Apocalyptic stories are very popular now, in both literature and tv/movies, so providing a fresh take on this idea can be a difficult task, but in Released, author Megan Duncan has done just that. Instead of the very popular zombies or vampires, Duncan has created a new apocalyptic world full of demons. Now, I’m a fan of zombies, vampires, werewolves and the such, but my love for the tv show Supernatural has led to a fascination with demonology; therefore when it comes to using demons in a story, I’m not easily impressed. But Released has definitely impressed me with its unique spin on an overly used idea, its likable characters, and its layered story.Relased, the first book in Duncan’s Agents of Evil Series, introduces us to seventeen year old Abby, her older brother Carter, and his best friend Max. When the novel begins the world has already been overrun by demons and the three teenagers, having lost their parents and friends, are alone and struggling to survive. After hearing radio transmissions offering hope of military protection, the three decide to make their way across the wasteland that the country has become and head to New Mexico and the military base.The novel is narrated by Abby, providing a very intimate relationship, not just between the reader and Abby, but between the reader and all that happens throughout the novel. While reading I never felt like I was on the outside looking in or like I was merely listening to someone recount events; I felt like I was right in the middle of all the action, like Abby’s journey was my journey too. As the voice of the novel, Abby’s character is integral to the reader’s experience. Connecting with and liking Abby’s character is vital, I think, to whether or not readers will want to continue reading till the very end. But Abby is so beautifully crafted, that it would be hard for anyone to not like or connect with her. I like the way that Duncan has made Abby a very accessible and relatable character. She isn’t a superhero by any means- she isn’t Buffy- but she isn’t a delicate wallflower either. I find that many YA authors often depict their protagonists, especially female protagonists, as very weak, cautious, and unadventurous in the beginning of their novels, but by the end they somehow transform into these strong, brave, powerful badass characters…but the transformation feels forced and unnatural. With Abby, Duncan has created a very realistic female-she’s smart, funny, and courageous but she has her flaws and insecurities- whose character grows in a very natural, organic way throughout the novel. Carter, the brains, and Max, the brawn, are also both very likable characters. My genuine affection and interest in the trio never wavered or felt forced throughout the novel.The actual demons are quit different than what I am used to. I’m used to a more humanistic type of demon, whereas the demons in Released are more animalistic. But I really like the different kind of fear and questions that these demons induced in me as the reader, and the obstacles and circumstances that they presented to the characters. I was worried at first that this animalistic nature of the demons would make them mundane, but as the novel progresses the trio, and readers alike, discover that these demons may not be as simple minded as they seem. Duncan throws in some wicked twists and curveballs regarding the demons, their purpose, and where they came from that could set up for a lot of really compelling plotlines in the rest of the series.The vicious, animalistic nature of the demons does provide for some fast paced, heart stopping action though. The action often left me breathless and captivated. I love the way Duncan writes the action scenes in a very real, gritty way. The characters are in the middle of a demon apocalypse, there’s going to be blood, violence, and death- all things that Duncan isn’t afraid to show in detail. I have issues with YA authors who underestimate their audience and I really appreciate the way that Duncan didn’t even try to sugarcoat anything, showing that she doesn’t underestimate the YA audience’s ability to handle such realistic notions.Released isn’t just all monsters and action though. There’s a real layered complexity to the novel as well, as Duncan explores our basic human nature. Her characters are just normal people who are faced with extraordinary circumstances and must learn to survive. But what does that mean? How far are people willing to go to survive? It’s easy to call the demons monsters, but are they really the most dangerous thing our main characters have to fear? These are just a few thought provoking questions that Duncan has subtly weaved throughout this novel.Released is a captivating, action packed, and refreshing take on an old idea. This book is a wonderful blend of the supernatural and the psychological, with a fun bit of humor and romance thrown in. I really enjoyed it and I’m super excited to read the rest of the series.