In book 5 of the “Saga of Darren Shan,” a.k.a. “Cirque Du Freak”—or book 2 of the “Vampire Rites” trilogy, which is the second of four trilogies within the same—half-vampire Darren starts to look less like an eternally whiny teenage git and more like someone with the potential to be a hero. But it looks as if he may need to be drowned, roasted, sliced, and skewered along the way. As you would expect from the ending of Vampire Mountain, Darren must either pass five trials of physical courage, luck, and endurance—any of which could kill him—or, upon failing or wimping out, face execution by being dropped repeatedly into a pit of sharpened stakes. While none of the possible deaths offered by the randomly-drawn trials sounds much better than that, Darren opts to face fate on his feet.
But after seeing Darren survive his first three trials and growing more confident that he is going to make it through them all, what happens next may not be what you expect. Just when I was enjoying the predictable groove the book had fallen into—livened up by an escalating series of scary close-calls—author Darren Shan (actually O’Shaughnessy) did the thing I least expected: the unexpected. And by giving his story a surprisingly surprising twist, he actually surprised me. Well done!
Okay, to be honest, I had noticed some hints and fore-shadowings. It isn’t so much what happened that surprised me, as when it happened, and where it left poor Darren at the end of this book. Let’s just say that there’s a highly placed traitor in Vampire Mountain; an invading force of the vile Vampaneze clan getting ready to strike at the unsuspecting vampires; a faithful friend lying lifeless in the dark; and one disgraced young hero who, when offered the choice between joining the enemy and certain death, chooses the latter. It really seems like time is up for Darren.
How the next installment, titled The Vampire Prince, is going to pull him out of this cliff-hanger is a breathlessly urgent question, considering how the end of this book leaves Darren not dangling from a cliff, but actually plunging to his swift and gruesome doom. Me? I’m not worried. I’ve got Book 6 (or Book 3, if you prefer) on hold at the public library. I’m sure it will become available before the suspense drives me insane. (Twitch! Giggle!)