epinions.com | 06 July 2005 | ???
Trial By Fire, Initiation By Blood. The Birth of “The Vampire’s Assistant” Jul 06 '05 (Updated Aug 08 '05)Author's Product Rating Product Rating: 5.0Pros One of the best in the series, carries the strong bond of friendship.Cons Some parents might not care for the content or themes of the books.The Bottom Line Darren Shan made the choice to save Steve’s life by becoming a half-vampire. Read what happens when he joins Cirque Du Freak and takes his first drink of human blood... Full Review The second book in the Darren Shan saga gives you his true introduction to the Cirque Du Freak. This was the book that I started out with, a friend sent it to me not knowing that it was the second book of the series, not the first. After I read the first book I was hooked on the series and even though it is written for teens, it was something that I found extremely interesting to read. The real appeal of these books is that even though the topic [vampires] is far fetched, when you are reading it you can’t help but stop and think ... “what if this could happen ...”. The author, Darren Shan, [not his real name] pens an interesting diary-like story of his life that exposes the reader to his feelings, fears and friends. In my opinion this is the best book in the series because you see him changing over from a human to a half vampire, the choices that he is forced to make and the early trials and tribulations that he has to endure. Above all that the books give you some alternatives to how vampires live and exist, how they are created and how they feed. This adds to the ‘reality based’ theme of the series, making it all that more believable.The Vampire’s AssistantWhen we rejoin Darren Shen and Mr. Crepsley they are both cautious of each other; Crepsley keeps urging his new assistant to drink blood when he feeds but the boy can’t bring himself to do so. Darren is torn between feeling hatred for him and wanting to emulate some of his finer traits. They eventually join up with Mr. Tall and his Cirque Du Freak where Darren is introduced to the entire cast of stars including Evra Von, his new bunkmate. He’s mentioned in the fist book but only in passing as “the snake boy” in this one you learn more about him and his reptile like ways. The two become close friends quickly since they are about the same age but subsequent books in the series show that the age difference stains the friendship when Evra ages and Darren, a half vampire, only ages at one fifth the rate of humans. Again, the element of friendship and the choices that one makes to protect them are common themes in the books.Crepsley and Darren don’t spend a lot of time together since Darren has specific chores that he must complete, the most taxing is finding food for the rather curious small people that join up with the Cirque. They are led by a man named My. Tiny, a person that strikes fear in Evra. Mr. Tall assigns Evra and Darren the official food collectors for ‘the little people’. They have huge appetites but thankfully aren’t all that picky about what they consume. Mr. Tiny offers a very colorful explanation of what “the little people” really are - and this was one part of the book that really stuck with it, the way the author explained it really painted a colorful picture of what they were in their truest form. This is when two new characters enter the picture; Sam, a inquisitive kid that wants nothing more than to join the Cirque and R.V, a member of the NOP [Nature’s Opposing Protectors]. Both of these characters add a lot of flavor to the book but ultimately don’t have what it takes to makes it into subsequent installments [translation - they are both killed].R.V. is part of a group of people hell bent on protecting nature and Darren should have known that he’d be sore as hell when he saw the goat killed by Madame Octa during the show that he invited him to. Sam enjoyed it thoroughly and made him even more intent on joining the show. Darren made a wise choice in telling Mr. Tall about R.V.’s reaction to the show but it didn’t change the fact that R.V. was a true threat to everyone in the Cirque. This is where the crossroads of the story occurs; R.V. decides to free the wolfman from his cage and when he catches the scent of Sam there is no help for him, he ends up attacked and killed. This is when Darren must make a quick decision; to drink from Sam to preserve his spirit or to let him die forever at such a young age. This all happens about three quarters of the way into the book so you aren’t just tossed some storyline and left hanging as to the after events until you start reading “Tunnels of Blood”.There’s a lot more to the book than that but you’ll have to pick it up and read it for yourself. One of the common themes in the series is that of friendship and the extreme measures that Darren goes to in order to protect them. In the first book he chooses to essentially give up his life and become a half vampire to save Steve’s life and in this book he chooses to drink Sam’s blood to preserve his memory. It’s interesting to see how some of Sam’s traits start to pop up in Darren - like his rather peculiar and sudden craving for pickled onions, one of Sam’s favorite foods. While Darren struggles with the fact that his friend Sam is dead and that he was his first drink of human blood he takes a small bit of comfort in knowing that Sam’s memory is still alive, coursing through his veins. The book closes out with a prologue of “Tunnels of Blood”, a few pages to set the stage for the third book in the series - a true teaser that will have you running to the bookstore to pick it up and read it from cover to cover.The SeriesDarren Shan’s story is told over the course of twelve books; these books are classified as “teen fiction” and are suitable for kids thirteen and older; younger kids might enjoy them if they are into darker comics or horror flicks but if you are a parent that finds the topics of the series questionable then you might want to read more about the series before you let your child start to read it. On a personal note I think that the books are well written, contain almost no profanity and can really help to broaden a childs vocabulary. The underlying lesson is that of choices and repercussions; something that Darren is constantly struggling with. He stops to think about what his life would have been like if he hadn’t stolen Madame Octa or even attended the Cirque Du Freak but ultimately has to live with his choices and learn from them.The Bottom LineIt’s a little embarrassing to admit that I was hook on a series that’s written for teens but if you check them out you’ll see that they are well written and have realistic plots. Sure the idea of a half vampire kid joining a freak show might not sound believable but the circumstances and situations that Darren has to contend with are extremely realistic. I’d suggest this series to anyone that likes a dark read, is into vampires or gets into on ongoing storyline. There is some violence in this book but nothing more than you’d see in a horror film but parents who are cautious about these types of themes might want to check them out before they allow a child to start reading them. There are a lot of other harsher books in the teen fiction section so don’t make a quick judgment call on this one, you and your child might be missing out on something that will get them thinking, expose them to new vocabulary words and keep them addicted to the last word of the last book in the series.
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