epinions.com | 05 July 2005 | ???
The Blooding of Darren Shan: Welcome To “The Cirque Du Freak” Jul 05 '05 (Updated Sep 17 '05)Author's Product Rating Product Rating: 5.0Pros Good introduction to the series, great read for teens into darker themes.Cons Some parents might object to some of the content.The Bottom Line Learn how Darren Shan became a half vampire, the perils of friendship and the choices that ones makes to save someone’s life. Full Review I received the second book in the Cirque Du Freak series from a friend when he came across it at a small bookstore, the title - according to him - made him think of me and he purchased it thinking that it was the first in the series. “The Vampire’s Assistant” is actually the second in the series with the first being “Cirque Du Freak: The Saga of Darren Shan”. The series is targeted at teens who get into darker stories; my oldest was the only one that showed any desire in reading the series but after the third one he lost interest in them because the stories shifted from city themes to remote locations and to him weren’t “all that believable” [which is funny given the content of the books]. He read the entire series but said that the first three were the best. If you are going to start out with the series you’ll need to get your hands on “The Saga of Darren Shan” to get the basics of how Darren crossed paths with his soon-to-be mentor of the dark side, trials of friendship and a very bewitching Madam Octa. After I finished the second book I was hooked and headed out to get the first and third in the series - both of which I finished in one weekend.Cirque Du Freak - The Saga of Darren ShanDarren Shan’s exact age is never really disclosed at the beginning of the book but you gather that he’s between twelve and fourteen based on what he is learning at school and his friends. For all intents and purposes he’s an average kid that loves spiders, enjoys hanging out with his friends and even though he does get into a little bit of trouble here and there, he’s basically a good kid that makes a couple of bad judgment calls. The biggest one came when his friend Steve found a flyer for something called ‘The Cirque Du Freak’. With an ill hatched plan to try to get tickets for the show, all the kids that Darren and Steve hung out with were dead set on attending it - especially after they asked several adults what the big deal was about them. To them the show was considered forbidden fruit, no matter what people said about it, how badly the performers were treated and how most of it was a ruse - they didn’t listen. Steve was the one that decided he was going to take matters into his own hands and get the tickets; the only problem was that he only had one flyer and you could only purchase two tickets per flyer. That meant that Steve had to pick one person from the group to take. Lady Luck played a big part in this ... and when it was all said and done, Darren was the one that ended up a winner.When they arrived at the theater they thought that they had been taken, the place was dark and deserted. That’s when they met Mr. Tall, the person that runs Cirque Du Freak. He was their first introduction to this macabre world of strange and bizarre things. After Mr. Tall inspected their tickets he led them to the seats where they saw some things that completely defied definition or explanation; Truska woman who could grow a beard at will, a true wolfman, Alexander Ribs - the skinniest man in the world, Rhamus Twobellies - the man with two stomachs, Hans Hands - who could walk and run on his hands faster than any adult could run with his or her feet and the one that everyone was amazed by - Larten Crepsley and his beautiful but potentially deadly assistant Madame Octa. Through the entire show the boys sat captivated by the thing that they saw, things that they couldn’t explain ... but when Mr. Crepsley came on stage Steve’s demeanor changed. He was scared, beyond scared, he was petrified. It wasn’t until after the show was over that Darren learned exactly why Steve was so entranced by Crepsley. The first of a series of bad choices made by Darren.After Mr. Crepsley left the stage there were other performers - Gertha - the woman with teeth of steel, Sive and Seersa, The Twisting Sisters and of course the snake boy [Evra Von]. When it was announced that the show was truly over Steve and Darren made their way through the corridor but Steve told him that he was staying behind. Rushing him to the door Steve fled into the darkness but something told Darren that he’d better hang around to get to the bottom of things. That’s when Steve confronted Crepsley and revealed his true identity - Vur Horston, a real life vampire. Steve, more than anything, wanted to join the Cirque and become a vampire. Steve threatened Crepsley, threatened to expose him for what he really was if he didn’t turn him into a vampire and allow him to be his prodigy. Crepsley entertained the idea and agreed to test Steve out but was sickened by the taste of his blood. Crepsley said he was evil, a savage and could taste “the menace in your blood”. With Darren watching the entire event from the balcony, he had to seriously reconsider his friendship with Steve. Could he really trust someone that wanted to become a vampire?Darren also thought about Madame Octa, Crepsley’s assistant. She was a huge spider - something that Darren would have killed to have as a pet. The more he thought about her the more he wanted to sneak back to the Cirque and steal her. He figured that if Crepsley were really a vampire the best time to steal her would be when he was sleeping during the day. That was Darren’s second big mistake - stealing Octa. After he did manage to gain possession of her he took things slowly but eventually showed him to Steve and his sister. When Steve was bitten by Madame Octa and fell deadly ill Darren had to make a huge choice - confess that he’d stolen the spider after attending a show that he was forbidden to see or watching his best friend die. That is when the true story of Darren Shan starts - he must choose between leaving his family, friends and life behind to save someone that looked down upon him because he was spying on him after the Cirque.The second half of the book deals with Darren accepting the agreement with Crepsley to become his assistant, essentially a half vampire. To do this he would have to fake his own death, leave behind all that he knew and never see his family again. It was really interesting to read how Darren relished the last few days that he had with his family. he did things that were so basic and simple like having dinner with them or helping his father in the yard - soaking in everything he possibly could before he ‘died’. The agreement was that Crepsley would give Steve the antidote to Madame Octa’s bite in exchange for him becoming his assistant. The last part of the book shows how Darren has to adjust to a completely different life, being pressured to drink human blood instead of animal blood and his growing hatred of Crepsley for making him into a half vampire. The first book sets the stage for the rest of the series and gives you some basic information about Darren Shan before he was made into a half vampire. There are some passages that are slightly violent but honestly, kids are exposed to worse things on the evening news.The SeriesThe story of Darren Shan is told over the course of twelve books [so far] with each of them getting progressively more intricate, the plots evolve nicely but it’s just me personal opinion that none of them are as captivating as the second one [The Vampire’s Assistant]. The whole series is well written, contains mild violence and relatively no swearing. Adults who prefer that their children not be exposed to things like vampires, monsters, the supernatural and things of the like probably won’t like this series but my take on this is simply - if you will let them watch a movie like “The Lost Boys” or “Jeepers Creepers” [both of which are more violent that these books in my opinion] then why not let them read something instead of killing an hour and a half with a movie?The Bottom LineSince I started out with the second book in the series I was really interested to read the first one to find out exactly what happened - what led Darren Shan to being a half vampire. It took me about two hours to get through this one and as much as I hate to admit it - I was hooked on the series after reading “The Vampire’s Assistant”. I mean, these are books that are written in the teen fiction genre and are things that most adults would laugh at but the stories aren’t far fetched. Sure there are some strange elements at work here and there but most of what you are reading is plausible and possible. That’s what makes this such a good read - you catch yourself sitting there engrossed in the book and stop and say ... “You know, that could happen ...”. If you are into darker things, vampires or teen fiction then this is a great series to start reading. It offers a wide and colorful vocabulary, almost no swearing and might just give you shivers when you turn off the lights for the night!Read more...Return to reviews listing