Verdict: A fun, quick and easy read, promising an enjoyable series to come.
My cousin has been telling me to read this series for years and, seeing as I’m doing the Kidlit rounds this year, I finally gave in.
The first book in The Saga of Darren Shan (written by Darren Shan, by the way. I know, I was confused at first too), Cirque du Freak introduces us to improbable hero and all-round nice guy Darren, who scores tickets to a freak show with his best friend Steve Leopard.
Leopard is not Steve’s real name, we are quickly told. His real name is Steve Leonard, but the nickname prevails because of his fearsome temper and wild attitude. Darren is a very different kind of boy. He loves his family, especially his sister Annie and, in general, is a good, normal kid.
Well. Okay. ‘Normal’, except his fascination with spiders which lands him in a heap of trouble. Deadly trouble.
Cirque du Freak is a refreshing take on the vampire myths. I particularly like how new vampires are “blooded” and Larten Crepsley’s matter-of-fact attitude about all things undead. Along with Crepsley, a host of equally compelling fantastical characters are introduced. The Cirque is home to a myriad of interesting personalities and talents: there’s the Snake Boy, a man who can chew, swallow and regurgitate metal without harming himself, and a bearded lady, as a nod to circus shows of old. Darren and Steve enjoy themselves immensely but, when Darren and Steve linger after the show, things quickly go downhill.
When Darren finds himself, through his own folly, having to choose between saving his best friend’s life and a fate worse than his own death, you find yourself willing him to do what he must – simply so you can find out more about the Cirque characters.
Unfortunately, when the inevitable end comes, there is never really any doubt about what choice Darren will make, so there is a lack of drama about his decision. At this stage, however, I’m wondering about Crepsley’s motivations. Something more is going on there, but I suppose I’ll have to read the rest of the series to find out what.
The final chapters tie up loose ends nicely, as well as introducing a new threat that is bound to crop up again. I hope so, anyway.
As children’s books go, this is not the best one I’ve read this year, but it’s worth a read. In terms of narrative voice, I found there were too many exclamation marks littering the page, which had the adverse effect of lessening the impact of shocking sentences. That said, the pace was good and the story didn’t linger on unnecessary details before launching into the main plot.
A decent introductory novel to a series that I hope indicates the best is yet to come.