I enjoy creepy stories–those ones with the slightly disturbing covers and the uncomfortable premise that stick with you during the dark part of the night well after you closed the back cover. This looked like one of those, and I’ve noticed that creepy tales directed at the teen set are much better in imagination terms than those who target adults. Have you noticed this? Most every adult horror story involves a serial killer; a nearly human monster who is a serial killer; a supernatural being that looks and acts a lot like humans that is a serial killer; or an unknown hostile energy from the great beyond that kills lots of people, like a serial killer. It’s like adult stories work within the parameters of perceived reality, and place the embodiment of horror (read: serial killer) in that reality, or bring to life a character from human mythology that has historically embodied horror and places it in reality. I’ve read countless books about vampires, ghouls and goblins, and evil spirits that prey on the living. But even in the books from the supernatural being’s point of view, I find that a rigid set of physical laws must be followed to make the book “realistic.” After all, if it’s not “realistic” no one will “buy it” in any way, shape or form. I hate this philosophy.
You only really find stretches of imagination in children or young adult literature, and even then it can be iffy. There is a much higher density of good, imaginative horror that takes you completely out of reality and into a whole new world. Isn’t that the point, after all? Well, this is what I was hoping for when I picked up Cirque de Freak. The front cover was suitably creepy with a distorted and screaming face superimposed over a rotted out theater; the pages were decorated with images of spiders, and the title was compelling. The story, however, didn’t quite live up to the hype.
I’m not sure where it fell flat; the premise was good: a group of boys find a flyer advertising a banned freak show taking place at midnight in a rotted out old theater. Only two can go, and these two witness terrible and amazing things. After the show, one boy hangs back to blackmail a vampire (I know!) and ends up rejected, while the other boy plots to steal a deadly spider and ends up begrudgingly becoming the vampire’s assistant. Interesting, no? For some reason, the story just didn’t gel. The characters seemed to constantly act in stupid, unreasonable ways (which I just hate! Hate, hate hate! Honestly, if you’re going to bother to set up a character in a particular way, why have him act out of character constantly? If I can’t imagine myself making those particular decisions given the predefined characteristics, then the character rings very, very false. Forcing a character to act strangely for the sake of the storyline smacks of plot-driven, uncreative writing. In my opinion, of course) and the plot twists themselves, while compelling, just seemed like a prequel. It was almost as if the author wanted to do a series of books (which I later found was true–I think he’s on book 11 of this series now), and simply needed 200 pages to begin the whole thing so he could get started on the real story telling. I don’t like that. Each book should be good in and of itself, regardless of the series to which it is related.
There were some fine points to this story, I must admit. This book is the first in a series about a vampire and his young assistant as they travel the world and have vampiric adventures. This set up also played with the question of what happens when someone becomes a vampire and they have to leave their previous life behind? I’ve noticed in all the other vampire-based books I’ve read, this issue isn’t really confronted. All vampires-to-be either have no ties to the earthly plane, hate what ties they do have, or are in a family that doesn’t mind the thought of an undead relative. This book looks at a normal twelve year old, with a loving family, good friends, and years to go in school. He plays soccer, he does homework, he picks on his little sister…and he makes a deal with a vampire to save the life of his best friend. Once the deal is made, the boy must turn part vampire and become an assistant, thus effectively ending his life. He fakes his own death, but must suffer through his own funeral as he lays comatose in his coffin waiting for the effects of a drug to wear off. It’s an interesting premise, especially as the boy hears the pain his family is going through, and thinks about all the things in his life he will miss. So that was good, but not quite enough to save this obvious attempt at the beginning of a series. I hope the next books make up for it.