Sunday, December 6, 2009
HELL’S HEROES - Darren Shan
CIRQUE DU FREAK – Darren Shan
This Christmas, what are you going to buy the young men in your life? Another astonishing computer game? Another expensive electrical gadget?
And what about the young ladies? Let me guess… Sparkly make-up, a pink cellphone?
I’m thinking ‘a book’ is not the first thing that leaps to mind. And certainly not a horror story with a scary picture on the front cover. When I picked up Hell’s Heroes in the book shop my first thought was – “Was sort of sick person reads this sort of novel?”
“But Darren Shan is a genius!” insisted my friend the teacher. “Boys and girls who are not readers, read Darren Shan. And once they read Darren Shan, they read Anthony Horowitz and then they’re hooked on reading for life…”
I was not easily persuaded. After twenty pages I said, “But Hell’s Heroes reads like a computer game. It’s one action sequence after another. Our narrator isn’t even human: he’s a ‘slime-covered, hairy, mutated, wolfen beast’. Nor is he humane: he has torn out the eyes of his closest ally and he isn’t sorry for doing it. And Planet Earth is being invaded by grotesque demons that can only be killed by magic. And the only person who can help the wolfen beast and the blind boy to save the world has gone over to the dark side and joined forces with the demon master. This is a story about the apocalypse! It even says ‘Game Over’ on the back cover!”
My friend the teacher said “You’re starting at the wrong end of Darren Shan. Hell’s Heroes is the very last book in a series of ten books called the Demonata. You need to start at the beginning…”
So I went to the library and got a copy of Cirque du Freak, Darren Shan’s first children’s horror novel, first published ten years ago. I sat down with Rex who is 9
“Read,” I said.
“But Mum, I’d rather kick a football.”
“Read,” I insisted.
He started to read. By the end of the first sentence – “I was in the toilet at school, sitting down, humming a song” – he was hooked. It was the most painless fifteen minutes of reading together we’ve ever done. He even said, “Let’s read on. I want to find out what happens next…”
(This is music to the ears of any mother of a child who is not a reader!)
What happens is that two normal boys Darren and Steve get tickets to go to a ‘freak show’ to watch a performing spider owned and controlled by a vampire. Darren steals the spider; the spider bites Steve, who stiffens into a coma; it seems Steve will die. Only the vampire can save him; he has an antidote to the poison. But the only way the vampire will save Steve is if Darren agrees to fake his own death, and become a half- vampire, and work as his assistant. I did not enjoy reading about the faking of Darren’s death, it made me feel queasy inside but Rex is made of sterner stuff. He said, “Chin up Mum, it’s only a story.”
Darren Shan is the pen name of Irishman Darren O'Shaughnessy. When he wrote Cirque du Freak in 1999 he had trouble getting it published. Now his books are for sale on every continent, in 39 countries, in 31 languages, and have been children’s bestsellers in America, Britain and Ireland. His books have sold somewhere close to 15 million copies worldwide!
VERDICT: Do you want to be the most admired kid on the block this Christmas? Ask Santa for a Darren Shan novel.