Spoiler warning: this review of Desolation will include Demon Road spoilers (and maybe some made-up things because I have already forgotten quite a lot of Demon Road)
Desolation is the sequel to Demon Road, Derek Landy’s newish series about a teen demon being pursued across the USA by her parents. Because, you know, they want to eat her soul and offer it up to the Shining Demon. Like you do.
Landy picks up the action here right where Demon Road left off, with Amber and Milo hotfooting it to Alaska because another demon told them to. Demons, when they aren’t trying to eat you, are apparently reliable sources of travel advice. Their destination is Desolation Hill, a weird and remote town where Amber will be safe from her crazy parents. What they don’t count on is the fact that every serial killer in North America is after her too, because they all want to be demons. It’s kind of a weird set-up. Also new in this second in the series: a Scooby Doo-esque crew who fight supernatural meanies, and a bickering pair of geriatric former actors, who everyone hilariously assumes are a gay couple.
Glen’s absence means Desolation lacks the laugh-out-loud hilarity of its predecessor, but it is still funny, although the humour is juxtaposed with a level of violence which exceeds anything in Demon Road; for example, in the first chapter, Amber has every one of her fingers broken by a random serial killer, with Milo appearing just after he would actually have been useful. This sets the tone for some unpleasant scenes later on. Look, I’m a Tarantino fan; I don’t mind a bit of senseless violence. I just find it quite hard to keep reading pages and pages of it when the end result is basically the same every time; everyone gets beaten up and someone ends up naked.
On the subject of nakedness, there’s an aspect of Desolation which I found a little troubling and I’ve seen on Goodreads that other readers have shared my reservations; there’s a point here where Amber gets intimate with another character, becomes nervous, shifts into her demon form and forcibly tries to remove their clothing. Her excuse is “oh I was a demon, it wasn’t my fault.” Which, to me, is not a million miles from the kind of excuse actual rapists would use. On a linked point, the object of Amber’s exertions is a few years older than her and this makes their flirtation border on creepy. Again, Goodreads reviews have raised this too, so I know it’s not just the BBC viewer in me wanting to be offended by things.
I did like things about Desolation. The set-up, with Desolation Hill’s unfriendly residents and their town festival, is effective, creating a creepy atmosphere from the outset, and this is only increased throughout. I also developed a particular love for Virgil and Javier, the ageing actors forced to work together despite their years of animosity. I really enjoyed the chapters which focused on them. When the PoV first started switching between characters, so many of them new, I didn’t think I’d enjoy it; actually, I think it made Desolation more interesting and engaging, because it stops Amber’s voice from becoming overwhelmingly whiney.
Unfortunately, I don’t think Desolation is as good as Demon Road. It is, however, worth reading if you’ve already read the first book, and the world-building continues to be entertaining. I’m not going to try to excuse the obvious issues which I’ve mentioned already, but I will say that it is possible to read Desolation without being overwhelmed by these problems.