Friday, 25 March 2011

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant by Darren Shan

Series: The Saga of Darren Shan, Bind-Up One
Books It Includes: Cirque du Freak
                                                    The Vampire’s 
                                        Tunnels of Blood
Publisher: HarperCollin’s Children’s Books
Format: Paperback
Published: Individually Published: 2000
This Edition: 2009
Number of Pages: 512
Book: Bought
Genre: Horror, Urban Fantasy, Action, Children, Children-YA Crossover
Recommended Age: 9+

Darren Shan is an ordinary boy, until he and his best friend Steve visit the weird and bizarre Cirque Du Freak, where they come face to face with a creature of the night.  Then Darren has to confront his deepest fears and sacrifice everything as he enters a darker world to become the vampire’s assistant...
Featuring the first three adventures in the internationally successful series The Saga of Darren Shan.

 These three books reminded me of that child-like fear of monsters, a time when the fear is more innocent and almost realistic.  I’m not sure what it was about the books, but they just took me back to my first horror novel, that scared me far more than it should have, and haunted my nightmares a little.  Of course, these books didn’t scare me witless, but the writing and the story brought the memories back to me.
This is definitely a book for younger readers – young teens or pre-teens, maybe 9 year olds and above – and I can see why for that age group Darren Shan is known as “The Master of Horror”.  But even if it was quite far below the level that scares me, I actually enjoyed this book quite a lot. 
Darren was a mystery to me: I couldn’t figure out his age.  I saw the movie before I read the books, and pictured Darren as a sixteen-year-old.  But he definitely isn’t in the series.  It bugged me.  Sometimes he’d seem old – but, then again, not surprising after everything he went through – yet he was young enough to get away with drinking blood from his friend’s knee and act like it was a joke.  He also cried a fair bit, and was called “young boy”, yet had a girlfriend at one point.  So confusing!  Also, he wore a pirate-style outfit, which fitted in at the Cirque, but not so much out in public.  Despite the contradictions, I quite liked Darren, he was a good lead boy: smart, resourceful, and brave.  But still can’t get the pirate and the annoying age stiff out of my head... it’s bugging me.
Evra was my favourite character, I think.  Evra’s a snake boy, born to perfectly normal parents, who gave him up, so he’s lived in circus freak shows all his life.  He’s got a good sense of humour, and I love his easy-going personality, and his attachment to his snake.  Also, he’s a really friendly guy who took Darren under his wing, and became his best friend.  I just loved him!
Mr Crepsley’s kind of creepy, and very mysterious.  Although he’s a little harsh at times, and often very distant, I could tell he cared about Darren.  And I loved the way Shan slowly revealed snippets of his past, and of the vampire heritage.
Cirque du Freak, the first in the saga, is mainly for setting the scene: nothing particularly terrifying happens in it.  It introduces all the characters, and presents the world of Darren Shan to us.  Admittedly, this one wasn’t as exciting as the others, and was rather short, but it did set the scene well.  Basically, it explains how – and why – Darren (the character, not the author) becomes Mr Crepsley’s Vampire’s Assistant, and how he deals with the consequences. 
The Vampire’s Assistant starts one or two months after Cirque du Freak, and is about how Darren adjusts to life in his new role at the Cirque.  It’s far more exciting, mainly because of all the brilliant Cirque members, including The Wolf Man (a half human, half wolf mix – and the blend of the two blood has driven him insane.  I don’t even wanna know how he happened), Cormac Limbs (he can grow all his limbs back at will: cool or what?) and Truska (a woman who can grow a beard with a single thought, and make it retract back in as well).  And that is only touching the surface of the group.  They’re just brilliant, and a really tight-knit group.  And then there are the Little People (teeny, carnivorous people who never speak and are somehow connected to Mr Tiny, whose full name is Mr Des Tiny.  Mr Destiny.  Can’t be coincidence), who appeared in this book, and made me wonder who – or what – they are.  I have no idea.  But a good book with laughs in it, along with terror, death and insane eco-warrior.  I’m all for saving the environment, but this man was seriously unbalanced.  You have to read The Vampire’s Assistant to find out what he did, though.
Tunnels of Blood takes place a year or so after The Vampire’s Assistant, and is by far the best.  Mr Crepsley needs to leave the cirque for unkown business, and Darren and Evra have gone with him.  Crepsley disappears at night, leaving Darren and Evra to do as they please, but when six bodies turn up, drained of blood, the two boys instantly become suspicious of Crepsley and his bizarre habits.  Could he be the killer?  And if he is, what would they do?  Yes, this one was more exciting by far, although it starts off not-so-scary, really picking up the suspense approximately half way through.  And Darren gets a girlfriend!  Sweet, and very interesting to read about.  Yes, the best by far, full of suspense, suspicion, murder, and “Young Murlough”, who made me laugh.
Other than the age and questionable fashion sense of Darren, there were a few parts that  niggled at me.  These were the fact that too many “!”s were used.  The other is Shan had little snippets at the end of lots of the chapters.  Some made me want to read on to see what happened.  Others gave too much away and made me want to scream “I don’t want to know this!  I want this to be a surprise!  A shock, a twist, build suspense!”  But, no.  I had to put up with annoying teasers that I really didn’t want to know.   Plus, no female leads: so annoying!  It was boys boys boys everywhere.  Admittidly, they were good characters, but still.
The good points outweighed it all, though.  The chapters were nice and short, making me want to read on, the writing was simple and flowed, and overall the book was rather addictive.  I loved the characters, wanted to live in the Cirque, and really liked the way the vampire heritage slowly unfurled.
I'm definately either buying the rest of the series, or getting them out of the library!

P.S. If you’ve seen the movie, does anyone know why it’s American, why the characters are all older?  It doesn’t make sense!

Star Rating:
3¾ Out of 5

Read this book if you liked:
The Demonta by Darren Shan
Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan
Horowitz Horror by Anthony Horowitz

Challenges It's Taking Part In:


Diana said...

great review!! but i have a quick question- im a bit confused! so is vampires assistant the 2nd book in the saga? how does that work with the movie??

Cliona said...

I loved this book too! And Tunnels of Blood was awesome : ) I don't know why the movie is American, because Darren is Irish. (yay!) Fab review!

By the way ( and I don't mean this in a bad way!) this book doesn't count in the British Books Challenge because Ireland isn't part of Britain (apart from Northern Ireland, but Darren's from Limerick) and Irish authors don't count.