Cirque du Freak
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|Series||The Saga of Darren Shan|
|Media type||Print (Paperback)|
|Followed by||The Vampire's Assistant|
Cirque du Freak (also known as Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare) is the first novel in The Saga of Darren Shan by Darren Shan, published in January 2000. The story begins with Darren Shan and his best friend Steve "Leopard" Leonard, who visit an illegal freak show, where an encounter with a vampire and a deadly spider forces them to make life-changing choices.
It starts with Darren narrating saying he was always fascinated by spiders. When he was young, he used to bring spiders from the garden and let them loose in his house, and at the age of 9, he received the greatest gift of his life: a small tarantula. However, the joy of that gift was crushed when he, after watching a cartoon, killed the spider with a vacuum cleaner. The reason he started the tale is because, as the books unfold, he said the story is real he doesn't expect the reader to believe but if he hadn't live through it he wouldn't believe it either. Darren makes then a statement that life, unlike a cartoon, is naturally evil, doesn't care about happy endings, and is always out to kill you. You just have to be careful. Also he said the story is real except the names.
His best friend, Steve "Leopard" Leonard has grown up reading horror comics and stories of the Wolf Man and Vampires. One day, their other friend Alan comes across a flyer (which he has stolen from his older scary brother) advertising the "The Cirque Du Freak" and eagerly shows it to Darren, Steve, and Tommy (Darren's Other Friend). All the boys wanted to go. Each flyer could only get two tickets, however, they play a game of chance to see who will go with Steve (because he put the most money towards it). Darren wins, after listening to a voice inside him telling him to close his eyes and grasp!
Darren and Steve are mesmerized by the fantastic and disturbing show, especially by the act of the mysterious Mr. Crepsley and his giant spider Madam Octa. After witnessing a confrontation between Steve and Mr. Crepsley after the show in which Steve declares the latter to be a vampire, Darren sets his sight on Madam Octa, planning to steal her and use his knowledge of Mr. Crepsley's true nature to his full advantage.
Darren's plan succeeds, and after a few weeks of training Madam Octa, he is fully comfortable with having it in his bedroom, using Mr. Crepsley's flute as an excuse for privacy. During this time, he grows more and more detached from Steve due to overhearing Mr. Crepsley stating that Steve has bad blood and is not good enough to become a vampire's assistant. Steve figures out that Darren lied to him and witnessed what he did, but still chooses to be friends with him.
One day while Steve is at Darren's house playing with Madam Octa, Darren's younger sister Annie barges into his room unknowingly and shocks him, causing him to drop the flute and lose control over the spider, which bites and fatally wounds Steve.
Steve's only hope for survival is if Darren makes a deal with Mr. Crepsley to become his assistant and pay off the cost of the spider antidote. Steve lives, but Darren is turned into a half-vampire, and is forced into the dark world of the vampires. In order to successfully free Darren of all previous bonds, including family, Mr. Crepsley helps his to-be apprentice fake his own death by numbing Darren's entire body, breaking his neck, and throwing him out of his bedroom window, perfectly simulating a fatal fall. During an open-casket funeral, Steve recognizes the small hidden scars on Darren's fingertips and starts cursing at Darren, telling him to stop faking and wake up. Following the events of Darren's human body's funeral, Mr. Crepsley returns and digs Darren up. Unbeknownst to Crepsley, Steve tries to kill Darren, but fails, instead swearing revenge on Darren for stealing his rightful place of being Mr. Crepsley's vampire assistant and betraying him.