Book 6 of “The Saga of Darren Shan,” also known in some markets as the “Cirque du Freak” series, begins where the previous book left young half-vampire Darren—in a damp, dark place deep within Vampire Mountain, hurtling down a subterranean river toward all but certain death. Even after he (barely) survives his tumble out of the mountain, Darren faces odds stacked mightily against him. He has failed the trials that were to decide whether he is to be accepted by the vampire clan or executed. He has run away from a death sentence, which also carries a death sentence. And a vampire he counted on to help him, turns out to be a murderer and a traitor working with those enemy bloodsuckers, the Vampaneze.
As Darren slowly recovers from his injuries, naked in a winter wilderness and surviving only by the help of a pack of wolves, he faces some tough choices. Choices like going back to face the music for his disgrace, only to warn the vampires of the danger that lurks within their halls—and doing it before Kurda Smahlt is invested as a Prince, with the power to command absolute obedience. If Darren does not act soon, Kurda will have access to a wonderful stone that enables the Vampire Princes to locate any vampire in the world. And Darren knows that Kurda already has Vampaneze allies hidden in the mountain, ready to begin carrying out the prophecy that says they will wipe out the vampires.
In this dark, violent, dangerous adventure, Darren shows courage, resourcefulness, and the ability to feel compassion toward his enemies. He faces the fury of battle, an assassination attempt, and a trial for his life. He learns more about how vampire society works, and thinks about how it should change. He sees death, grief, and disabling injury come to people he cares about and respects. He experiences the agonizing dilemma between two options in which good and evil seem equally mixed. He proves himself worthy of being spared the death sentence that hangs over him, yet must face a system of vampire laws which are slow to change and which recognize only one way to cheat a death sentence… a solution that may surprise you as much as it surprises Darren.
The fact that this book concludes the “Vampire Rites” trilogy (the second of four trilogies in this 12-book series), should not discourage those of us who are captivated by Darren Shan’s (or rather O’Shaughnessy’s) unique twist on vampire lore. The next trilogy is titled “Vampire War,” and its first book is Hunters of the Dusk—which I expect to pick up at my neighborhood library today!