Cirque du Freak by Darren Shan

I first heard of Darren Shan several months ago. Got around to checking his website, where I was delighted to discover he’s an Irishman (Irish horror authors are an uncommon breed). The clincher was when I was watching Newsround on CBBC last week and heard the director of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone mentioning that he would probably be doing Cirque du Freak. Is Darren Shan the new J.K. Rowling? I wondered. Funny this should provoke me into buying the book; I didn’t much like Harry Potter. Mind you, this time it’s not fantasy but good old horror!

Cirque du Freak is a story about two boys, Darren and Steve, who sneak off to visit a freakshow that has come to town. Darren becomes infatuated with Madam Octa – not a woman, but a performing spider, if you can believe that. He decides he must steal her – knowing full well how dangerous a pet she would be.

So, Darren Shan is a thief, with a hefty dose of stupidity thrown in for good measure, and it’s not long before we discover what a complete and utter coward he is. Hardly a good role model, you might say. But believe it or not, this is the very thing that makes the tale so good. Whilst on the one hard we have all this far-fetched supernatural stuff, on the other hand we have a very ordinary and flawed schoolboy that everyone can relate to.

The author doesn’t let Darren off lightly. He is forced to bear the consequences of his actions, and it involves a dreadful personal sacrifice that will change the boy’s life forever – and for the worse.

I’m looking forward to reading more of the saga of Darren Shan. I think there’s around ten books currently published, and around twenty in total planned – yikes!