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.
Warning: This is the third book in the CIRQUE DU FREAK series, so this review will contain spoilers ..Show More »for the previous books. You don’t have to read the previous books because author Darren Shan gives a short but sufficient recap, but starting at the beginning would be ideal.
Mr. Crepsley is the only full vampire that Darren had ever met until Gavner Purl, Vampire General, shows up at the Cirque du Freak. After Purl meets with Mr. Crepsley, Darren is told that he and his mentor will be taking a little break from the freak show and going to live in a city while Crepsley takes care of some business there. Darren is allowed to bring his friend Evra the snake-boy.
At first the city is fun and Darren even meets a girl who becomes his first girlfriend. But then things start going badly, as they always do. Darren and Evra see a news report which says that corpses have been showing up around town — corpses with the blood totally drained out! Naturally, Darren and Evra suspect Mr. Crepsley and they’re eager to stop his murderous activities. When they start following him on his nightly forays, they discover a new deadly evil.
Readers who enjoyed the first two CIRQUE DU FREAK books are certain to enjoy Tunnels of Blood. It’s another short, fast-moving installment that’s gruesome and terrifying. The scariness is nicely offset by some sweet moments of friendship and joy.
In each of the CIRQUE DU FREAK books so far I’ve had trouble believing in the events at the plot’s climax and resolution. This book’s plot is the most unlikely so far. Darren sets out a plan that is much more likely to be disastrous than to work, and it’s hard to believe he thought it was a good idea. Another problem is Mr. Crepsley’s unnecessary secretiveness which greatly increases the tension but doesn’t really make sense. Still, the author’s fans are likely to be forgiving of these little issues and, if they are, they’ll find Tunnels of Blood to be another exciting high-stress story.
Ralph Lister’s narration is sometimes brilliant and sometimes awful in Tunnels of Blood. I can’t stand his voice for Evra the snake-boy, and his voice for the villain is completely over the top, but Lister’s performance makes the whole thing even scarier. Again, I’d suggest listening to a sample before purchasing.
In Vampire Mountain, the previous book of Darren Shan’s CIRQUE DU FREAK series, Darren was asked to ..Show More »prove himself worthy of being a vampire by surviving a series of trials. If he fails, he dies. These trials will remind many readers of the tests Harry Potter endured in The Goblet of Fire. For example, for the first trial he must escape from a maze that’s filling with water. As the tasks go on, Darren becomes increasingly injured and fatigued and it seems likely that he’ll fail and be killed.
In my review of Vampire Mountain, I complained about the premise of this novel. I think most thoughtful readers will agree that making Darren undergo the trials is a little silly, not to mention ethically unsound, which is surprising since the vampire princes seem to be concerned with ethical behavior. The trials make a fun exciting story though, so I don’t mind overlooking the issue, but I could give this series higher marks if the plot held together a little better. Thankfully, toward the end of the story, Darren starts to reconsider the strange vampire traditions.
At the end of Trials of Death, there’s a major plot twist. Though I’ve been able to predict many of the twists in this series so far (I’ve read through book 11), I didn’t see this one coming. Trials of Death also ends on a cliffhanger (kind of literally), so make sure you’ve got the next book, The Vampire Prince, ready to go. I guarantee that you’ll want to open it immediately.
I continue to read this series in audio format. Ralph Lister exuberantly — sometimes too exuberantly — narrates these short novels. Give it a try at Audible or Downpour before committing. Also, notice that most of the books are only 4 or 5 hours long which may factor into your decision about whether it’s worth 12 Audible credits for the entire series on audio. You might want to check to see if your library carries them.
Warning: This review contains spoilers for the previous books.
In the previous book, Trials..Show More » of Death, author Darren Shan left us on a cliffhanger and I’m pretty sure that most readers will be running out to pick up this book, The Vampire Prince, no matter what anybody says. Still, it’s my job to say something about it, so I’ll do that.
OK, it’s no big surprise, I guess, that Darren survived the events of Trials of Death. When he recovers, he has a big decision to make. He managed to escape from Vampire Mountain, but now he has learned that the vampaneze are hiding in the caves in the mountain and that Kurda, who’s about to become a vampire prince, is a traitor. Kurda plans to let their enemies in as soon as he’s crowned. If Darren doesn’t tell the other princes in time, all the vampires in the mountain will be wiped out. But he’s still under a death sentence, so he risks his life to return with a warning.
Several of the events in this story are predictable (such as how Darren would be saved at the beginning), some of the events are really hard to believe in, and the centuries-old vampire princes are surprisingly immature and impulsive, but that didn’t make the story any less exciting. In fact, this is one of the most intense and emotional installments so far and it should be a hit with its target audience.
It’s nice to see Darren starting to think about the implications of war. He’s also realizing that the side he’s on doesn’t always do the right thing. It’s clear that there are even greater challenges ahead for Darren and his friends. I’m planning to be there.