greenmanreview.com | 01 May 2003 | Nellie Levine
In Trials of Death, Darren must prove himself worthy of being a half-vampire by facing a series of grueling tests that take place at Vampire Mountain. He comes within an inch of his life several times, as he makes his way through the Aquatic Maze and the Path of Needles, fights fire in the Hall of Flames, and fends off the Blooded Boars. Darren does prove his bravery, and demonstrates that even half-vampires have true emotions and ethics, as well as uncommon strength. Darren faces another trial no one has prepared him for, one that involves insurgency in the vampire ranks, as well as possible political corruption and betrayal. The book ends in a daring escape from the hands of the vampaneze, and a breathless leap into the unknown.The kids Shan includes in his stories sound real. For the most part, they think and talk like real kids, admitting through the voice of the writer what they wouldn't dare say in front of their parents or to their teachers. Shan's kids are also funny. The freaks are, well, freaky; not just in appearance, but in personality. And the vampires serve as surprising role models, exhibiting loyalty, honesty, and compassion, and demanding of Darren regular self-evaluation and improvement. Importantly, female characters are at least as strong and as smart as males. Whether they are human, freak, or vampire, they earn the same amount of respect as anyone, and contribute largely to Darren's development. Together, they all — kid, freak, and vampire — create a world that is partly realistic, mostly fantastic, entirely exciting to read about.There are a few very small references to drinking that might seem inappropriate to some parents. This is unfortunate, because otherwise the books contain a good number of positive lessons a young reader may not recognize as such. There is also a bit of gore and killing, which the squeamish would likely not enjoy too much. But the books are fun and engaging, and Darren is a kid with straightforward ethics and a good heart — a boy many kids will relate to and all readers will feel for. He learns and grows through the series, and faces challenges with bravery and cleverness; overall, he's a terrific main character. The series is highly imaginative; has a cool, contemporary edge; and is recommended for those kids who love good action that doesn't demand too much thinking. Cirque Du Freak is a wild, stay-up-late kind of read, and my daughter and I can't wait to see what happens next in the saga of Darren Shan.
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