wigglefish.com | 01 May 2005 | Kilian Melloy
Darren Shan, Vampire Prince and last hope in the war between the Vampires and their old enemies the Vampaneze, has faced fire, flood, wolf-men, and wild boars. Now his duty takes him into real peril: high school!Still on the trail of the Vampaneze Lord, Darren, the vampire Mr. Crepsley, and the "Little Person" named Harkat Mulds make a return to Mr. Crepsley's old home town, where a rash of killings has terrorized the human population. This is the same locale where, years before, Darren fell for a young beauty named Debbie Hemlock while he and Mr. Crepsley hunted down a renegade Vampaneze named Murlough. But unlike the reign of death the insane Murlough mounted, this rash of killings does not appear to be the work of a crazy Vampaneze, even though certain aspects of the killer's mode of operation fall well outside any sane Vampaneze's habits. More puzzling is the question of who, exactly, forged a portfolio of paperwork for Darren Shan and set a school inspector on him to force him into a local school or face charges of truancy — someone who knows that Darren, a half-vampire who ages at one-fifth the rate of a human being, is in his mid-twenties even though he looks like a teenager. But if their enemies are behind this trick, why wouldn't they simply attack and kill Shan and his friends? Is this yet another scheme of the sadistic Mr. Tiny's doing?Darren's first day at school is depressing at best (he mopes that he's too used to being in charge of Vampires as one of their princes to like doing as instructed by schoolteachers) until he enters English class and meets up with none other than Debbie Hemlock — now a young woman whose shock at seeing Darren again is matched only by Darren's hormonal delight at their reunion. But the mission Darren and company have set out on cannot be set aside for personal or romantic distractions, and in any case there are killers watching Darren's every move — killers who will murder anyone who stands between them and the young Vampire Prince.Debbie Hemlock is only the first of several characters from previous books to put in an appearance here, and with each fresh revelation Darren Shan (the writer, that is) takes you more by surprise until matters reach a blood-hot pitch in the tunnels that run below the cities — a maze of sewers and ducts where an inevitable second encounter with the ruthless Vampaneze Lord unfolds.Poor confused Darren is, as ever, gripped by a brutal dilemma, but this time it's a matter of the heart that puts the extra icing of fear and aggravation on top of the usual blunt melee between the Vampires and the Vampaneze (and the human collaborators the Vampaneze call their "Vampets"). This eighth book in the Darren Shan saga is a crucial turning point both for the current story (the series is set up so that each story takes place in a trilogy of books) and for Darren as a character, as he approaches true Vampiric maturity, not to mention good old-fashioned manhood. The result? There's more danger and darkness in this than in previous books — chalk it up to growing pains as much as to the author's inexhaustibly diabolical cleverness. It's a dark night of the soul for Darren Shan, and things are certain to get even darker before the next book — Killers of the Dawn, an apt title — wraps up this thrilling chapter next April.Rating: 5 stars out of 5.
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