Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Cirque du Freak - A Living Nightmare by Darren Shan

First published in 2000.

Darren Shan is just an ordinary schoolboy who enjoys hanging out with his three best friends. Then one day they stumble across an 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. (

Oh to be twelve-years-old again. Reading this reminded me of reading all those Goosebumps stories and Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories series and all of that. A bunch of my friends and I would collect books of scary stories (all different kinds) and share them during recess and at sleep overs. I would have loved this then and dammit, I love it now!

The story focuses behind the eyes of the main character with the same name as the author (which I’m not sure how I actually feel about that) as he meanders along at school and in life. Then the Cirque du Freak comes into play, a forbidden freak show that only two have passes to, that changes Darren’s life forever. This isn’t your ordinary freak show by any means. When the emcee of the show announces that you may get hurt, he’s not lying.

Aside from the overabundance of exclamation points (a few too many, really), the story is riveting and really captures the attitude of Darren. It’s never stated just how old he is but I think it’s safe to say somewhere around twelve. Could be a year younger. But Darren is truly a vessel for his age at the beginning of the story but reshapes himself into an adult by the end when he has to decide which life is more important, his or his friend’s, Steve.

I think we’re always shown Steve as the older, maturity-wise, of the boys, simply by his attitude but by the end of the first book, him and Darren do a complete role reversal, with Steve going a little too far into the deep end with his vendetta. But that leaves it that much more intriguing for books to come because you know he’s going to reappear.

What I liked the most, though, and it’s something that I don’t see in vampire tales very often at all, is the departure from the family. The pain not only the changing character goes through but the oblivious family as well and it’s a grudge for that pain that Darren holds on to. It’s a life that isn’t willingly accepted and that disdain is very prominent in the actions we see. The even bigger conundrum, though, is trying to figure out which causes more pain, being a vampire in and of itself or leaving behind the family that can no longer be a part of your life. That one really tore at me and made me look at the whole vampire thing from a new perspective. I think especially because of the character that went through that change.

In the books that I’ve read, the change has either been unrealistically accepted by the family or the fledgling doesn’t have any family at all so it’s all really simple. But this isn’t. It adds a complexity not only to the story but to the character and drives a permanent notch into his psyche. I like that flaw. The introduction states that this is a “true” story and that part towards the end, breaking away from the people that he loved, makes it that much more realistic.

I apologize for being vague but I’m trying not to give away too much of the plot (although I’m afraid I might have, sorry). It’s too great to just dump here. It’s something you must read for yourself. If you were a kid like me that just loved all sorts of ghostie or creepy stories (or still do), pick up A Living Nightmare. It’s a new twist on the vampire game and will have you begging for more. I’m glad my books are three under one cover! I don’t have to stop!


prophecygirl said...

I really enjoyed this too! I'm glad someone else has read it :)

I love what you said about the family departure, you definitely don't see that often.

Donna (Bites) said...

Oh yeah. I'll recommend this to anyone that'll listen! It's a nice break from more of the same that seems to be out there now in the particular genre. And I'm sure the boys are grateful for something to read!

Brad said...

Great read. I love the whole series. I think this is one of the best book series right now.

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