Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Darren Shan, Vampire Blood trilogy-Cirque du Freak, The Vampire's Assistant, and Tunnels of Blood

Its been a long time since I posted anything to this blog, but I swear it’s not because I am lazy. And it’s definitely not because I’ve been playing video games in my spare time. I mean...what spare time?! I don’t have any spare time!? Give me your spare time!

What I have been reading are the first trilogy of books of the Darren Shan Saga: Cirque du Freak, The Vampire's Assistant, and Tunnels of Blood. I was originally interested in them for my younger brother, whom everyone has pinned him down Goosebumps books and nothing else (not that there is anything wrong with Goosebumps, of course). I just thought he might like something different. Not wanting to give him something blindly, I read the book to make sure it was a suitable reading level and foremost, to make sure it wasn’t boring.

Cirque du Freak
So I bought the first one and read it, and I have to say I personally liked it. The first book, Cirque du Freak was engaging and had enough character development to make the reader care. There is the main protagonist, some of his friends (the most important one being his best friend Steve Leonard), his little sister Annie, and Mr. Crepsley, the vampire. I found Mr. Crepsley a little thinly written, but he appears basically at the end of novel anyway. Furthermore, not knowing much about him makes the reader want to read the next book. As the title suggests, the book is about the Cirque du Freak and it is not truly focused on the vampire. There were some terribly dry moments that I thought could have been cut or perhaps better written-the sports scene is the one that most sticks out in my mind on that complaint. One thing that I have noticed was that nearly every chapter ends with a OMG SOMETHING BAD IS GOING TO HAPPEN FML! cliff-hanger, which get tiring. However, I know that perhaps young readers need that hook.

The Vampire’s Assistant
            Out of all three, this one was my favourite in terms of story. Admittedly, I usually find the first of a series the best and go from there. But the first is my second favourite. Weird. Anyway, I actually preferred the day-to-day dynamics of Darren’s new life as the vampire’s assistant. It has even more colourful characters than the first, though some of them are introduced and you don’t really see them again. Between the second and third books I found I really liked Evra Von, the “snake boy.” I liked his back story, his personality, and how the book describes how he looks.   
            Without spoilers, I liked the end of this book best as well. The first ends with (hopefully) a desire to read the next one because they are actually moving on and there should be more to see. This one ends on a more emotionally powerful note than the others, in my opinion. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

Tunnels of Blood
            First off, this was my least favourite book (but I’m not saying that it wasn’t good!) and I’m saying that the title isn’t as great as it could be. I get where the “tunnels” come from, I get the vampire and blood stock words. Could it have been titled something better? Probably.
            That aside, this book introduces the Vampaneze. Sounds a little lame, but it’s a welcome addition at this point. As the reader progresses in the trilogy, vampires suddenly aren’t terribly scary anymore. Darren, a half-vampire, isn’t frightening, Mr. Crepsley arguably isn’t scary by the third book, the other vampire you see in the third book is quite friendly. The series really needed the Vampaneze as the frightening, uncivilized, other. The reader gets to know how normal vampires really aren’t bad at all and eventually accepts them.
            And because I like Evra, I do have to say that he is in this one alongside with Darren and Mr. Crepsley, so the reader gets to see a lot of him. The book gets into a groove within the universe. The concepts of the universe are not new (except the Vampaneze) so there is more action as situations no longer have to be constantly explained.    

Stuff That Irks Me
I am going to try to keep the next part as spoiler free as possible, so I’m going to be vague, but once you read the first book you’ll know what I’m speaking of. A character is introduced in the first novel, whom the reader gets to know, stuff happens, and he threatens to return and haunt Darren. Let’s just say, he hasn’t come back in the first trilogy. It feels like one of those plot points that writers bring up and let die (Heroes season 3, anyone?) and I would say its pretty bad writing. While he could show up in the last of the four trilogy books, couldn’t there have been something to let the reader actually take him seriously? Remember, we’re supposed to be afraid of this person for Darren. And I’m not, because I really forgot about him by the third book.  
The characters (Darren, mostly) flip-flop in their emotional positions. I trust you, never mind I don’t trust you, I trust you again, never mind you’re a vampire and I hate gets repetitive and boring, and after a while I just really didn’t care. I wonder though, is there some theory out that claims that this is necessary for younger readers? The self-loathing is grinding as well, and not in a Louis de Pointe du Lac way. I hate myself, I can’t drink blood, I’m not evil, I want to go back, wah wah wah. Because these books are aimed at a younger audience, I don’t think a proper self-loathing would have held the audience’s attention. His loathing might be valid, but he doesn’t seem to even think about these issues fully. Maybe I’m crazy, but I think I thought about whatever angsty issues I had just a tad more.     

Final Verdict
            The first three are fantastic, even considering the things that irk me. Sometime down the road I’ll try to get around to reading the next trilogy. Great characters, though this trilogy suffers from a high turnover in characters. The ones that stay are interesting. Supposedly my brother likes the first book I gave him, so I hope to speak to him about the books in the near future. I would recommend this to 12-14 year old boys, but in high school I knew an 18-year-old young man reading the series who quite enjoyed them. 

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