The Barnes & Noble Review
"I loved being scared when I was little." Those are the words of Darren Shan, the young, adventurous narrator and author of Cirque Du Freak, and I understand him very well. Just like him, I grew up loving comic book monsters and campfire tales that sent shivers down my spine. Now I'm all grown up and still love being scared. Ever read a book that was so spellbinding it kept you hooked until the wee hours of night? Yes, they all promise that. But this is the real thing. For Shan's "true" tale is such frightful fun, I found myself reading the whole book in one sitting.
Darren Shan is like any other curious schoolboy who loves to hang out with his friends and read Spawn comics. He also has a little fixation with spiders. One of those insects graces the mysterious pamphlet that his friend Alan steals from the pocket of his big brother's pants. The pamphlet is an advertisement for a strange circus of freaks that is currently playing in their town. Darren and his three buddies -- Alan, Tommy and Darren's best friend, Steve -- are instantly smitten with the idea of attending. They pool their money and send Steve to get three tickets, but they soon find out they can only buy two. They draw straws, and Darren and Steve find themselves the lucky ones.
Finally, at night, they go to a decrepit old theater to witness the circus. What they see and what they get themselves into is too scary (and entertaining) to reveal here. There's also a lot of humor sprinkled throughout. Each chapter seamlessly leads from one dark room into another, introducing us to a supernatural world populated by a really cool cast of characters. (J. Mojica)
The scenario is compelling, and the author mines the exploitative history of early 20th century sideshows to create an artfully macabre cirque du freak.
...sure to start some great urban legends...
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With strong sales overseas and a movie deal in the works, book one in The Saga of Darren Shan series is poised to capture a wide audience of series horror readers. After a rather slow buildup, a boy with the same name as the author sneaks out with best friend Steve to an illicit freak show, and his life becomes entangled with a vampire spider-wrangler, Mr. Crepsley. "This is a true story," writes Shan. "In real life, bad things happen. People die. Fights are lost. Evil often wins." The scenario is compelling, and the author mines the exploitative history of early 20th-century sideshows to create an artfully macabre "Cirque du Freak." But Darren's actions are often undermotivated: "I can't explain why Madam Octa [the spider] meant so much to me, or why I was placing my life in such danger to have her. Looking back, I'm no longer sure what drove me on." Also his intermittent attraction to and repulsion by the vampire is never fully explored. His behavior may be explained in the sequel, The Vampire's Assistant (due in Sept.), but the open ending leaves so many loose ends that readers may leave more frustrated than intrigued, especially since the characters' wooden dialogue drains them of personality ("I'm upset," says Steve. "It hurt, what Mr. Crepsley said, and you ignoring me at school... If you break up our friendship, I don't know what I'll do"). Readers interested in boys becoming vampires would be better served by M.T. Anderson's Thirsty and those fascinated with freaks by Iain Lawrence's Ghost Boy. Ages 10-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Wasting no time in setting a tone of spine-tingling horror, Darren Shan tells his readers right at the beginning, "This is a true story." Darren and his best friend, Steve, secretly buy tickets for an illegal freak show. They are spellbound at the fascinating performances of the Wolfman, Rhamus Twobellies and Alexander Ribs. But nothing can match the amazing feats of Mr. Crepsley and his deadly spider, Madam Octa. Steve recognizes the man from the cover of one of his horror books—Mr. Crepsley is a vampire. Darren's envy of the spider prompts him to make a foolish attempt at thievery. And when Steve lies near death, the victim of a lethal spider bite, Darren's only chance to save him drives him to a terrifying decision—to become the vampire's assistant. The author's choice of using a "mock-umentary" style is a brilliant one. Rather than the usual frights associated with the horror genre, the reader is further addled by the sense of reality when Darren falls into a nightmare of vampirish proportions. Readers will be howling for the sequel (due September, 2001) to this bone-chilling novel. 2001, Little Brown, $15.95. Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Christopher Moning
School Library Journal
Gr 4-8-In his introduction, 12-year-old Darren claims that this is a true story, though the names have been changed and the country (obviously England) kept secret. When a bizarre-sounding freak show comes to town, he and his friend Steve sneak out to attend, and Steve recognizes one of the performers-as a centuries-old vampire. Darren decides he must steal the vampire's performing, poisonous spider. The theft is successful, and he learns to control Madam Octa with a combination of flute music and ESP-until she bites Steve. Darren must then sell himself into vampire slavery to get the cure to the spider's poison. This volume is neither as well written nor as compulsively readable as the "Harry Potter" books (Scholastic), though surely J. K. Rowling's endorsement on the cover will win it a few fans. Most of the characters aren't developed much beyond their names and a brief description. The slowness of the plot in the beginning might turn some readers off, but once the supernatural enters, they will be hooked. The fun here is in the details and in the uniqueness of the non-evil vampire monster. Several volumes of the series are already out in England, and the movie rights have already been purchased, ensuring that this title and probably its sequels will be in demand.-Timothy Capehart, Leominster Public Library, MA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Read an Excerpt
I've always been fascinated by spiders. I used to collect them when I was younger. I'd spend hours rooting through the dusty old shed at the bottom of our garden, hunting the cobwebs for lurking eight-legged predators. When I found one, I'd bring it in and let it loose in my bedroom.
It used to drive my mom crazy!
Usually, the spider would slip away after no more than a day or two, never to be seen again, but sometimes they hung around longer. I had one who made a cobweb above my bed and stood guard for almost a month. Going to sleep, I used to imagine the spider creeping down, crawling into my mouth, sliding down my throat, and laying loads of eggs in my belly. The baby spiders would hatch after a while and eat me alive, from the inside out.
I loved being scared when I was little.
When I was nine, my mom and dad gave me a small tarantula. It wasn't poisonous or very big, but it was the greatest gift I'd ever received. I played with that spider almost every waking hour of the day. Gave it all sorts of treats: flies and cockroaches and tiny worms. Spoiled it rotten.
Then, one day, I did something stupid. I'd been watching a cartoon in which one of the characters was sucked up by a vacuum cleaner. No harm came to him. He squeezed out of the bag, dusty and dirty and mad as hell. It was very funny.
So funny, I tried it myself. With the tarantula.
Needless to say, things didn't happen quite like they did in the cartoon. The spider was ripped to pieces. I cried a lot, but it was too late for tears. My pet was dead, it was my fault, and there was nothing I could do about it.
My parents practically hollered the roof down when they found out what I'd done -- the tarantula had cost quite a lot of money. They said I was irresponsible, and from that day on they never again let me have a pet, not even an ordinary garden spider.
I started with that tale from the past for two reasons. One will become obvious as this book unfolds. The other reason is:
This is a true story.
I don't expect you to believe me -- I wouldn't believe it myself if I hadn't lived it -- but it is. Everything I describe in this book happened, just as I tell it.
The thing about real life is, when you do something stupid, it normally costs you. In books, the heroes can make as many mistakes as they like. It doesn't matter what they do, because everything works out in the end. They'll beat the bad guys and put things right and everything ends up cool.
In real life, vacuum cleaners kill spiders. If you cross a busy road without looking, you get whacked by a car. If you fall out of a tree, you break some bones.
Real life's nasty. It's cruel. It doesn't care about heroes and happy endings and the way things should be. In real life, bad things happen. People die. Fights are lost. Evil often wins.
I just wanted to make that clear before I began.
One more thing: my name isn't really Darren Shan. Everything's true in this book, except for names. I've had to change them because... well, by the time you get to the end, you'll understand.
I haven't used any real names, not mine, my sister's, my friends, or teachers. Nobody's. I'm not even going to tell you the name of my town or country. I don't dare.
Anyway, that's enough of an introduction. If you're ready, let's begin. If this were a made-up story, it would begin at night, with a storm blowing and owls hooting and rattling noises under the bed. But this is a real story, so I have to begin where it really started.
It started in a toilet.
Copyright © 2001 by Darren Shan