“Only the world’s dumbest person would run a risk like that again. Step forward — Darren Shan!” ..Show More » Darren Shan (which is the name of the author and the protagonist of the CIRQUE DU FREAK series) was having a pretty normal life until one of his best friends finds an advertisement for the Cirque du Freak. After they “borrow” some money from their parents and sneak out at night, Darren and Steve discover a weird world that they never could have dreamed of. Darren is particularly enchanted by Mr. Crepsley and his performing spider, Madam Octa. This spider kills a goat on stage and then obeys Mr. Crepsley’s commands. When they stay after the show, Darren and Steve discover that Mr. Crepsley is a vampire!
Darren should have left well enough alone, but, unfortunately, he makes another crucial error in judgment. And another, and another. Horror is heaped upon horror and, at the end of the book, the lives of Darren and his friends and family are changed forever. In a very bad way.
A Living Nightmare is a horror novel for older children and young teens (I’d say ages 10-15 are probably the target audience) and it’s pretty effective. As an adult, I found it scary and it even gruesome in parts. Kids who don’t like horror may not appreciate it, but those who do are likely to find this to be a fast-paced, compelling, unputdownable read. The series is immensely popular around the world and a movie has been produced.
Even though Darren makes some really dumb mistakes, he’s a likeable kid who you can’t help but root for. I do wish, however, that he’d had a better grammar teacher. Sentences such as “Steve and me looked at each other and gulped” really make me cringe.
As a parent, I hated the ending of A Living Nightmare. I can’t tell you what happens or it will spoil the whole thing, but I’ll just say that it’s obvious that Darren Shan (the author) was not a parent when he wrote this. A particular conversation that Darren’s mom and dad have at the end would never happen. But, even so, the ending is completely (horrifyingly) compelling and will have most of Shan’s readers eager to pick up the next book, The Vampire’s Assistant, immediately. Which is what I did.
There are twelve books in the CIRQUE DU FREAK series and Blackstone Audio has been releasing them on audio. They’re narrated by Ralph Lister. Lister is one of the most enthusiastic narrators I’ve ever listened to and sometimes I love him and sometimes I don’t. He’s wonderful with the scary tense scenes, but he tends to overplay the quieter scenes which, I think, disrupts the tension-release that author Darren Shan does so well. I’d suggest listening to a sample to make sure you like Lister’s style.
Warning: This is the second book in the CIRQUE DU FREAK series, so this review necessarily contains ..Show More »spoilers for Book 1.
Darren Shan’s life is officially a mess after several monumental screw-ups which were detailed in the previous appropriately named book, A Living Nightmare. He has left home and joined the Cirque du Freak as Mr. Crepsley’s assistant. Mr. Crepsley is a vampire and Darren is now a half-vampire. Darren has super strength and speed and, he discovers, he’s dangerous to humans. He’s bummed out because not only has he left his family and friends (who think he’s dead), but he now worries that he’ll never be able to have any friends at all. He also despairs because he knows that, eventually, he’ll have to start drinking human blood…. or die.
Darren’s a sweet kid, despite his mistakes, so readers will be pleased to see Darren making a couple of friends in The Vampire’s Assistant. One is Evra, the snake-boy from the show, and another is Sam, a kid from a town near where the Cirque du Freak is camped. Author Darren Shan is wise to give us a little break from the terror as Darren, Evra and Sam act like normal boys for a while and as Darren meets his new freaky “family” and learns how to do his chores for the show. Readers will also be pleased to notice that Mr. Crepsley, who’s become sort of a father figure, is pretty ethical for a vampire. (Although, paradoxically, what he did to Darren in book 1 is not very ethical.)
Soon enough things start going wrong. There’s a camp of environmentalists nearby and one of them takes an interest in the goings-on at Cirque du Freak. When he gets involved, something gruesome and horrible happens — something that will haunt Darren for the rest of his life. I was grossed out and disturbed by these events and I’d recommend that parents read The Vampire’s Assistant before giving this series to a squeamish child. The massive popularity of the series suggests that many children can handle the horror, but I don’t think my 11-year old daughter can.
Author Darren Shan does a great job creating tension. Foreshadowing and short chapters with cliffhanger endings keep the reader turning pages. I didn’t believe in some of Darren’s actions, especially at the climax of the story, but younger readers probably won’t notice. (But I do hope they notice the improper use of the personal pronoun “me” instead of “I” in several of Darren’s sentences. Inexcusable.) (Update: Mr. Shan has informed me that this particular use of poor grammar was deliberate and is corrected by an English teacher who interacts with Darren in a future book).
I’m listening to the audio version of CIRQUE DU FREAK which is produced by Blackstone Audio and narrated by Ralph Lister. Again, Lister’s reading is a little too emphatic for me, but younger readers are likely to approve.