Fantasy Literature | 22 February 2014 | Kat Hooper

It’s been six years since the events of the previous book, Tunnels of Blood. Darren and Mr. Crepsley have been travelling with the Cirque du Freak, but this is the year that the Vampire Council meets in Vampire Mountain and so it’s time for Mr. Crepsley to present Darren to the other vampires. Thus they set off on the long and perilous journey to Vampire Mountain, bringing with them two of the mysterious Little People who belong to the even more mysterious Mr. Tiny. Along the way they encounter a friendly wolf pack and we learn that wolves are cousins to vampires and that Mr. Tiny has something to do with the breeding program. The travelers also encounter various frightening and foreboding signs that the vampaneze are getting ready to attack and it turns out that Harkat, one of the Little People traveling with them, is bringing a warning message from Mr. Tiny for the vampire princes. According to Mr. Tiny, the vampaneze have a new leader who plans to destroy the vampire race. Will the princes believe the message? Will the vampires be able to get prepared in time?


Traveling to Vampire Mountain takes up about half of the page count. Once we finally get there, Darren learns a lot about vampire ways and meets a bunch of new characters. Most of these are vampires but some are another strange race of people that work in the caves and tunnels of the mountain and have a symbiotic relationship with the vampires. (There are also other creatures lurking in the mountain….) When the princes find out that Mr. Crepsley turned Darren in an unethical manner — mainly by bribing him and by not disclosing all the fine print — things get ugly and Darren is given the option to prove he is worthy by undergoing a series of trials. We will hear about them in the next book, Trials of Death.


It’s obvious that author Shan has carefully plotted the main events and the twists and turns of his stories, but I can’t give you the evidence for this without ruining the surprises. (Adults will predict many of them, but Shan’s younger readers are likely to be delightfully and horrifyingly shocked at some of the twists.) Some of the plot doesn’t hold up under careful scrutiny, though. For example, Darren originally faked his death and left home because he was so dangerous, yet we haven’t seen much dangerous behavior from him since (he is able to have a girlfriend, so why not parents and a sister?). Also, in this book, Mr. Crepsley is the person at fault, for blooding Darren without letting him know what he was getting into, yet Darren is being punished. The trials are not just a proof of worthiness because if Darren fails, he will be tortured and killed. The most ironic part is that the princes give Darren the option of proving himself through a series of trials yet they don’t bother to mention that failure means torture and death. That seems ironically hypocritical because they’re doing exactly what Crepsley did — not giving Darren the important details he needs to make a life-changing decision. The princes are portrayed as friendly and reasonable, so I’m not sure why they think this is fair or why Darren doesn’t speak up for himself.


However…. youngsters are unlikely to notice these little problems with the plot, so I’m happy to let them go. The truth is that despite my recognition that the story could hold together better, I’m still compelled to read on. Darren’s a likeable hero, the exciting story flies by at warp speed, and even though I can foresee where the major plot is going, I still want to be there for it.


I’m listening to Blackstone Audio’s recent production narrated by Ralph Lister. He continues to play his part with gusto, making those ancient vampire princes seem like emo teenagers. I do admire his passion.

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