| 19 July 2008 | Samuel

When Capac Raimi arrives in the city, ambitious and determined, he has one goal only: to become a ruthless gangster and gain as much power as possible. Like everyone else in the city, he has heard the stories about The Cardinal – the merciless, all-seeing mastermind who controls his empire of sin from the fifteenth floor of Party Central. Capac knows that if his dreams are to be realised, he will eventually have to cross paths with The Cardinal. He knows that this meeting will change his life – but he has no idea just how irreversible that change will be. Procession of the Dead is the first book in Darren Shan’s newest (and oldest) horror series: The City Trilogy. It is a rework of his very first novel – Ayuamarca – and his first ever book for adults. Being an enormous fan of Shan’s children’s novels, my expectations of Procession of the Dead were very high. By the time I was a third of the way through, however, those expectations had been turned upside down. The book may read with Shan’s usual, fluid, punchy style, but it is something totally different to his previous work. The magic has been drained away, leaving a bleak crime-noir style in the place of the usual enthralling monster mayhem. Don’t be fooled by the title; Procession of the Dead is not about zombies. It is about people – evil people who do evil things. The plot’s subtle flirtations with magic realism are not enough to sustain the writing, which soon loses Shan’s signature place and plot drive. The story becomes a string of cold, vile deeds and emotionless characters, which rob the reader of happiness and give little in return. Fortunately, however, the bleakness does not last. Soon after the 120-page mark, the plot begins to feel more like traditional Shan. Our protagonist finally undergoes some emotional development. The subtle, veiled magic solidifies and becomes more and more pivotal, until the engrossing heart of the book is finally revealed. Like a sliding scale, Procession of the Dead goes from gloomy to exhilarating. So, while this novel may have entertained me, it has also left a bad taste in my mouth. Who can I recommend it to? Most people I know would find it nearly unbearable. The violence may not be gratuitous per se – it all contributes to painting Shan’s thick atmosphere of monochrome corruption – but this atmosphere itself is not worth the onslaught that readers are subjected to. There is enjoyment to be had from this novel, but only for the most desensitised of readers. I strongly caution any teenager who is a fan of Shan’s children’s books: think twice before attempting Procession of the Dead. If you have managed to enjoy such films as Sin City, then it may be for you. Otherwise, stick to regular Darren Shan; an author so good that nobody can beat him. Not even himself.

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