| 24 April 2010 | Hilary Williamson
I tried to hide The Vampire's Assistant from my two sons when it arrived, but failed. My eleven year old, a most reluctant reader, whose only previous literary interest has been comic books like Garfield, had discovered and devoured the first volume in the Saga of Darren Shan a few weeks before. He pounced on the sequel, successfully fending off his mother and elder brother (he takes karate lessons). We had to wait our turn.I have been very curious to see where the author would take his tale after the dramatic conclusion of his first book. After all, how do you top being buried alive, if only temporarily? As the story starts and its young hero helps Mr. Crepsley to feed, we are told that his 'nights as a vampire's assistant had begun.' It turns out that this is not as bad as it sounds, since Darren's guardian is an ethical vampire, who takes only a little blood from humans. Indeed, there is quite a Transylvanic education through this tale - did you realize that it was vampires who started UFO stories?Of course, Darren is only a half-vampire and is faced with a very serious dilemma. He will soon weaken and die unless he starts to drink human blood, something he is very reluctant to do. As he journeys with Mr. Crepsley, Darren discovers the dangers of attempting to make human friends. Seeing his loneliness and misery, his guardian takes him to the travelling Cirque Du Freak, 'masters of the macabre'. This fulfills every kid's dream of running off to join the circus, albeit a ghoulish one. Darren even gets to perform on stage, managing Madame Octa.In the circus Darren rooms with and befriends the 'dermatologically challenged' Snake-boy Evra Von, who has the longest tongue in the world and a sleepcrawling python. They spend time with a local kid, Sam, normal except for an excellent vocabulary and mesmerized by the Cirque du Freak. They also encounter the friendly ecowarrior R.V. (Reggie Veggie) who is 'passionate about the environment' though misguided in his concern for the caged Wolf-man. There is an interesting green theme to the story - I was especially impressed by the recycling potential of Rhamus Twobellies.Other new characters are introduced. Cormac Limbs has the ability to re-grow them and there is the sinister, smiling Mr. Tiny, mysterious leader of the Little People. I expect he will feature larger in future episodes as will the briefly mentioned Vampire Generals. Despite his own problems, Darren continues to show concern for others, especially his new friend Sam, doing his best to scare him away from the Cirque and the danger that it represents ... 'if I'd any idea of the awful night that lay ahead - I'd have run after him and never returned to that disgusting circus of blood, that revolting circus of death.'I am not a fan of horror stories, but do share my kids' hypnotic fascination with this series. There is something about watching an ordinary (more or less) boy deal with such a bizarre environment, and seeing how it evolves. The Vampire's Assistant is just as enthralling as Cirque Du Freak: A Living Nightmare. Darren Shan has given us another ghoulish feast full of gore and gristle - definitely not for vegetarians!
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