Birth of A Killer: The Saga of Larten Crepsley is the first book in a four-book prequel series to Cirque du Freak.
This series features a beloved CDF character, Larten Crepsley (Darren’s vampire master in CDF, also known as Mr. Crepsley), and the events in his 200-year existence before meeting Darren Shan.
Larten Crepsley is a boy working in a silkmaking sweatshop in the 19th century, where he witnesses the foreman brutally drowning his cousin and best friend, Vur Horsten, in a vat of water. Enraged at this heinous act, Larten attacks, and the foreman ends up dead.
Horrified, Larten decides to flee, knowing the law would not be on his side. He runs as far as his legs can carry him, and takes shelter in a graveyard crypt, eating cobwebs (!) to keep himself from starving. Little does he know that the crypt is the lair of 500-year old vampire general Seba Nile!
Seba Nile reveals his identity as a creature of the night, and offers his protection if Larten enlists as his assistant, and eventually becomes a vampire. With no life to return to, Larten takes Seba’s offer, marking the start of his immortal life.
While it’s not necessary to read Cirque du Freak before this prequel series, The Saga of Larten Crepsley is a must-read for CDF fans, who will welcome the joy of reading about familiar and beloved CDF characters once more. Aside from Larten and Seba, younger versions of friends from Vampire Mountain (Charna’s guts!) make their appearances: Vancha March, Paris Skyle, Mika Van der Leth, and Gavner Purl. There’s also Hibernius Tall and an early form of Cirque du Freak, and the mysterious Mr. Tiny.
The book also gives us insight into the roots of the war between the vampires and the vampaneze (the bloodthirsty breakaway vampire faction) that comes to the fore in Cirque du Freak. In fact, Larten has his first encounter with the rogue vampaneze Murlough in this book, although he’s not yet crazy here.
Reading Birth of a Killer brings me back to six years ago, when I discovered the magic of Cirque du Freak. Larten’s apprenticeship to Seba, his stint as a circus hand under Mr. Tall’s supervision, and his first visit to Vampire Mountain triggered a flood of Cirque du Freak memories that had me longing to reread the series again.
Of course, at this point, I’m also a more critical reader than I was back then, and my little complaint is how modern Larten’s voice is, considering it’s supposed to be set in the 1800s. Nevertheless, I can overlook that, as the years are flying by fast (this book covers over 20 years already), and because Darren Shan writes exactly as I remember — smart, wickedly subtle (except for the gut-churning gore, of course), and compelling. There are a lot of great moments in this book, some spooky, some thrilling, some laugh out loud funny, and and surprisingly, some tender and full of emotion. Larten’s personality, shaped by his human experiences, is more complex than Darren’s, and their journey towards becoming fully-blooded vampires, as well as their relationship with their masters, make for very interesting comparisons.
Like the Cirque du Freak installments, Birth of a Killer is a quick read with a cliffhanger ending, but I think I can safely say I won’t be disappointed with this series. I’m looking forward to reading the next book, Ocean of Blood, which comes out on April 28.