• THE BOOKSELLER | 12 November 1999 | Caroline Horn

    GUIDE TO VAMPIRES: THEY CAN’T BE SHUT BACK IN THE COFFIN

    When Darren O’Shaughnessy sat down to write Cirque Du Freak, it was with the intention of creating the kind of book that he would have enjoyed reading as a 10-year-old. He had liked books that scared him, but found his choices limited and often ended up with authors like Stephen King, who were hard to read. So Cirque Du Freak (HarperCollins, January 2000, £3.99, 0006754163), his first children’s book, is written for children who really do like to be scared.

    The story is narrated by Darren Shan, who is living a fairly contented and ordinary life until a visit to the strange and wonderful Cirque Du Freak brings him face to face with a supernatural world. From then onwards, vampires and assorted strange beings make regular appearances: parents in South Carolina are going to have a field day!

    However, although Darren finds himself making a pact with a vampire and having to decide whether or not to become a vampire’s assistant, there is very little blood and gore in these pages. What really makes Cirque Du Freak scary is how completely Darren’s world changes when the supernatural and natural worlds collide. Nasty things cannot be shut back into the coffin at the end of the episode. For this hero who has foolishly made some bad choices – stealing a vampire’s spider was never going to be a good move – the supernatural world is here to stay.

    At the start of the story, the narrator warns: "Real life’s nasty. It’s cruel. It doesn’t care about heroes and happy endings and the way things should be. In real life bad things happen."

    O’Shaughnessy explains: "I wanted the readers to really think about what Darren goes through: losing his family and friends because of something he did that was actually good. But he is in a situation that is beyond his control, and that’s what makes it so frightening." O’Shaughnessy has little time for the likes of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, which turns a scary theme into light entertainment.

    Cirque Du Freak is the first of a series, but the author has already written the next eight books and plans to write 24 books or so in all. Future episodes will follow Darren’s progress as a vampire’s assistant. Agent Christopher Little will handle the author’s children’s titles alongside his adult titles.

    Although the title fits well into it’s fantasy list, publishing Cirque Du freak is a brave move for HarperCollins. This is a book where a boy sees his little sister as dinner, where a grown man swaps his blood with a child, and where circus freaks are paraded as entertainment. It is also one that, true to O’Shaughnessy’s intention, will prove highly entertaining to girls as well as boys.

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