After nine novels in the successful Skullduggery Pleasant series, Derek Landy’s latest book – Demon Road – sees the start of a brand new series. Swapping wizards and talking skeletons for demons, vampires and a surprising amount of gore, it sees Landy retain much of his usual style while adding in an extra edge that will appeal to slightly older readers than his original series. We follow sixteen year-old Amber, an average American teenager (well, at first anyway) whose life turns upside down when her parents start trying to kill her. With demons on her trail she’s forced to accept help from unexpected quarters, and finds herself on the run through the dark roads of America.
Essentially it’s a classic young adult chase novel – plucky young heroine risks life and limb to find a way to survive, teaming up with an unlikely bunch of companions in a race against time. So far so unoriginal, but while there’s a distinct familiarity to each of its elements, it comes together in a satisfying whole that feels fresh, fun and eminently readable. Landy has a knack for memorable characters and disgusting monsters, populating his world with worryingly vivid grotesqueries for Amber to meet, battle and occasionally befriend, all the while channelling his usual style of snappy, often genuinely funny dialogue.
As expected, events move on apace as Amber races around the country, the scale of the story widening in time with Amber’s growing understanding of what’s happening to her. It’s every bit the page turner – tightly, cleverly plotted, and packed full of exciting set pieces, leaving no time for the reader to catch their breath. If the dialogue sometimes feels a little forced and the writing a little simplistic, it’s made up for in sheer giddy enjoyability. There’s no doubt that this is written for the younger reader, but there’s plenty of wry commentary on teenage antics for adults to enjoy, a particular highlight being Amber’s spluttering outrage at the loss of her mobile phone – “how do you expect me to…to…to do anything?”
This is clearly the sort of read that fans of Skullduggery Pleasant will enjoy, but there’s enough here to widen Landy’s reach beyond existing fans, and it should appeal to anyone looking for a fun, exciting fantasy page turner. There’s a definite edge of horror to the proceedings too, applied with a light touch that channels Joss Whedon’s approach to horror with Buffy. Overall it’s great fun, and demonstrates Landy’s skill with world building and storytelling, not to mention setting things up nicely for the next two books in the planned trilogy.