Tunnels of Blood
by Darren Shan
Once again, Irish author Darren Shan chills, shocks, and teases with suspense in an innovative vampire novel for young adults, featuring a teen half-vampire named after himself. This series, generally known as either "Cirque du Freak" or "the Darren Shan Saga," is safe from the current backlash against teen and tween vampire series such as the Twilight Saga (which, after a series of hit films, is now widely recognized as a hideously banal and unconvincing romance) and the True Blood novels (now a cable-TV series which no one watches except for the sex scenes). Young Darren, by contrast, is just a nice boy who has barely started to notice girls, and who realizes that his status as a half-vampire assistant to the full vampire Larten Crepsley pretty much kills any chance of his having a long-term girlfriend. Though he does, in this book, pick up his first short-term girlfriend, the innocence of their relationship and the danger it puts her in guarantees two things: first, that the supernatural horror side of this vampire tale will never take a backseat to romantic ickiness; and second, after the lesson Darren learns in this installment, he will not be in a hurry to play the relationship game again. And so, teen vampire fans who are a little disillusioned with series that turned out to be mostly romance novels, can safely navigate this series without discomfort.
Assuming, of course, that they don't have a problem with exploring "tunnels of blood" beneath an unnamed city, where dwells a species of blood-sucking monster related to, but distinct from, vampires. Here Darren learns about the vampaneze—creatures of the night who drain their victims dry, rather than (like vampires) drinking only enough blood to wet their whistle. It's the difference between beings who eat to live and those who kill to eat. Not realizing that one such vampaneze is the killer Mr. Crepsley is after, Darren almost kills his own master. But the danger gets worse when the vampaneze gets away, abducts Darren's friend Evra the snake boy, and threatens to murder the girlfriend and her parents.
Anyone following this series will have learned by now that author Shan is a master of inventing bizarre character names, reinventing vampire mythology with surprising new details, and keeping readers on the hook by teasing plot twists ahead of time. All these specialties are strongly evident in this book. This adds up to a story well-stocked with creepy suspense, shocking goriness, and a surprisingly winsome humanity, for all that it is told in the grammatically imprecise plainness of speech of a narrator whose education, after age 14, was limited to work experience as a freak-show crew member and a vampire's assistant.
This book concludes the "Vampire Blood Trilogy," which began with Cirque du Freak. If you feel unready to depart from Darren Shan's dark world of bad, worse, and unimaginably awful vampires, that's all right. There are three more trilogies in the series after this, and the next trilogy starts with Vampire Mountain.
St. Louis, USA
Recommended Age: 12+
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