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Review: Cirque du Freak (Vol. 01)

Reviewer: Lissa Pattillo

Author: Darren Shaw
Manga-ka: Takahiro Arai
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: June 2009

Synopsis: “The world of internationally acclaimed author Darren Shan’s Cirque Du Freak brought to life as you’ve never seen it before! Darren Shan was an average kid until destiny brought him to the Cirque Du Freak. Now Darren’s been immersed into a shadowy world inhabited by vampires, werewolves, and strange creatures the likes of which he’s never imagined, and his life will be changed forever!”

While I make a habit not to judge a book by its cover, it’s still more often than not a deciding factor in the order of my ever-growing stack of books to read. In the case of Cirque Du Freak, the less than inspiring cover left me placing it on the lower end of my book pile, doomed to the obscurity of someday and the maybes of tomorrow. It proved a mistake of mine however, as having finally read this opening instalment, I was greeted not with mediocrity but instead with one of the most compelling first volumes I have read in ages.

Darren and Steve are best friends and lovers of things that others don’t seem to understand. Darren has a fascination with spiders while Steve has a love for monsters, ghouls and demons. After another evening hanging out in Steve’s horror poster-decorated room, Darren runs home only to be slipped a flyer for something called ‘Cirque Du Freak’, a show consisting of all sorts of unnatural creatures. Naturally, the two are thrilled to attend and attend they do.

The pacing and flow to this story was impeccable. It was easy to follow what was going on, and though the heightened dramatics were saved for particular moments, no points of the book felt too slow or uneventful. I was easily swept away in the story, from the seemingly mundane day-to-day lives of the boys that served as the book’s foundation, to the steady lead up to the book’s key moments. Everything is also well spread out so as to offer readers all the important information and excitement without feeling like too much was forced to fit in this opening segment. It just read really well, start to finish.

In these later portions of the story, Darren is face with a life-altering choice, pitting his fears against his guilt. Even realizing he was likely tricked into this scenario, it doesn’t alter his desperation and I earnestly felt for him as he struggled to make the only decision he knew he could live with (in so many words). Though the basics of the scenario may seem uninspired, the execution was very well handled and it was this decisive moment solidified my love for the book. From here on out, the story continues strongly as Darren deals with the consequences, and it strongly sets up a direction for the story to take in volume two.

On a less definitive note, Steve is left a bit high and dry in the story’s end but not without intentional foreshadowing throughout the story. His passion for violence and monsters fails to feel as harmless when you see the bloodlust in his eyes or the desperation in his words when he pleads with one of the performers of Cirque Du Freak. Though it seems inevitable the story will become a friend-against-friend showdown, I’m still overtly curious as to how it’ll run its course. The irony isn’t lost in the book’s end either, that Darren achieves, to his dismay, what Steve has wanted all along and this factor will undoubtedly weigh heavily on them both even more than it already does now.

Visually the artist has a style suiting, in so many words, of its shonen genre; the lead characters are the most simply designed and immediately recognizable, while important action and emotive scenes are very well portrayed. The whole look of the series is fairly simple at times but it makes the distinctly meticulous designs of the ghoulish characters all the more eye-catching. The horrific moments of the book are well incorporated between scenes more light-hearted in nature as well, and neither seems so out of place as to not compliment the other. I also have to admit that a particular giant-spider gave me the chills every time its far-from-little mandibles wiggled on the page. Yeek!

Overall Cirque Du Freak’s refreshingly rich storytelling, and characters whose plight proved notably compelling, allowed this first volume to be a solid beginning to what I hope is many more admirable volumes to come. For this one I can make a solid recommendation; it’s a supernatural urban story well worth checking out thus far.

Review written July 5, 2009 by Lissa Pattillo
Book borrowed from Halifax Regional Public Libraries

About the Author:

Lissa Pattillo is the owner and editor of Residing in Halifax, Nova Scotia she takes great joy in collecting all manners of manga genres, regretting that there's never enough time in the day to review or share them all. Along with reviews, Lissa is responsible for all the news postings to the website and works full time as a web and graphic designer.

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