CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 14. . . . March 14, 2003
It was a flyer, an advertising pamphlet for some sort of traveling circus. There was a picture of a wolf's head at the top. The wolf had its mouth open and saliva was dripping from its teeth. At the bottom were pictures of a spider and a snake and they looked vicious, too.
Just beneath the wolf, in big red capital letters, were the words:
CIRQUE DU FREAK
Cirque du Freak is the first of a series of four books by Darren Shan, an Irish writer who has long been fascinated by vampires. The novel is full of thrills and chills and slowly building suspense and will appeal greatly to any reader interested in the horror genre.
Darren and his friend, Steve, obtain tickets for a freak show in a rather dirty, dingy, run-down old theatre which, in itself, lends an air of the macabre and supernatural to the story. Fifty pages of the book are given to a detailed, gross and gruesome description of this unreal entertainment. The freaks run the gamut from a vicious wolf man to a contortionist, a fat man, and a spider who apparently works from telepathic signals. The boys are mesmerized by their journey into this world of grotesque creatures and find their experience both thrilling and disturbing, amazing yet horrifying.
Steve is attracted by Mr. Crepsley whom he recognizes to be a famous vampire. Darren, on the other hand, has always been intrigued by spiders and so is fascinated by Mr. Crepley's pet, Madame Octa. This love of arachnids ends up changing Darren's life completely.
Events spiral out of control: Darren steals the performing spider and subsequently Madame Octa bites Steve, leaving him paralyzed and in a coma, near death. To obtain the necessary antidote, Darren must......literally.....sell his soul.
Shan introduces themes of horror, magic and friendship. The book is somewhat reminiscent of R. L. Stine, but Shan's writing is darker and more frightening and, therefore, would probably appeal to somewhat older readers. The entire story is told from the viewpoint of an adolescent boy, and so there is a definite emphasis on the gross qualities of the freak show, yet the book remains imaginative and displays a rather dark sort of humour. There is plenty of chilling action throughout as the boys get caught up in an unexpected trap which leads to an equally unexpected ending. Certainly the reader is left wanting to know more about Darren's adventures in the sequels!
Cirque du Freak is soon to be a motion picture from Warner Brothers, and, as well, the novel won the IRA Children's Choice Award in 2002.
Ann Ketcheson is a former teacher of high school English and French and is currently the teacher-librarian at Peterborough Collegiate in Peterborough, ON.
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