With Halloween right around the corner, and the movie out since just last week, I thought that the vampire-themed "Cirque Du Freak: A Living Nightmare" by Darren Shan would be a good book to read and review. Boy, was I wrong.
"Cirque Du Freak: A Living Nightmare" is told as a first hand account by Darren Shan, a young man who loves being scared. He and his friends find about a secret freak show being held, and decide to try to attend. In the end, Darren and his friend Steve end up going to the "Cirque Du Freak" one night. Darren and Steve are amazed by the variety of incredibly realistic performances, from a wolf-man and snake boy to Darren's personal favorite: a man who can control a giant spider with a flute! Darren and Steve seem leave the show happy - but then Steve attempts to leave Darren, and make his way back into the Cirque. Darren follows him and listens as Steve accuses Mr. Crepsley, (the man behind the spider act) of being a vampire! Darren, shocked, watches as Steve demands that he turn Steve into his assistant, threatening to expose his identity to the world if he doesn't. Mr. Crepsley refuses, however, accusing Steve of having "bad blood."
Darren sneaks back out and meets Steve at the front, deeply suspicious and more than a little frightened. Sometime in the next week however, Darren loses all fear of Mr. Crepsley, as it is replaced with longing for the huge spider he used in his circus act. Darren decides to go back to the Cirque Du Freak and steal the spider from Mr. Crepsley as he sleeps. This plan works perfectly - until Mr. Crepsley realizes that his spider is gone, and Darren finds out that taming a huge venomous tarantula isn't as easy as planned. Trouble unfolds, and Darren must use all his wits to overcome the challenges ahead.
This book, for me, is an absolute disaster. The writing is amateurish, the plot distressingly predictable, and some of the imagery used is unnecessarily nasty. I understand that Shan is attempting to write from the point of view of a young teenager - but there's no reason that the writing has to seem like its written by a young teenager! One thing he does that is one of my pet peeves is he overuses and misplaces exclamation points. They're perfectly good in moderation, but when they're used seemingly just for the sake of making your boring book seem more interesting, they become grating.
And that was another problem that I had: the book was just plain boring and predictable. In my mind, the mark of a good scary book (i.e. Stephen King or Michael Crichton) is that it terrifies you, but keeps you from being able to put the book down. This book did neither of those things. The plot was predictable enough that I never reached a point where I was scared. I was able to guess what was going to happen sometimes even a chapter before it happened.
Sometimes it felt like Shan was trying too hard to scare you. On the first page of the book, Shan describes how as a child he used to dream that a spider would crawl into his mouth while he slept and lay eggs in his stomach. And that was a GOOD thing to him. This didn't scare me or draw me in; it just disgusted me and made me want to read something else.
All in all, I give "Cirque Du Freak: A Living Nightmare" a 3 out of 10. If you want to read it, you should probably be 12 or older. But, after 183 pages, reading this book seems more like a waste of time than a good Halloween activity.