Has Darren Shan sold his soul to the devil? That's a question I have asked myself after finishing all three of the books I have read so far in The Saga of Larten Crepsley. Why? Because the man has not failed to deliver even once, so surely there must be more than natural talent at play here?
I will try to make this review as spoiler-free as possible as far as Palace of the Damned is concerned, but if you have not yet read Ocean of Blood yet then you may want to navigate away from this page now by clicking here now. OK... for those of you still reading, Palace of the Damned picks up pretty much straight after the dramatic and bloody conclusion to the second book in the series. Larten is full of self-loathing following his actions on the Pearly Tornado, and he is now heading into the frozen Arctic wasteland where he intends to put himself out of his misery for good. Things are slightly complicated by the fact that he is still carrying the baby he 'rescued' from the ship, and with no sign of any form of civilization it looks as if this young child may die with him. However, after what seems like days he finds himself led to the legendary Palace of the book's title where something happens that changes everything. And there is no way that I am going to tell you what that is, although we do witness the naming of the baby.
Following the release of Ocean of Blood, and Larten's taking of the baby, there was some excitement among many fans as they speculated as to who the baby was, with most of them getting it spot on, and as this happens in the first few chapters of the book I don't think it is too much of a spoiler to say that it is Gavner Purl (but I'm not taking any chances.... highlight that space if you're not bothered about finding out the identity of the child). Yet again, Darren Shan treats his readers to another key morsel in the history of Larten Crepsley and this character goes on to play an important role in the rest of this book.
As in the previous two books in this series Palace of the Damned is split into several parts, with sometimes lengthy jumps in time between each one. So, after the first three chapters we leap forward from the Arctic wasteland to Paris, 1906, and herein lies my only criticism of this this book - I wanted it to be much longer. It is only 256 pages in length and I reckon there is easily another 50 plus pages of story that could be told to fill in some of the jumps in time (how did Larten and the child get to Paris for starters?). Maybe I am being just a little too picky as not all of the jumps in time are quite so huge though; in fact, the jump from Paris to Larten's next destination happens at just the right time in the story, and to fill in that journey with more detail would not have added to the story. I guess I am just greedy for more history of this great character.
I loved Ocean of Blood because of its focus on Larten's formative 'teenage' years, when he was initially full of reckless abandon, and then later seeing the influence various others had on his development towards 'adult' vampirehood. In this book we see yet another change in Larten as his life journey continues: he is still full of regret at his massacre of the people on the Pearly Tornado, but in Paris he faces another challenge as he falls in love with a human. Of course, Larten being Larten he omits to inform her that he is a vampire and therefore it was only going to be a matter of time before..... (I told you it would be spoiler free). However, his relationships with Alicia (for that is her name) and the child he rescued that she adopts as her own, are of paramount importance to the rest of his story in this instalment, right up until the final page where we are left hanging with those dreaded words To be continued..... If you are weak like me you will then go on to read the sample opening chapter of book four, to be titled Brothers To The Death. I kind of wish I hadn't done this, and I wish HarperCollins hadn't included it at the end of the book, as on reflection I qould have liked to be kept in suspense for the next six months or so. However, it wasn't all bad as this sample chapter does itself end on a cracking 'ooohhh-can't-wait-to-read-the-next-book' moment.
All in all Palace of the Damned is yet another superb addition to the saga from Darren Shan and I loved the way he has developed his character even more and we are now really beginning to see the Larten we first met in Cirque du Freak, although I am saddened a little by the fact that there is only one more book left in the series. I wonder what Darren has planned for his legion of fans once he has finished telling Larten's story? Palace of the Damned was released in the UK yesterday and my thanks go to the good people at HarperCollins for sending me a copy to review. Tonight I am off to see Darren Shan with Charlie Higson at the Bath Festival of Children's Literature and I am really looking forward to it. Watch this space for a report on the event.