Arkham Reviews | 11 January 2015 | Kim

The Demonata is the second horror series released by the ever popular Darren Shan. Its story focuses on the constant battles fought by magically gifted humans as they try to prevent monsters (the evil Demonata) from breaking through into our world. The series ran for ten novels – Lord Loss (2005), Demon Thief (2005), Slawter (2006), Bec (2006), Blood Beast (2007), Demon Apocalypse (2007), Death’s Shadow (2008), Wolf Island (2008), Dark Calling (2009) and Hell’s Heroes (2009) – but for the purpose of this review I’ll be looking at Slawter and Bec only.

The events of Slawter pick up around fourteen months after Lord Loss, as Grubbs and Dervish try to put their brush with the Demonata behind them. Although they both survived, Dervish has since been plagued with horrible nightmares and Grubbs still largely cares for him. When Dervish is approached by a famous director who wants to use his occultist knowledge to make her latest horror movie more realistic, it seems to be the perfect opportunity for the two of them to get away from the mansion to recover.

However, all is not as it seems. Isolated on a specially built set – the town of Slawter – Grubbs soon discovers that the movie is a front for something more sinister. The demons are too realistic to be costumes and members of the cast have begun to disappear. With Dervish unconvinced, it’s up to Grubbs and Bill-E to get to the root of what’s going on and put a stop to it once and for all.

Bec is set 1600 years before the events of Demon Thief and focuses on the title character – an apprentice priestess – as she helps protect her clan from worsening demon attacks. When a young boy with mysterious powers appears at the gates one day, Bec sets off with a band of warriors to discover where he has come from and offer help to any survivors that may be there.

On arriving at the boy’s home, they discover that it has been wiped out by demon attacks. The only survivor – a druid named Drust – advises that the creatures that attacked them were far more intelligent than the ones that Bec’s people have previously faced. Their appearance is due to the fact that a tunnel is being constructed between the human and demon realms and, when it’s complete, the demons will flood Ireland and kill everyone. Drust plans to close the portal and enlists Bec’s group to help him. Success for them is vital because, if they fail, all hope for mankind will be lost. 

Before I begin, I feel that I should give my usual disclaimer. I mentioned in my review of Lord Loss and Demon Thief that the stories are very much grounded in visceral horror rather than subtle scares. This has not changed. These books are very violent and contain some incredibly graphic descriptions of gore, aimed towards both adults and children. Although a lot of the brutality in Slawter is reserved for the climax, Bec contains scenes throughout that sensitive readers may find disturbing. Please bear this in mind before you pick up these novels.

Slawter returned the focus of the story to Grubbs Grady’s adventures in the present and therefore is a direct sequel to Lord Loss, rather than Demon Thief (which was set in the 1970s and followed a completely different protagonist). Because of this, I personally found it to be a refreshing return to form for Shan. As you may recall, I adore Lord Loss. I can honestly say that it’s the best young adult horror story that I have reviewed so far. While I won’t deny that it has some nagging flaws, I truly admire it for its originality, its decent plot twists and its very intense climax. While Slawter did not quite reach the brilliance of its prequel, it was still a thoroughly enjoyable read in its own right.

After the endless action of Demon Thief, it was nice to see the pace slow again in order to give the protagonists a little more time to develop. Slawter was well paced on the whole, gradually ramping up the tension as the novel progressed right up until the incredibly violent finale. I also really enjoyed the setting as the novel uses it to make fun of bad horror movies – in particular the way that they become more enjoyable when they are obviously dreadful. My only real gripe with the plot as a whole was that it did not have a real twist. It’s pretty easy to deduce what’s really happening on the set from early in the story and the villain’s motivation is particularly shallow.

In Bec, the pacing unfortunately returned to the tempo of Demon Thief. The story virtually opens to a demon attack and the novel rarely slows down after this. While the Celtic setting is interestingly different (particularly for Shan), it unfortunately made this story feel a bit as though it belonged to a different series. Although it contains the same themes of the earlier novels, it applies them to a world that seems more fantastical – full of people who will willingly accept the existence of magic and elder gods because they know that it is true.

However, my biggest problem with the two books was that it felt as though they did not really advance the greater plot. One of the interesting things about Demon Thief was that it brought a lot of new things to the table: The structure of the Demonata, the way that they can be summoned into the human world, the function of the Disciples and the existence of the Kah-Gash. While none of this is ignored in Slawter or Bec (except for the Kah-Gash which doesn’t get a single mention), it isn’t really expanded on either.

The purpose of Slawter is to be more of a character study for Grubbs, showing that his magic has continued to grow and raising the possibility of him actually being a true magician. Bec’s purpose in the larger scheme of things was less to clear to me. While I don’t doubt that this will become more obvious in future books, it just does not seem to fit at present. It makes a little more of the dangers of a rogue magus summoning the Demonata (which is also seen in both Demon Thief and Slawter), it shows how the Grady family came by their curse and how Lord Loss came to be interested in chess. As most of these were at least alluded to in earlier novels, it made me wonder why exactly this novel is necessary. I suppose only time will tell if it has some greater importance for the remainder of the series but, for the time being, it just felt a little pointless.

In terms of characterisation, I also felt that Slawter did a little better than Bec. I think that this was because Shan was able to build upon characters that he had already introduced and so better flesh out their personalities. While the supporting cast was still a little weak at times, the primary cast of Grubbs, Dervish and Bill-E managed to get a lot of growth. Grubbs, in particular, managed to finally develop into a character that I could like. While his introduction in Lord Loss left me thinking that he was a little sociopath, his caring side comes out in this story through the way that he supports Dervish. He also shows a vulnerable side – showing that he will only fight when absolutely necessary as his fear of the Demonata runs very deep – which caused him to seem more like a real teenage boy and less of an action hero.

Bec’s cast was far weaker. Most of the members of her party are introduced so quickly and are so shallow that I did not really care if they lived or died. A good example of this is the twins – Ronan and Lorcan. All I can tell you about them is that they love killing demons – they really had no character beyond this. The only supporting character that I felt empathy for was Bran and this was largely because he was not self-aware enough to know what was happening around him.

I even found it quite hard to like Bec. This was not because of her attitude or personality (for a first attempt at writing a female protagonist, Shan actually didn’t do too badly with her) but more because she was a bit of a blank slate. Bec’s motivations are almost entirely governed by the expectations that her clan has placed on her, including the idea that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Because of this, she appears to be more of a paragon than either Grubbs or Kernal because she never behaves selfishly. She always acts with the interest of her friends in mind.

Sorry, this review is starting to get really long and so I’ll wrap up. While both Slawter and Bec are both enjoyable reads, they didn’t really advance the story as much as I would have liked. Both novels retread a lot of old ground and don’t seem as though they add much new to the mix. When thinking of the series as a whole, I would say that Slawter was the better of the two stories as it offered a lot more development for Grubbs. Bec, although a faster paced novel, was probably more on par with Demon Thief on the whole. However, I am curious to see how it will tie into later books as, despite the fact that it was set in the distant past, I’m pretty sure that this is not going to be end of the tale for Bec.

Read more...Return to reviews listing

From the Gallery
  • Zom-Liv!!!

    from Darren's Blog on 21 May 2022

    Fan art for my Zom-B books tends to rank well behind Cirque Du Freak and The Demonata, but...

    Read full entry
  • TOUR details - see Shanville Monthly

    from Events on 06 August 2017

    Read full entry
  • From Twitter: