Birth of a Killer, by Darren Shan
I can honestly say that even when the world of books (and film and… well pretty much everything) is at the moment flooded with vampires, I was still excited about this book. Those creatures just have something on me I guess. So I drifted far away to unknown unimaginable places, sunk in to the pages of this book and was sorry it was over so soon. I haven´t yet read the original saga, the Darren Shan Saga, better known as Cirque Du Freak: the Vampire´s Assistant, so when I started I was a proper Shan virgin. How exciting. This is the story of how it all happened to Larten Crepsley, that orange haired vampire with a huge scar on his face.
All in all it´s a really nice (just dark and mysterious enough to be a proper vampire tale) coming of age story, topped with genuinely warm feelings of friendship, family and self-discovery. Birth of a Killer is an introduction, the pre story of how Larten became a vampire and why it all happened, and it also gives an insight into the likes of how humanly decent Shan’s vampires can be, meaning they feel genuine emotions like regret, love, despair, affection and embarrassment, which is not very common to other existing vampire worlds, at least not to the extent Shan takes his characters.
This is a vampire story with crypts, blood, murders and dirt but an immense part of it is core emotions and deep human feelings. The skeleton of the story being “to value friendship and family”, that is what Larten learns, what Wester knows and bears with him even after years and years of being a vampire and that is what Seba intentionally creates when blooding those boys to become his assistants (by mutual agreement of course).
The story itself takes place in the 1800s in an unspecified location where a young Larten spends most of his days working ruthlessly in a silk factory. Obviously very poor and very overworked, the only thing that brings some joy into his life is his friendship with his cousin Vur who he loves very dearly. When the inhumanly evil (“once cut out a girl’s tongue and kept it in his wallet”) Traz the factory manager kills Vur, an act that is followed by his own murder by Larten, the killer is born.
Larten escapes and meets Seba Nile, a mysterious creature of the night. Larten becomes Seba’s assistant to learn about the ways of vampires. As a side note: in this specific saga vampires do not kill people just for the sake of it nor do they need blood on a daily basis and they actually eat food. They fully enjoy their roast and a nice loaf of bread and down ale like it’s the finest freshest blood straight from the vein. But every good plot needs some evil to spice it up, plus someone needs to drain those people who are left to live by vamps, so let me introduce you to vampaneze. They always kill their prey and keep the souls of their victims, like a trophy. Larten has the honour of meeting notorious Murlough the vampaneze who will be a crucial character in his life for centuries to come.
As the story develops Larten stays with the Cirque Du Freak for a while and meets with a fine selection of weirdoes (in a good way) and befriends Mr. Tall. He also meets Wester, who becomes a new friend, a brother figure and Seba’s assistant number two. Their journey climaxes when they meet Tanish Eul who introduces them the “wondrous world” of alcohol and women. Seba offers his assistants an act of free will to choose between completing their apprenticeship with him or venturing to the underworld of never-ending booze, women and pleasure, at the same time making clear that his door will stay open forever to continue the journey of wisdom. We´ll just have to see in the spring which path they chose to venture down… I know I’m already itching in anticipation.