CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 14. . . .December 3, 2010.
Birth of a Killer. (The Saga of Larten Crepsley: Book One).
Toronto, ON: Harper Trophy Canada, 2010.
252 pp., pbk., $13.99.
Grades 6-10 / Ages 11-15.
Review by Laura Dunford.
On the floor, Larten was staring at Vur with horror. The dead boy’s right eye was closed, but his left was open a fraction, as if he was winking. Larten wished Vur was playing a joke. He wouldn’t mind if his cousin sat up and laughed at him for falling for the trick. Larten would cry with joy if that happened.
But Vur wasn’t acting. Larten had seen death many times – an older sister, children in the factory, corpses in the street waiting to be collected. There was no mistaking the chilling stillness of the dead.
When young Larten Crepsley’s cousin is murdered by their sadistic factory foreman, Larten is helpless to control his rage. Fleeing the angry townspeople after stabbing the foreman to death, certain that his abusive parents would turn him away, Larten meets Seba Nile, a vampire who offers to take the boy on as an apprentice. Set in the early nineteenth century, Birth of a Killer follows Larten’s time as an apprentice and his early vampire years. The novel introduces the reader to Larten’s experience of the human world as a child; it is cruel and savage, as the world of the vampire is often portrayed in contemporary fiction. Shan turns this binary on its head by portraying vampires as peaceful, wise, and honour-bound species – but they still know how to find trouble and have fun!
The story moves very quickly, and Shan is able to pack a lot of information about the rules of Seba’s world in with Larten’s adventures. Interestingly, some details that are obvious interest to fans of vampire fiction, such as the ceremony that turns Larten into a vampire, are passed over very casually. Instead, as the novel closes with Larten’s forgiveness of his parents and his separation from Seba, the narrative emphasis remains on Larten’s human experience, rather than his supernatural transformation.
Birth of a Killer is the first book in a series focussing on Larten Crepsley, and it functions well both as a foundational narrative upon which the following books can stand, and as a fun read for adolescents and young teens with an interest in the adventurous side of vampires, rather than their brooding dramatics. There are, however, several scenes of explicit violence that may be upsetting to sensitive readers.
Laura Dunford is currently pursuing a PhD in English Literature at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.
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