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

4.5 out of 5 stars 806 customer reviews
Book 1 of 12 in the Cirque Du Freak Series

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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

  • 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: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (806 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #95,897 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Hardcover
Darren Shan's existence as a human is over. When he sacrificed himself to save his friend his life was destined to change forever. Now a half-vampire, Darren is forced to abandon his family and friends to travel as an assistant to Mr Crepsley. Already struggling to come to terms with what he has left behind, Darren is now about to face a new dilemma, because animal blood alone is not enough to keep him alive and despite Mr Crepsley's concerns, he refuses to betray the person he used to be by drinking from a human. Returning to the Freak show where his nightmare began, Darren soon strikes up a friendship with Evra, the snake boy and a local kid named Sam. When it seems to Darren that his life is finally taking a turn for the better, tragedy strikes and he is forced to make a choice that will change him forever...
After reading "Cirque du Freak", the first instalment in the saga of Darren Shan, I was hoping that these books weren't just Goosebumps for older readers, and now The Vampire's Assistant has proved to me that they definitely are not. If anything, I enjoyed it even more than the first part of the series. Easy and fun to read, The Vampire's assistant, like its predecessor is one of those books that you read straight through, rush to finish and find out what happens, and then feel sorry when it's over. The main character, Darren is a narrator who is easy to like and identify with as he struggles to come to terms with what he has become. New characters are introduced and are even more vivid and interesting than those revealed in "Cirque du Freak". This was an enjoyable, action-packed book that is difficult to put down and should appeal to adults and kids alike. Having read #3 Tunnels of blood and #4 Vampire Mountain, I can safely say that this series just keeps on getting better and better. I definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoyed "Cirque du Freak" - you won't be disappointed.
~Jenna~
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Format: Hardcover
All the vampires knew that this day was coming. The mysterious Desmond Tiny, who is as hated by the vampires as he is revered, made a prophecy regarding the Vampaneze Lord and a great war. The Vampaneze Lord, leader of the enemies of the vampires, is alive and traveling the world. Now, it's up to Darren Shan, his mentor Larten Crepsley and a Vampire Prince named Vancha March to find the Vampaneze Lord and kill him before he brings about the destruction of all vampires.
Mr. Tiny tells them that they have five chances to rid themselves of the Vampaneze Lord. One passed when the vampires executed one of their Princes, Kurdha Smahlt, for being a traitor. While Mr. Tiny refuses to tell Darren and Mr. Crepsley what the four remaining chances are, he does tell them to "follow their hearts." Following their hearts takes them to the Cirque du Freak by way of the dwelling of sorceress Lady Evanna, who makes a very disturbing prophecy about Darren himself!
While Shan never skimps on adventure or suspense, Darren's voice is stronger and more mature here than it has been in the past. Darren, now an experienced fighter and thinker, handles his responsibilities as a newly initiated vampire prince with thought and care. Shan leaves us in the end with many questions about Darren's future and the war between the vampires and vampaneze, promising an intriguing eighth book.
--- Reviewed by Carlie Webber
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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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