| 24 April 2010 | Olivia Dickinson
Readers familiar with The Saga of Darren Shan will enjoy this second instalment on audio cassette. The Vampire's Assistant is read gleefully and yet touchingly by Alan Cumming. Darren is now living with Mr Crepsley, and struggling to be a "real" vampire, but his squeamishness about drinking human blood is becoming an obstacle to fully embracing the lifestyle. As he is still only half a vampire, and therefore partly a normal teenage boy, his wants and desires are hard to be satisfied by the ageing Mr Crepsley. Meeting Evra the snake boy when he and Mr Crepsley join the Cirque du Freak ensures he has a friend (however peculiar) his own age, as does meeting the more ordinary Sam, who is mesmerised by the Cirque du Freak.Alan Cumming reads the story with sensitivity for Darren's loneliness and new life and yet with some enjoyment of the gruesomeness of drinking blood and bizarreness of some of the characters in the Cirque du Freak. The tale may not make very peaceful bedtime reading, but will definitely keep children with a thirst for shivers and sweats engrossed. The breaks in the readings are sometimes laboured, so that the next chapter feels anticlimactic, but also are timed so that before you realise it, you'll have listened to most of the tale, always wanting to have your suspicions of what happens next confirmed. Darren's adventures, and encounters with a variety of characters (whether part of the Cirque du Freak or not) are particularly enthralling with Cumming's different voices, so that it almost feels as if Mr Crepsley or Mr Tiny are really in the room with you. The ending explores from a very original angle the importance of friendship and such everyday themes as these ensure that it seems likely that any number of seemingly ordinary teenage boys could be part-time vampires.
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