Hardcover, 288 pages
Published August 28th 2012 by EgmontUSA
The Demon Catchers of Milan has, up to date, one of the most terrifying opening scenes I’ve ever read*. I feel like YA genre readers have become inured to demons; they are present in vast quantities and their appear as ridiculous though lovable puppy demons to vastly annoying orc-like creatures a hero must kill to the love interest who broods just like Darcy. They no longer accomplish one of their most traditional jobs: to terrify.
The cover of this novel is misleading. When I started reading this, I was under the impression that the protagonist caught demons with a butterfly net (don’t ask me why; I don’t know why my brain makes the associations it does) while dressed in haute couture (the book is set in Milan). That couldn’t have been further from the truth because the last thing Mia, the protagonist of the piece, does is catch demons. No, she spends most of her time hiding from demons, one in particular. This brings me back to the opening scene of the book.
We meet Mia as she is strapped to a bed, possessed by a demon, with demon-catching relatives by her bedside. Beyer expresses Mia’s terror so eloquently that I had to stop reading for a bit to control my chicken heart. Because this demon is no sparkling sex god, no Darcy trying to woo the hapless heroine. No, this demon means business of the bad kind and he has business with Mia’s paternal family. Mia’s uncle and cousin manage to cast the demon out of her but she remains vulnerable to it and the only way to prevent her from coming under its power again is to relocate Mia to the stronghold of the Demon Catchers: Milan. And so begins Mia’s journey.
I loved this novel not just for its supernatural element but for the attention given to family. In YA novels, the protagonist usually shucks her family off, necessarily perhaps, in order to grow and defeat the odds stacked against her. Beyer’s novel goes against the grain by placing Mia in an extended family full of people she hadn’t even known existed as her grandfather had been estranged from his family when he immigrated to the US. Mia doesn’t know the language or how to navigate the dynamics of her newly discovered people. She also doesn’t know how to cope with not being able to go outside because of the demon whose whispers are definitely not sweet nothings.
The book does not offer a fast paced whirl through Milan – what it promises and delivers is a rather slow paced (not in a bad way) journey that occurs within and without. Mia travels far from her family, learns a new language, gets to know and love new family members, some more than others. Internally, she moves from being a vulnerable adolescent to someone who, while still afraid, is able to face that fear. Beyer creates fantastic atmosphere and the hallowed setting of the candle shop the Demon Catcher clan runs as a front to their more nocturnal activities is amazing.
I also really loved the emphasis on food and and the importance placed on eating together. If Janet didn’t hate horror, I would make her read this book because I think she’d love the time Beyer spends on mealtimes with the family and the attention she grants food. I really enjoyed this novel and if you’re looking for a good All Hallows read, I’d recommend this. There is no romance in this one, at least not for the main character, she’s too busy trying to remain alive, but rather than detracting from its merits, the lack of romance gives this novel a chance to focus on more salient aspects. If you want something different from everything else that is out there, try this one. It may end up not being your thing but at least you’ll have read something different.
*: I have a chicken heart so I don’t usually read terrifying books.