This adventure story traces the early life of master vampire Larten Crepsley. Sent to work in a Dickensian factory, young Larten kills the abusive foreman and flees. He takes shelter in a cemetery crypt where he meets the 500-year-old vampire General Seba Nile, who explains to the terrified youngster that vampires aren't evil. Although they drink human blood, just as the legends say, they do not harm those on whom they feed. When he invites Larten to travel with him as his assistant, the boy agrees. As the first entry in a projected series, this story includes quite a bit of exposition. The plot action covers more than 20 years, taking Larten through his first "blooding" and into full vampire status, and features his first meetings with mysterious Cirque owner Hibernius Tall; Seba's vampire ally Paris Skyle; and the vampaneze Murlough. At times, the pacing feels rather rushed with the effort to introduce many important characters, settings, and themes from Shan's "Cirque du Freak" saga (Little, Brown). Transitions are often abrupt, jumping several years between chapters. A cliff-hanger ending promises further revelations. "Cirque du Freak" aficionados will be intrigued by this glimpse into Crepsley's formative years, but the uninitiated will want to read the original books first.