| 26 April 2010 | Hilary Williamson
This is the fourth volume in Darren Shan's searingly spooky Cirque Du Freak series, and the first episode of an adventure in three parts. It has the best cover yet, showing a castle on a peak that could be in Transylvania, but is actually (of course) Vampire Mountain. The story begins after six years of stability for Darren, following his defeat of Murlough, the mad vampaneze in Tunnels of Blood.Larten Crepsley and his assistant must take the gruelling trip to Vampire Mountain, in order to present Darren to the Council of Vampire Generals, whose rare meetings occur only every twelve years. Despite having outgrown their friendship, Ezra (who has aged at a normal rate) helps Darren make preparations. Darren is somewhat frustrated at remaining in a young body for so long, after calculating that it's now going to take him thirty years to grow up!The sinister Mr. Des Tiny (yes, the name probably is significant) insists on sending two Little People (one of whom is Lefty) as guards. It's a toughening trip barefoot through snow, so much so that Darren even looks forward to sleeping in a coffin at the occasional waystations supplied with vampiric essentials. Along the way, Darren and the reader learn a great deal more about the code of true vampires, and he makes new friends, in particular Streak and Rudi, who are sure to be prominent in later episodes.Then comes a mystery as the travellers find a couple of dead bodies (vampire and vampaneze). Lefty reveals both his real name and a terrifying message for the Vampire Princes; there are perilous times ahead for vampires, whose only hope lies in the Stone of Blood. Lefty delivers the message when they arrive at the mountain and the huge (and largely unexplored) system of caverns and tunnels underneath it.There are amusing episodes involving bat broth and Darren's cocky challenge to a tough female vampire. Darren gets a closer acquaintance with Mr. Crepsley through the eyes of an old teacher, and meets a liberal young General soon to become a Vampire Prince - Kurda wants to reconciliate vampires and vampaneze. There is also a mysterious race under the mountain, the Guardians, 'thin and ill-looking with lank hair and rags for clothes; their skin was deathly pale and dry, and their eyes were an eerie white color.'Then comes the showdown, when Mr. Crepsley has to account to the Vampire Princes for breaking the rules by blooding a child. Unfortunately Larten does not have a good explanation and is in great danger until his assistant accepts a challenge on his behalf. But Darren soon finds out he has agreed to take the Trials of Initiation, which have defeated even full vampires after years of preparation, and that the penalty for failure is a gruesome death.We leave our tough young hero in the cliffhanger realization of what he has let himself in for (an extract of the upcoming Trials of Death makes it even more clear). Though this volume isn't as compelling as Tunnels of Blood, my sons still gulped it down in a few hours of nonstop reading and we were all left anxious to read the rest of the adventure, culminating in #6: The Vampire Prince.
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