Hold on to your hats, folks! There’s a new teen paranormal out that is:
A) creepy (and not because of teenage werewolves falling in love with toddlers),
B) romantic (but not because of a love triangle or star-crossed love),
C) original and fresh, (though it also has a great sense of history),
D) features a likable, working-class heroine who only does one bone-headed thing, and
E) it’s thoughtful.
After being possessed by a particularly nasty demon—a demon that just laughs in the faces of the priests who attempt to exorcise him—our heroine, Mia Delatorri, is ultimately saved by two distant relations. Due to a long-standing family estrangement—and the fact that the Vatican doesn’t exactly approve of their actions—it’s news to Mia that she comes from a long line of Milanese demon catchers. Before she knows it, she’s left her family behind in upstate New York and relocated to Milan, where the Della Torre clan can better protect her.
Reasons that The Demon Catchers of Milan wipes the floor with the other paranormals I’ve read this year:
It has a fantastic sense of place: Milan isn’t the setting in name alone, it’s a whole character unto itself. Due to the whole demon-swooping-down-on-her-whenever-she-leaves-the-house thing, Mia doesn’t get the opportunity to explore it much, but her complete immersion into the Italian language, her love for the food, and her observations about the differences between American and Milanese culture are constant, believable and palpable. This story is more about the atmosphere than the action, which makes it feel more like traditional horror than action-with-a-paranormal twist.
It has a strong sense of history: Knowing the history of a place is important when dealing with restless spirits—after all, the more you know about the people they once were, the easier a time you’ll have in trying to put them to rest. So Mia studies and studies and studies, and in doing so, she has a simple-yet-revelatory realization: history happened to real people. Which leads, of course, to the idea that ghost hunting isn’t all backflips and flaming swords—it’s something that requires empathy.*
Similarly, the Della Torre family doesn’t drive around in a ’67 Impala, blasting classic rock while waving shotguns full of rock salt.** They rely on slightly more sedate tools to banish demons: bells, books and candles. Similarly, concepts like the importance of the invitation and the old magic of roads—fans of Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series, especially, will enjoy that bit—figure in.
It’s romantic without a romance: Yes, Mia has a crush on her cousin.*** But the romance in this book isn’t between people. It’s between Mia and the city; Mia and the dark, comfy candle shop; Mia and the Italian language, culture and food (oh, the food!); and Mia and her occasionally boisterous, always passionate newfound family. It’s a story about demon possession, yes, but it’s also a love letter to Milan.
*Rather like Tom Imura’s brand of zombie hunting in Rot and Ruin: he’s not doing something glamorous and exciting, he’s doing something necessary. He’s respectful about “quieting” the living dead, because he always remembers that they were once people, too.
**Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
***Third cousin, actually. Speaking of, have you noticed that trend in YA paranormals? I lurve you! I lurve you, too! Dammit, we’re related! Oh, wait! Happy day, it was all a lie! Let’s smooch.
Let's be honest. If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is most likely being tragically unproductive due to the shiny lure of Pinterest.