wigglefish.com | 26 April 2010 | Kilian Melloy
"If people ever tell you vampires aren't real -- don't believe them!"The opening line from the fifth book in the Cirque du Freak series is especially appropriate, considering that young Darren Shan, the Vampire's Apprentice, finds himself deep in the bowels of Vampire Mountain. Hundreds of vampires are arriving for a congress that convenes once every twelve years, and Darren has had the chance to meet lots of new friends, and rivals, in his short time at Vampire Mountain. But Darren has also, as usual, gotten himself into a potentially deadly pickle: the higher-ups in the vampire hierarchy are upset that Darren's master, Mr. Crepsley, has gone and "blooded" an underage boy, creating a half-vampire in the process. They have demanded that Darren Shan prove himself worthy of his vampiric existence by taking the Trials of Initiation -- a challenge that young Master Shan has agreed to, though perhaps too readily, considering that he later discovers the penalty for failure to successfully complete the trials: death!And what fine trials they are. Darren faces water, fire, and crazed boars, relying on his wit and courage, with a bit of vampiric luck, to get him through it all. Not that he emerges unscathed: every trial leaves its mark on our young hero. The cost of valor is steep, paid in pain and fear, but Darren is equal to each one of them ... well, almost ...Even as young Master Shan endures his trials, the assembled vampires ponder troubling news. The prophecy that a Vampaneze Prince will rise and lead the fierce, murderous offshoot of the vampire race into a full scale war against the vampires -- a war they are destined to lose -- has everyone a bit jittery. Only one of the Vampire Princes believes there is a way to avoid war. Kurda, viewed as a coward by his vampiric brethren, champions the cause of peace and diplomacy. When reports of the vampaneze journeying to Vampire Mountain are made known, the prophecy takes on new credibility, but so does Kurda. Can negotiation work? Can a treaty be signed in good faith with creatures so willing to kill? If Darren survives the Trials, will it be only to perish in a horrific battle between legions of supernatural foes?Darren Shan (the writer) exercises his magnificently fiendish imagination in creating a lean and suspenseful story filled with adversity, courage, and political intrigue. That Darren comes face to face with unspeakable horror just in time for another cliff-hanger ending (this is the second in a three-book arc within the series) is a credit to Shan's meticulous mastery of his material, a world more richly revealed book by book, where old codes of honor and threatening legends from antiquity boil up in bloody, sometimes grotesque, and yet always wholesome adventures. While other series, both in books and on TV, offer adolescents supernatural allegories for the pangs and terrors of young adulthood only to wallow in angst, Darren Shan's ongoing saga hails physical courage and fearless persistence -- all in the course of a stamping good string of stories.
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