Cirque Du Freak- Darren Shan (Harper Collins 2000) – A Kid-Lit Review

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There’s clever things going on here.  This is the first in the series of twelve books under the title “The Saga of Darren Shan” written by Darren Shan and narrated by Darren Shan.  I had to Google to find out just who Darren Shan is.  There’s not that many clues in the book.  I couldn’t tell if it was supposed to be set in the UK, Europe or Australia/New Zealand- which would lead all these markets to identify closely with the work.  I discovered that Darren Shan is Irish author Darren O’Shaughnessy who has also written the eight book Demonata series for older children/teens.  There’s also the 13 book “Zom-B”, a number of other series and books written for adults under the name Darren Dash. (You have to enter your date of birth on his website to find this out, not wanting to encourage children to seek out his adult horror).  A prolific writer and this is the book that started everything off.

For the sake of the story the main character Darren is a schoolboy.  I liked the flaws in his character which are evident from the start.  He tells us things are going to get bad for him and they actually get worse than I was expecting in this introductory tale.  He kicks off with a prologue in which he details his fascination with spiders leading to his parents buying him a tarantula for a pet.  Things go bad when, after watching a cartoon character being sucked up by a vacuum cleaner and emerging unscathed he tries it on his spider with predictably grisly results.  Darren also lies and steals in this novel so is certainly not squeaky clean and that is likeable in a novel for older children.

One of Darren’s friends finds a flyer for a secret freak show.  Entry by invitation only.  What Darren discovers at the freak show will change his life for good.

Arachnophobes may not get beyond the  prologue but if they do there are a few more challenges ahead.  In fact, the whole thing is rather creepy and really quite effective.  I could imagine if I was twelve years old I’d be reading the series end to end and perhaps not getting that much adult approval because of it.

Writer Darren sets up character Darren’s predicament well and on completion you can tell that there is significant mileage in this series.  For an author who is undeniably churning them out it doesn’t feel like a tale churned out, although, of course this is the first of the series.  For an adult reader it’s a quick, guilty pleasure type read, recalling the days of staying up late to watch TV horror films and getting the odd frisson from “Scooby Doo”.  For older children it’s a move on from the likes of the “Goosebumps” books but with a stronger  structure and more authentic chills.

threestars

Cirque Du Freak was first published by Harper Collins in 2000.

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