Larten Crepsley leads a hard, hard life. One child amongst many, born during an industrial revolution, he works horrendously long and dangerous hours in a silk factory even though he's yet to see his teens. If the family is to eat, there is little choice. The foreman is a violent bully, issuing regular beatings, and nobody dares challenge him and if it wasn't for his orphan cousin, Vur, Larten's life would be grim indeed. But things never seem quite so dark when you have a true friend, do they?
And then, one day, Vur does challenge the wicked foreman. And he pays for it with his life, drowned in a vat of boiling water. And Larten cracks. In a fog of fury, he stabs Traz - a life for a life - and finds himself on the run. Grieving and starving, he holes up in a crypt for the night. It's the perfect hiding place and Larten thinks he'll be left well alone, even by those searching for the child labourer-turned-murderer.
But not so! In the crypt sits the mysterious Seba Nile, a member of the vampire clan in need of an assistant...
Huzzah! More Darren Shan vampires! I love these stories. Birth of a Killer is the first in a four-part prequel series and will follow our favourite outcast vampire, Larten, in the centuries leading up to the Saga of Darren Shan. I really enjoyed this first book - it's written with Shan's trademark page-turning skill and it has as much social comment as it does biting and bitey things. Seba Nile is a brilliant creation - a hard taskmaster with a corrosive wit, he made me laugh out loud several times. But he's also kindly and ethical, if only Larten could realise it.
Larten himself is in part a typical, sulky, wayward teenager. He's impulsive at times and he has a terrible temper, fired by a fierce sense of injustice, which Seba tries to give him control over. He's also tremendously introspective and spends a lot of time brooding. He's ambitious too, and endlessly curious about the vampire world he aspires to become a part of.
The exploration of vampire society is perhaps the most interesting thing for fans of the original series - Shan spends a lot of time explaining the hierarchy and filling out the history. Shan's bitey people are at once high-livers - they drink, they gamble, they brawl - and ascetics - undergoing lengthy trials and following exhaustive paths of enlightenment. It's fascinating stuff.
As this series will span just four books, we do skip long periods of time. Larten's a boy one minute and thirty years old the next. I would probably have preferred more books and leisurely pace, but I guess you can't have everything! Fans will love it and those new to Shan's world will be able to read Birth of a Killer as a standalone novel.
Recommended. But of course.