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Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare Paperback – June 1, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Anyone who loves the humorous but hair-raising horror in R.L. Stine's Goosebumps series will devour British author Darren Shan's first novel with equal zeal. Some books are born with a surrounding buzz; this one even has Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling's stamp of approval: "Fast-paced and compelling, full of satisfying macabre touches," she writes. Warner Brothers will be making it into a movie, and the rest of the series is already in the works. Given all that, you'd expect a tour de force! Really, though, Cirque Du Freak is a thrill ride that will keep even the most reluctant readers turning pages, but will never take its place in the literary canon.

Darren Shan, author and narrator, sets the book up as a true story, warning readers: "Real life's nasty. It's cruel.... Evil often wins." Indeed, evil begins to win when Darren and his buddies find a flier for "Cirque Du Freak," a traveling freak show promising performances by the snake-boy, the wolf-man, and Larten Crepsley and his giant spider, Madame Octa. Darren and his friend Steve wouldn't miss it for the world.

So, Saturday night they sneak out to the old theater, tall and dark, with broken windows. "Every act you see tonight is real," croaks Mr. Tall. "Each performer is unique. And none are harmless." That's for sure. (A werewolf bites off the hand of someone in the audience, for instance.) Things grow very serious for the two boys when Steve not only recognizes Mr. Crepsley as a famous vampire, but professes his true desire to join him! To make matters worse, the spider-obsessed Darren goes back to the old theater to steal Madame Octa so he can teach her tricks in his room. (He does, with mixed results.) The plot further coagulates as Darren is faced with some terrible decisions about what to do to save his bloodthirsty friend Steve.

Readers may be too enthralled to notice some clumsy editing (the aforementioned bitten-off hand is later referred to as an arm, Darren stops dead in his tracks when he's already stopped, etc.). They may also not notice that the boys constantly use adult-sounding expressions like "his breath stank to the high heavens," though the book is clearly set in the 21st century. If this book gets under your kids' skin (and it probably will), they're in luck--we haven't heard the last of the Saga of Darren Shan. (Ages 10 and older, not for the faint of heart) --Karin Snelson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

A boy sneaks out to an illicit freak show, and his life becomes entangled with a vampire spider-wrangler. "The author mines the exploitative history of early 20th-century sideshows to create an artfully macabre 'Cirque du Freak,' " wrote PW. Ages 10-up.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Paperback: 266 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (June 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316605107
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316605106
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (422 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #50,835 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 40 people found the following review helpful By EA Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I put off reading this book for quite a while, on the basis that I didn't want anyone assuming that I read it solely because of JK Rowling's recommendation. Fans of Garth Nix's "Seventh Tower" series, with the unresolved endings, may like this book...
Darren and his friends are ordinary enough kids, who find a flier for the traveling freak show "Cirque Du Freak" -- snake boy, the wolf man, giant spider -- and a vampire. Not a warm and fuzzy exhibit show.
Darren and his friend Steve sneak to the freak show, where the ominous Mr. Tall informs them that every act is real -- which, naturally, they are (will kids read a scary book about a fake freak show? Course not). Steve recognizes Mr. Crepsly as a vampire, and exhibits the truly "freaky" wish to be a vampire as well. (Counseling, kid, counseling!) Making the situation even more unreal is Darren, who has a thing about spiders and wishes to steal the enormous arachnid Madame Octa. Darren must deal with an enormous spider, a sideshow full of frightening freaks, and his own best friend...
Darren is just weird enough to fit into this freaky story, without losing the understanding and sympathy of the readers. Steve was a bit too weird for my personal tastes, wanting to be a vampire and so forth, and so I had difficulty connecting with him--but that may have been intentional.
The writing style is snappy and spooky, in keeping with this genre, without becoming too wordy or gross as many horror books are. Atmosphere is handled well, especially in the Cirque Du Freak, and in scenes with Madame Octa and the vampire Crepsly.
The book occasionally becomes a little creepy for younger kids and a little too dark for the faint-of-heart. Additionally, descriptions occasionally become too thin and the characters sometimes take odd actions--but again, the second thing may be deliberate.
Though not flawless, I'll read the next book with pleasure.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Richmond VINE VOICE on April 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Cirque du Freak by Darren Shan
While this first novel for young readers is slightly marred by some careless editing (the folks at Little Brown should know much better!), it reveals great promise for a superb edition to the juvenile horror genre. Author Shan finely delineates several appallingly fascinating characters including the eponymic protagonist, but as ever in this sort of literature, the plot reigns. Intricate as the spider's webs which permeate the text, the reader turns the pages and wishes only to devour more at story's end. There have been comparisons to R. L. Stine's teeny terror tales, but Shan is a better writer and probably full of plots and characters that haven't been recycled for the umteenth hundred time. There are resonances of the vampire fiction of Anne Rice and Chelsea Yarbro with the merest soupcon of J. K. Rowling's wizardly romps as well. Some reviews aim the book at the 9-12 audience, but this old children's librarian would expect it to be a bit too intense for the former, and yet would captivate many an adult admirer of the genre.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful A Kid's Review on April 3, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Cirque Du Freak is a book about a boy and his friend that go to see an illegal freak show. The freak show changes their lives forever and so many amazing things happen as a result of them going to the freak show. It is amazing how brilliant the author had to be in order to write this book because it is one of the best books that I have ever read and I usually don't even like horror stories. For those of you who aren't sure of whether you want to read Cirque Du Freak or not, I highly reccomend that you do.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Kaori Takeuchi on December 25, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book is an awesome book! I ask all people I know to read this book. And I suggest you should too.
Darren was a normal boy. His life was changed by a circus flyer. He and his best friend Steve went to the freak circus. They found out one of the performers was a vampire. That vampire had a performing spider. Darren stole her. Steve was bitten by her. She was a poisonous spider. No one knew how to cure him except one. Darren goes back to the vampire and asks him to cure Steve. But he said that Darren has to pay. Not money, not jewelry, nor gold. Half of his life.
Read this book and face this dilemma. Would you say yes, if your best friend was about to die and you knew the only way to save his/her life which is to throw half of your life away?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful A Kid's Review on March 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This story is about Darren Shan who gets entangled with a horrifying adventure. Darren Shan goes to a freak show with his best friend, Steve. Darren saw all these people with weird oddities. But, what he was really stunned at, was that he found out Mr. Crepsley is a vampire. Then Darren later get mad at Mr. Crepsley for being evil to humans (because he is a vampire) he steals his pet spider. Darren trains the spider and he invites Steve over. When his sister came into Darren's door, it startled the spider and attacked Steve. Darren trades Steve's life medicine for him to become a vampire servant for life to Mr. Crepsley.

I, personally, loved this book. First of all, this edge-of-your-seat book really has a cliffhanger. This wants the reader to read more. Like if Steve got bit, it will stop the chapter. Most chapters have this type of style. Second, I love weird, odd, adventurous books. It just keeps my heart pumping. Third, I think vampires are the coolest creatures because they run fast, sucks blood like a parasite, and have a very acute sense of hearing.

The two quotes are belief and hatred. Darren didn't believe in vampires or any other creatures. He was wrong and later he became one. Also Steve already knew that Mr. Crepsley was a vampire. At the end on the freak show, he asked if he could become one. Mr. Crepsley asked why and Steve told him it was because he had nothing else to lose because he hated everything besides Darren.

My favorite part of the book was when Darren Shan got vampire powers and went to school. Darren went to school and was making everyone look bad in the sports. He always scored in soccer. Steve was suspicious of Darren and he found out he was a vampire when Darren faked his death. This is my favorite part because it is cool just to show-off once in a while.
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