glen fan you can rejoice. The final third of the novel puts him back to his annoying Irish self. So there’s that at least…
Anyhow, I’m starting to ramble so I’ll wrap this up. The Demon Road Trilogy is far from being my favourite horror series. While it had its moments, the series was unsatisfying on the whole. At its best, it was a cheesy love-letter to bad horror movies. At its worse, it was Desolation. It’s not one that I’d recommend but if you’re a huge horror fan, you might get a few chuckles out of it.
American Monsters can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk