wigglefish.com | 27 April 2010 | Kilian Melloy
Darren Shan's adventure at Vampire Mountain continues in this third of a three-part installment in the saga of the young half-vampire.In the last book, Darren was subjected to the Rites of Initiation, a series of lethal trials that only the strongest and most worthy vampires could survive. As a half-vampire, Darren did exceptionally well, facing down an underwater maze, an underground ordeal, and a trial by fire. But when he came up against two maddened boars, his luck ran out, and only the intervention of a friend saved his life — only for the Vampire Council to rule that Darren had failed his last trial and should be put to death. That outcome led to Darren uncovering a sinister plot by a vampire named Kurda, soon to be appointed a Vampire Prince, and seemingly a wise, if unorthodox, leader — though in reality, a traitor who had led a legion of vicious vampaneze to the tunnels of Vampire Mountain. Rather than surrender to Kurda, Darren leapt into a rushing underground river and was swept away ...Which is where this book picks up the tale. Bashed against rocks, pummeled by the current and nearly drowned at every turn, Darren only barely manages to survive his wild white water experience in the subterranean river. Finally hurtled out into the open as the river sprays from the mountain's flank, Darren floats miles downstream in the freezing cold, where he is about to perish in the snow when he's rescued by an unlikely old friend. It's all a bit of a tall tale — battered boy survives even more physical abuse, braves hypothermia, and struggles back to health via a little help from the wilderness itself — but Darren Shan the writer understands the need to provide a semblance of believability in order to allow his audience to suspend disbelief, and near the end of the book, looking back over the strange and outlandish series of events that enabled Darren's survival, one character notes that there may be a larger force at work.And indeed, there is a sense of tragic symmetry to the tale; Shan gives nothing away before its time, so it's too soon to tell, but there's an ancient prophecy concerning both the vampires and their predatory cousins the vampaneze that Darren seems to be prodded toward fulfilling, step by step, by events.And what events they are! In the course of the story, Darren has to find his way back to Vampire Mountain, evade death at the hands of traitors, and reveal the plot he has stumbled upon to a hostile Council — to say nothing of his quick-witted plan for how to engage the vampaneze in a battle that will secure the future of the vampire race despite the ominous prophecy the forbidding Mr. Tiny has long ago pronounced. But the bumps and bruises Darren has accumulated thus far are only the start, because as the final battle between vampire and vampaneze plays out, he discovers the terrible truths about warfare.As always, Darren Shan treads a fine line in The Vampire Prince. He puts his eponymous character through some dreadful, chilling situations, but never loses a sense for how to temper the action (and the meanings of the action) in a way that will spare his young readers from any real trauma, while giving them a story with enough reality to chew on. By not talking down to his audience, Shan reinforces the moral of his story.He also expects more from himself, and, like his readership, rises to the challenge, This book and the two before it constitute a three-part story with a more complex plot than the earlier books. Story elements from two books ago emerge to play crucial roles; friends met in Book 4 reach the end of their arcs here in Book 6, and Darren's physical and moral development continues on a definite (and well defined) path. With about 14 books to go in the series, Shan's fans will literally grow up with the character — and be the better for it.
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