Friday, October 30, 2009

Cirque du Freak #1: A Living Nightmare

A Living Nightmare (Cirque Du Freak, #1) A Living Nightmare by Darren Shan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Warning: I am keeping this review on the vague side because Shan's books are more fun if you don't know what's going on before you read them.

Well, this was a very interesting book. I didn't really like the idea of the freak show, but I did think that it was a novel way to introduce this story, and a different sort of motif for a children's series. I've seen this series at the bookstore for years now, and waffled about reading it. The freak show concept turned me off. I am just not into it, I must admit. I don't even like circuses (I went to a few as young child, but they are scary and sad to me). For some reason, This kind of reminded me of The Traveling Vampire Show by Richard Laymon, but these stories unfold quite differently, and the latter is not a children's book by any stretch.

A Living Nightmare is definitely written for a target audience of older children and younger teens. At some times, the writing seemed a bit juvenile. I feel bad for saying that. I think it's because I read Lord Loss first, which was about a teenager, but I feel was written in a way that seemed more mature and advanced enough that an adult reader didn't even notice that it was for children. I can't blame Mr. Shan for targeting a younger audience, if I chose to read a children's book. So I am not trying to sound judgmental or snooty. It was merely an observation on my part.

The beginning is very sound, and sets you up to hold your breath to see how 'Darren Shan' manages to get on the path that he is walking in life (or afterlife I should say). The descriptions of the freak show are somewhat interesting, but it's not something I find that exciting. Yet there are eerie moments that caught my imagination as I waited to see what would happen next.

'Darren Shan,' which is a psuedonym, (Since this is written as a boy telling his story, there is a foreword that states that all the character's names are made up to protect the real life people) is a protagonist that you can feel for. He is just a boy, not evil, and not super-good either, and he makes some bad decisions that come back to haunt him. He doesn't always own up to his faults, but in the end, he makes a choice that I admired for its maturity. In fact, the repercussions of this choice actually made me cry. It just struck me as pretty awful what has to happen in order for things to work out for Darren's family. I was really impressed that Darren Shan (the author) was fearless enough to incorporate this aspect into a children's book.

The look at vampire lore had a life of its own. It had some familiar conventions, but the manner in which a person becomes a vampire was something I haven't read anything like before. That part was pretty cool, and some of the mechanism of vampirism and how they apply to Darren's situation specifically.

I thought Darren had a very good relationship with his family, and I really liked how he was so close and loving with his younger sister, Annie. It was sweet how they got along so well and loved and watched out for each other. Darren has a complicated relationship with his best friend, Steve, who is a very troubled boy, and a catalyst for the events that occur in this book. This relationship will continue in the later books with some twists that I look forward to reading.

I decided to give this book four stars because it's a good book and it was fun and involving. There were scenes where I gasped out loud. I was waiting for dinner and I actually groaned on a part that was pretty shocking and outrageous. The guy standing across the way from where I was sitting looked at me and smiled. I smiled back sheepishly before I was quickly immersed back into this story. That said, I must admit that, had read I this before Lord Loss, I would really be cheering. But Lord Loss set me up for higher standards that this one didn't quite meet. However, I can see children and some adults who like eerie, yet fun little vampire suspense tales targeted towards older children, really getting a kick out this story. I definitely want to continue the series to see what happens to Darren, because this story is just getting started.

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