A Living Nightmare (Cirque du Freak #1) by Darren Shan
(narrated by Rupert Degas)
Published: Blackstone Audiobooks (2000), Audiobook, 5:18:10
Genres: Contemporary Fantasy, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy
Darren Shan and his best friend, Steve, get tickets to the Cirque du Freak, a wonderfully gothic freak show featuring weird, frightening creatures who interact with the audience. In the midst of the excitement, true terror raises its head when Steve recognizes that one of the performersMr. Crepsleyis a vampire! Steve confronts the vampire after the show finishesbut his motives are surprising! In the shadows of a crumbling theater, a horrified Darren eavesdrops on his friend and the vampire, and is witness to a monstrous, disturbing plea. As if by destiny, Darren is pulled to Mr. Crepsley and what follows is his horrifying descent into the bloody world of vampires.
I’ve seen the Cirque du Freak books in the bookstores, of course, but from a distance it looked like a shiny trap meant to suck in teenage goths and vampire fanatics. I base my reading decisions heavily on the book’s cover (so sad, I know), and those covers? Yeah, mostly fugly. But then I found the audiobook, saw it was read by Rupert Degas, got over my prejudices and tried it out. It probably still is a trap, but I enjoyed getting caught nonetheless. And after reading the first book, I think the rest of the series has a lot of potential for awesomeness.
You may be wondering why I listened to the audiobook when I wouldn’t read the paper books. And I tell you it is because of Mr. Rupert Degas! I love Rupert Degas. He read the first two Skulduggery Pleasant audiobooks, possibly my favorite of all the audiobooks I’ve ever listened to. Seriously, if you haven’t listened to those audiobooks yet, please do! It’s totally worth it. So just having Mr. Degas in the picture? Yeah, I’ll check it out.
Unfortunately I didn’t like Mr. Degas’ reading so much for this book. His kid voices tended to sound the same (though they did sound like kids, at least), and sometimes he gets over-dramatic when he doesn’t need to be. He is, however, very good at the adult voices and evil laughter. I loved his voice for Mr. Crepsley, the vampire with the performing spider– it was perfect for the character.
The writing is mediocre at best, though not completely horrible. The chapters all tend to end with OMG SOMETHING SHOCKING IS HAPPENING! which gets tiring after a while. For a book about vampires and circus freaks, it’s not really scary, and some character details mentioned in the first half never made an appearance again, making me wonder if they were even necessary.
However, the characters had depth, the plotline was rather interesting, and the kids really did seem like kids. Darren is stupid and naive, but luckily he still has some fire to him. He’s not a complete pancake– things happen to him that are out of his control, sure, but he also makes things happen on his own. I hope that in the later books he gains even more control over his life, because otherwise it’ll be a really boring series. I don’t want self-pitying, limp noodle protagonists, y’know? It really could go either way at this point.
I just want to quickly mention the vampire-specific things: there are a couple of unusual traits that I haven’t seen in vampire books before (though admittedly I haven’t read heaps of them) that keeps Cirque du Freak from being cliched and annoying. Vampires, according to Mr. Crepsley, are not inherently evil, and though they can’t change into bats, wolves, or mist, they do age very slowly. Also they can turn others via fingertips, not just the traditional neck/mouth route. Also they can run very fast, which is a handy talent to have.
I do plan on reading at least the second book, and if that’s good, the rest of the series. I’m hoping it’ll be a little more interesting now that we’ve got everything established and on the road.
There’s going to be a movie based on, I think, the first few books. It’s supposed to be released later this year, but, er, it’s got John C. Reilly as Mr. Crepsley. He doesn’t really fit my image of Mr. Crepsley. What do you think?
Read: February 2009