Book Review

Cirque Du Freak by Darren Shan

Will contain spoilers!


Middle grade, Horror


Freak Show, Vampires, Death



I was an ordinary boy,
until I visited the Cirque Du Freak…
until I met Madam Octa… until I came
face to face with a creature of the night.
That’s when my life changed completely.
I don’t expect you to believe me, but
everything I describe in this book
is absolutely true…

My thoughts:

Re-reading books you read when you were younger is always a weird experience and its interesting to see how opinions change over time. I still really enjoyed the story, its not quite as creepy as I remember but I have read some real horrors since reading this series. I never really saw these books as middle grade or kids books when I read them but its clear to me reading this as an adult that these are designed for kids. The language and voice is definitely that of a young boy and I honestly think Shan has done a fantastic job of capturing that early teenage wonder.

One of the things I love about this series is its written as if the author is writing the true account of his life. Its a nice touch and I think it adds to the scariness, especially for children. The story starts on a normal school day for Darren, playing football with his friends at lunchtime. One of his friends has found a flyer for a freak show and they are all very interested in going. They don’t have enough money but Steve, Darren’s best friend, says he will borrow some from his mum and go buy the tickets. But he could only get two tickets so not all of them can go. They agree Steve should get one of them but the other is not so easy. They decide to stand in a line and Steve will throw the ticket mixed with a bunch of paper is the air and whoever catches it wins. Darren seems to just know when he should close his fist and he gets the ticket.

The show is Saturday night so Darren stays over at Steves house and they sneak out to go to the show. It is in an old run down theatre and they seem to be the only kids there. I do really like this part of the book, we see the really interesting acts and the danger to them which makes it all the more thrilling! We have a wolf man who bites off someone’s hand, contortionists, a bearded lady, someone with really strong teeth and a snake boy. But the stand out act for Darren is Mr Crepsley and Madam Octa, the latter is a spider and Darren loves spiders. Using a flute Mr Crepsley can control Madam Octa and have her do tricks. This is not really a good book if you hate spiders, he gets the spider to create a web over his open mouth and then eats it. Oh and the spider is deadly poisonous of course.

Steve was acting a but weird when Mr Crepsley came on stage but won’t tell Darren why. Steve wants to stay behind after and tells Darren to go home without him but of course he doesn’t do this. Instead he sneaks up onto the balcony to make sure his friend is ok and what he hears and sees isn’t what he was expecting. Turns out Mr Crepsley is a vampire and Steve found a picture of him in an old book. He asks to be turned into a vampire but they don’t turn children so he ask to be made his assistant. Steve has a bad relationship with his mother and doesn’t think he will miss his friends as much as he wants this. But when Mr Crepsley tests his blood he says Steve is evil and he won’t turn him, ever. Steve says he will become a vampire hunter and track him down for this rejection.

Upon seeing this Darren heads home rather than going back to Steves, he is a bit scared of his friend. But this encounter gives him an idea, he can blackmail Mr Crepsley and steal Madam Octa from him. In true teenage fashion he doesn’t think through the consequences of this before he goes to steal the spider. He leaves Mr Crepsley a note saying he knows what he is but this is not Steve. I’m glad he acknowledges that this is not a good idea because its clear the vampire will assume it was the friend who was with Steve at the show. But when he doesn’t see Mr Crepsley he assumes he has gotten away with it. The spider is controlled by a mix of the flute and mind control and Darren spends most of his time with her making her do tricks and feeding her. His mother is so happy he has picked up the flute again that she doesn’t bother him.

Steve notices that Darren has been acting weird, he is tricked into admitting that he saw what happened at the theatre. Steve is mad when Darren brings up the fact that him being called evil worried him. And we do see some of Steves temper but then he starts crying. Darren accidently says something about Madam Octa and has to show Steve the spider. At first he thinks its just a similar spider but Darren tells him its the real thing and he is confused until Darren says he stole her. He shows Steve what he can make her do and they are just getting her to crawl over Steve when his sister barges in and Darren loses his concentration. Madam Octa bites Steve and the poison paralyses him, Darren manages to get the spider back in the cage.

Of course Darrens sister is freaking out and thinks Steve is dead. They decide to wait and see if he gets any better but he doesn’t seem to be. Darren tells his sister that she can’t tell about Madam Octa, he says he wasn’t in the room when his mum asks what happened. He is rushed to hospital but they can’t find out what is wrong with him. Darren is mad at the spider and throws the cage out the window. But then the vampire appears and takes Madam Octa away with him, so even if he wanted to he can’t use the spider to try save Steve.

Steve does not seem to be getting any better and the doctors have no clue what is wrong with him or how to save him. Darren feels bad and knows there is only one person who might be able to help: Mr Crepsley. Darren sneaks back to the theatre one night and asks him to save Steve. He says he has a serum that can save him but he will only give it to him if Darren agrees to be his assistant. Mr Crepsley seems interested in someone who would steal from a vampire. Darren doesn’t want to do this but he feels bad and knows he will feel guilty if he lets Steve die. He agrees and is turned into a half vampire this means he can go out in sunlight but he will age more slowly than humans. They go to the hospital and climb up to Steve’s room to give him the antidote. It seems they have arrived right on time and Steve makes a full recovery. After this Darren goes back on his word and doesn’t go with Mr Crepsley but he doesn’t seem bothered. Darren is now a half vampire so he knows Darren will come back for help.

A few days later Darren starts to notice some change in himself, he is stronger and even better at football. He is pretending to be bad one day just so his friends don’t get so suspicious of him. But one day on the field a friend cuts his leg and Darren is there seemingly by instinct and sucking his blood. He manages to play it off as a joke but its clear Steve has an idea of whats going on. Later that day Darren is with his sister and can hear her blood pumping. He manages to hypnotise her and is very close to biting her until he sees himself in the mirror and is shocked.

After this Darren decides to go find Mr Crepsley, he doesn’t want to put his family in danger from him. Mr Crepsley tells him that he will have to die before he can join him. He spends the last few days with his parents and sister, he makes sure they know he loves them. Mr Crepsley gives him a potion to make him seem dead and then breaks his neck and throws him out the window. He seems dead and the doctors are quick to say he is. He now just has to wait and listen to his family grieving over him and attend his own funeral. Its actually really horrible and I feel for his family who will never know what really happened. After he is buried, Mr Crepsley comes and digs him out.

Darren is walking around to get the feeling back when someone jumps out at him with a stake. Turns out Steve has been watching him and saw what happened. Steve thinks this was Darren’s plan all along and won’t believe him when he says he only became his assistant to save Steve’s life. He wanted to be the assistant so he is mad that Darren has basically taken the life he wanted for himself. He vows that he will become a vampire hunter and kill both Darren and Mr Crepsley.

I did enjoy this book and the plot is pretty good and full of action and cool characters. It was different reading this as an adult and I can see now how young and immature Darren is at this point. He just does things without thinking of the consequences and it does cause a lot of issues. Stealing a deadly spider when you aren’t sure if you can control it was very stupid and it was obvious it would end badly. I did think Darren was a very caring person, he quite clearly loves his family and friends. He was shocked to find out his friend would want to be a vampire because how could anyone want to drink blood and hurt people. He is a good character and pretty realistic, his voice was captured really well. I did find the author uses a hell of a lot of exclamation marks and this emphasised Darren’s excitement and wonder about a lot of things.

Its not as creepy and scary as I remember it being but it is still quite a dark and dangerous story. Its a plot heavy book but it has some good characters and we do want to know more about them. I think its written exactly as it should be for the audience and the time it was written which is actually quite impressive! I’m looking forward to continuing to make my way through the series again.

Favourite quotes:

“A world of “if”s, but it would make no difference. If I could go back in time… but I couldn’t. The past was behind me. The best thing now would be to stop looking over my shoulder. It was time to forget the past and look to the present and future.”

“The thing about real life is, when you do something stupid, it normally costs you.”

“He says every story has at least some truth in it, even if most are made up.”

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