Derek’s Skulduggery Pleasant series is one of the best loved Middle Grade/YA crossover series in the world – brilliantly blending macabre horror with a unique, twisted sense of humour and plenty of twists and turns that have kept readers gripped for over seven years. His new series, purely YA, promises to deliver the same sense of magical horror, wanton violence and sharp, acidic wit, and let me tell you it did NOT disappoint.
SOME SPOILERS LURK BELOW – YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
Amber is a 16 year old girl. Like many 16 year old girls, she doesn’t have a huge amount of friends, spending her time on message boards for her favourite TV show and working shifts at a local diner, as she waits to graduate high school and inevitably head out into the big wide world. She has a distant and strangely cold relationship with her parents, who have always been vaguely loving but disinterested, until the day they tried to kill her. You see, Amber’s parents are demons. Red skin, tall, resplendent and complete with long, black horns – proper demons. And they and their friends have been extending their demonic lives for hundreds of years by devouring their children when they turn sixteen – and Amber’s next on the menu. The only advantage she has is the she’s also a demon, able to shift from her average human form into a terrible and beautiful red skinned demon, gaining super strength and resilience in the process. Fleeing her home and her parents, Amber makes some unusual friends and begins an epic road trip across America in search of some way to stop her parents and their friends from becoming more powerful by consuming her – including making a bargain for her soul with the Shining Demon that originally granted them their powers, pitting daughter against mother and father in a struggle that goes way past life and death. It turns out though, that Demons are hardly the strangest and most dangerous things on the Black Roads of America…
Whoa, what an absolute RIOT of a book! Demon Road is Derek Landy on top form, and I was so immersed in this story – I’m just gutted that it’s going to be over a year before I can get my paws on book two. Amber is a brilliant lead character, and she works perfectly in the story, pushing her self-loathing to one side and coming out swinging as soon as she discovers her parent’s true nature – she’s a real hardcore girl with a strong survival instinct, and not because she needs to live for someone else, but just because she wants the chance to be her own person. Unlike the Katniss’ of the YA world, she makes a lot of pretty stupid mistakes though, which highlight her trusting, if naïve nature, and her gradual learning and understanding of her demon nature, and the supernatural world around her helps open the hidden world to the reader at the same time, instead of lumping huge amounts of information on them at once. Oh, also Amber has a great sarcastic streak to her that definitely works well with her character, and especially bounces well off Glen. Aaah Glen, the wonderfully doomed and infuriatingly motor-mouthed Irish teen is a brilliant side character for Amber (and hurrah for no damnable romantic subplot!), because the way he nervously rambles and babbles gives the story the humour and dialogue it needs. I’m impressed that Landy managed to make him so endearing, despite how mindlessly he acts and the way he talks first and thinks second – he really adds heart to the story. Finally, Milo is Amber’s stoic, secretive driver on her trip along the Demon Road, and he wordlessly balances out the two teenagers with his patience and effortless skills and knowledge of the darker underworld of the USA. His character arc is beautifully done too, as he starts to view Amber as more than just a job, but as someone he actually wants to protect.
I love Derek’s writing style in Demon Road… He really does create a strange, almost Summer-y quality to the road trip, but he works in the subtle but creeping horror perfectly, and so much of it is expertly done to be unsettling as opposed to cheap gore soaked frights. Plus, his world feels deep and well thought out – I get the distinct impression that there’s a much richer mythology going on under the surface that we’ll get to peek at in later books in the trilogy. The description is excellent here too, flowing and bouncing intelligently and using really jarring comparisons to help hammer home that sense of unease and dreamlike uncertainty in the reality of what the characters are seeing. Oh, and I love the way the road trip plot ties together some excellent set pieces – almost like mini episodes within an arcing plotline.
Fans of Derek Landy are going to adore Demon Road, and newcomers to his work will find it an excellent starting point to his writing style – dark, unsettling, hilarious and heartfelt, with wonderfully varied characters and more twists and turns than a twisty turny thing.
Thanks for Reading
P.S. – Demon Road is out on the 27th of August, but you can Pre-Order your copy here.
P.P.S. – Derek will be signing in my store (Waterstones Durham) from 1pm on the 29th of August! I’d love if you could come along.