First published onFantasy Faction
Derek Landy’s new novel is just as exciting, just as break-neck and just as addictive as his wildly successful Skulduggery Pleasant series. I tore through those books because I loved the characters and in Demon Road, we have a brand new set, some of whom will seem reassuringly familiar to Skulduggery fans.
Amber is sixteen, a geeky but ordinary teenager studying at high school. Her parents, however, are anything but ordinary. Tall, beautiful and mysteriously well-connected, they are the antithesis of the socially awkward Amber, who bemoans her plain appearance and tiny hands, (the hands get mentioned several times). All in all, it’s rather suspicious and Amber’s worst fears are realised when she overhears that her parents are planning to kill her.
So begins a remarkable adventure across America, replete with demons, vampires and serial killers and the dark but fascinating world they inhabit. Amber discovers some very interesting things about herself, namely that she can transform into a tall, attractive, red-skinned demon. And that’s what this book is all about.
There’s no doubt that demon-Amber rocks. She’s sexy, confident, red, and kicks ass. Also she has horns, scales and talons which retract when not currently rending flesh. Still, there was a little part of me that squirmed at the ease with which Amber can shed her plain, unattractive physique. The contrast between the two Ambers is startling. Demon-Amber is thinner and taller with great legs – attributes we’re supposed to find preferable to being short and plump. In his defence, Landy is aware of this. The fact that demon-Amber is so much more beautiful than human-Amber is a source of great distress for our protagonist and she struggles to adjust to her two selves. Demon-Amber also comes with an appetite for violence and, er, human flesh. I guess you take the good with the bad.
Amber’s geekiness is a nice touch and something I think will resonate with a lot of readers. She’s part of a group of people who meet up online to chat about their favourite TV show. It’s a shame that her online friends don’t feature much in the book (Amber can’t risk giving away her location via the web), so at the moment they read as a bit of an afterthought. I’d love to see more of them in future stories; it’d make for a lovely piece of irony if they discovered Amber’s secret.
Amber’s two most important relationships are with Milo and Glen. Milo has a distinctly Skulduggery air about him. He’s enigmatic, has an obsession with flashy cars, (one flashy car in particular) and comes with a past he won’t talk about. There’s a lot of the Valkyrie-Skulduggery vibe in the way he and Amber interact and it works really well. Frankly I loved Milo. When you do find out a bit more about him, he goes from cool to awesome and I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel with him. The fact that he’s pretty hot has no bearing on this at all.
Glen is a character you’ll either love or hate. He can be irritating and Amber and Milo often tell him to shut up, which is gratifying. But he grew on me and his story arc is just as compelling as Amber’s. He provides some comic relief as well as perspective, despite the fact that his life is fairly dark. I won’t say any more about it for fear of spoilers.
I found the opening chapters a touch sensational, so suspension of disbelief is key if you want to get into Demon Road. As the novel progresses and you grow used to the revelations, it’s all much easier to roll with. The titular Demon Road is a great concept; black highways that crisscross America. I loved the blackroads’ nebulous nature, i.e. that there are no maps, but you’ll know when you find yourself on one. This book is a big road trip. Amber, Milo and Glen encounter everything from bars run by demonic little girls to a serial killer’s magical doll’s house (that is as creepy as it sounds), to a tree-witch’s underground lair. You can’t say Landy isn’t insanely imaginative. It might sound like a rollercoaster of a book, but each adventure is punctuated by moments of introspection, which help to regulate the pace and develop the characters’ interior lives.
It could be said that Demon Road lacks the depth of the Skulduggery Pleasant universe, where Landy constructs a whole realm behind the commonplace scenes of modern-day Ireland. There isn’t the same sense of history, or infrastructure, though admittedly this is something that could be explored in later volumes. I’d certainly like to see more on the blackroads themselves, their origin and purpose.
Despite a few reservations, I really enjoyed Demon Road. I think Landy fans will be happy and it’s sure to ensnare a few new readers with its pace and likable, relatable characters. I’m eagerly awaiting the next instalment.