Darren Shan has sold over 15 million books worldwide in 31 different languages, and already has one Hollywood film under his belt. His new novel, Birth of a Killer, is back in familiar territory. Shan's first horror novel for children, Cirque du Freak, was published 10 years ago, and now the story comes full circle, telling the life story of Larten Crepsley, the vampire from Cirque who "started as a nobody but ended up changing the world forever".
It's unnerving stuff. I could barely read the section set in the 19th century, where Traz, the foreman of the silk cocoon factory, drowns Larten's young cousin in a bubbling vat. Larten attacks and kills the foreman and then has to flee for his life. Shan says in his succinct, direct style: "There was no home for him in the city any more. He was all alone in the world, and marked for death." Then Larten finds himself in a graveyard where he encounters Seba Nile, a vampire, and makes the decision that will colour his entire future.
Shan is a very underestimated writer. His writing is slick, his dialogue sharp and clever, his plotting immaculate. His books ooze with the kind of creepy, dark atmosphere and powerful characters that young teenage readers lap up. Shan is honing his craft with every book, and I look forward to the next gore-fest with relish.