Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver book review

Demon Copperhead was one of the novels that my followers across social media suggested I read throughout 2024. It’s a book that before reading it I’d heard a very 50/50 response to. The comments were either “too long and depressing” or “absolutely brilliant” so I knew what I was getting in for.

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Something I didn’t know until the last minute either was that this is a modern loose retelling of David Copperfield, a book I’ve not actually ever read so information of which meant little to be going into the book other than being able to tell people it as I spoke about the book.

Demon Copperhead tells the story of Demon who is banded around from poor parents to foster home to other guardians for most of his young life. It tells his story of growing up from boy to young man and the absolute struggles he has to deal with as someone who has no comfort space and no real family who wishes to care for him as parents or guardians should.

Demon Copperhead plot – 4.5/5

Demon Copperhead is depressing – there’s no fluffing it up. If you’re someone who has triggers, then it would definitely be worth looking them up before reading this book as plenty of negative things happen to Demon in his life.

In sight of all of this, Kingsolver has written the book with a slightly light tone to it. Yes, pretty much every bad thing that could happen to one person happens to Demon but there is still humour laced throughout the novel. Demon himself can often find the light side of things and Kingsolver will often describe things in a simple brutish way to make light of the situation. This made a potentially deeply morose story incredibly enjoyable and rather than depressing me, helped guide me through some of Demon’s dark moments.

Most of the novel is quite slow – this isn’t a fast-paced, full-of-action novel. However, the subject matters and the wonderfully written characters and general writing itself never made this feel like a slog to me. I never felt like: ugh, what’s coming next as what was happening was always so interesting and grounding that I wanted to keep reading about it.

Demon Copperhead characters – 4.5/5

I’ve written of how the lighter tone and sometimes comical tone of voice Kingsolver uses makes the book less dark but also the fantastic characters in here help with that too.

Demon has a fairly crappy start to life and that just persists, so his view on life is that generally, everything is pretty crap anyway. However, this doesn’t get him down, it simply sets a new standard for how life should be. Things that may seem like smaller highs to people with a safer and kinder start to life seem like far bigger highs for Demon as his bar is so low. Also, despite everything, he often remains kind and selfless, recognising those around him who have chosen to stay and those who are genuinely kind.

There are numerous other characters dotted throughout the book, some of whom you’ll come to despise and some of whom you’ll route for throughout and enjoy reading about.

It creates a cast of characters that feel real and gritty and gives you plenty of reasons to want to keep on reading about them.

Demon Copperhead final rating – 4.5/5

Demon Copperhead was either going to be a sink or swim for me based on the feedback I received before reading it. I can confidently say it swims. Demon Copperhead features a dark and often at times depressing story but one laced with moments of lightness and humour and a fantastically nonchalant writing style from Kingsolver that makes it very enjoyable. A wealth of great characters and a main protagonist in Demon whose depth is properly explored rather than serving as a placeholder to guide you through the story. Give Demon Copperhead a chance. Yes, it may not be the most uplifting book, but by the end of it, I guarantee you’ll absolutely love it.

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