“Only the world’s dumbest person would run a risk like that again. Step forward — Darren Shan!”
Darren Shan (which is the name of the author and the protagonist of the CIRQUE DU FREAK series) was having a pretty normal life until one of his best friends finds an advertisement for the Cirque du Freak. After they “borrow” some money from their parents and sneak out at night, Darren and Steve discover a weird world that they never could have dreamed of. Darren is particularly enchanted by Mr. Crepsley and his performing spider, Madam Octa. This spider kills a goat on stage and then obeys Mr. Crepsley’s commands. When they stay after the show, Darren and Steve discover that Mr. Crepsley is a vampire!
Darren should have left well enough alone, but, unfortunately, he makes another crucial error in judgment. And another, and another. Horror is heaped upon horror and, at the end of the book, the lives of Darren and his friends and family are changed forever. In a very bad way.
A Living Nightmare is a horror novel for older children and young teens (I’d say ages 10-15 are probably the target audience) and it’s pretty effective. As an adult, I found it scary and it even gruesome in parts. Kids who don’t like horror may not appreciate it, but those who do are likely to find this to be a fast-paced, compelling, unputdownable read. The series is immensely popular around the world and a movie has been produced.
Even though Darren makes some really dumb mistakes, he’s a likeable kid who you can’t help but root for. I do wish, however, that he’d had a better grammar teacher. Sentences such as “Steve and me looked at each other and gulped” really make me cringe.
As a parent, I hated the ending of A Living Nightmare. I can’t tell you what happens or it will spoil the whole thing, but I’ll just say that it’s obvious that Darren Shan (the author) was not a parent when he wrote this. A particular conversation that Darren’s mom and dad have at the end would never happen. But, even so, the ending is completely (horrifyingly) compelling and will have most of Shan’s readers eager to pick up the next book, The Vampire’s Assistant, immediately. Which is what I did.
There are twelve books in the CIRQUE DU FREAK series and Blackstone Audio has been releasing them on audio. They’re narrated by Ralph Lister. Lister is one of the most enthusiastic narrators I’ve ever listened to and sometimes I love him and sometimes I don’t. He’s wonderful with the scary tense scenes, but he tends to overplay the quieter scenes which, I think, disrupts the tension-release that author Darren Shan does so well. I’d suggest listening to a sample to make sure you like Lister’s style.
Cirque Du Freak (The Darren Shan Saga) — (1999-2004) Ages 9-12. Publisher: Darren Shan is just an ordinary schoolboy who enjoys hanging out with his three best friends. Then one day they stumble across as invitation to visit the Cirque du Freak, a mysterious freak show. Only two tickets are available, so they draw straws to see who will go. As if by destiny, Darren wins one, and what follows is his horrifying descent into the dark and bloody world of vampires. This is Darren’s story.
The Saga of Larten Crepsley — (2010-2012) Young adult. Publisher: The highly anticipated prequel to the New York Times bestselling Cirque Du Freak series! Before Cirque Du Freak… Before the war with the vampaneze… Before he was a vampire. Larten Crepsley was a boy. As a child laborer many centuries ago, Larten Crepsley did his job well and without complaint, until the day the foreman killed his brother as an example to the other children. In that moment, young Larten flies into a rage that the foreman wouldn’t survive. Forced on the run, he sleeps in crypts and eats cobwebs to get by. And when a vampire named Seba offers him protection and training as a vampire’s assistant, Larten takes it. This is his story.