Monday, March 15, 2010

Cirque du Freak Volume 4: Vampire Mountain by Darren Shan and Takahiro Arai

Darren, together with his Vampire maker and mentor, Larten Crepsley, have been together for seven years. Darren has remained the same, while his friend, Evra Von, has grown up from a Snake Boy into a Snake Man. They are still friends, but Darren is rather sad that they are no longer close in age.

One night, after a successful performance, Crepsley appears and says that he and Darren have been summomned to Vampire Mountain by the Vampire Generals. He wants to leave as soon as possible. Darren and Evra pack for Darren's journey. Evra wants to come, but Darren tells him to stay with his new girlfriend- the trip to Vampire Mountain is long and cold, and snakes don't do well in the cold.

Then, they are surprised by Mr. Tiny, who has heard about their trip. He seems flattered that Darren remembers him, but Darren finds the creepy man hard to forget. He tells Darren that he wants to speak to Crepsley before they leave for Vampire Mountain. Darren says he thinks Crepsley wants to leave right away, but Mr. Tiny tells him to tell Crepsley- everyone takes time for Mr. Tiny.

When Crepsley arrives to speak with Mr. Tiny, Darren is with him. Tiny says the road to the Mountain is long and hard. He wants to send two of his "helpers" with them on the journey. Crepsley says they might get in the way, Tiny pshaws at the very idea. When Mr. Crepsley says they might not be allowed inside Vampire Mountain, Mr. Tiny says the Vampire Princes there know which side their bread is buttered on, and who constructed Vampire Mountain, and Crepsley accedes with a nod.

The two little people, Darren names Bones, and Lefty. In fact, he named Lefty in the last book. Darren and Crepsley must travel to Vampire Mountain barefoot and in rude leather or skin pants and a poncho-like upper covering. They travel for a long time, conserving their food and bottled blood. Along the way, they meet Gavner Purl, who saves Darren from dying in the mountains.

But they also find evidence of Vampaneze, and that someone, a vampire, has been attacked at one of the waystations in the mountains. The waystation has also been destroyed, the coffins in it broken, and the stored blood destroyed. Choosing to leave the waystation because it is no longer safe, Crepsley and Gavner discuss what might have killed the vampire, either the Vampaneze or a Vampire killer. Taking shelter under a stone ledge for the day, Darren goes off to find water, and encounters a Huge Wolf, who, instead of attacking him, licks him, exhibiting no fear. The pack, including a cub, go back with Darren to the other vampires., Gavner is happy to see the wolves, who go to their own Council on the mountain, and he tells Darren that Vampires and Wolves are descended from the same ancestors.

Darren names the wolves. The huge male is streak, for the dark streak down its belly, and the cub is Rudi. That night, the pack sleeps around Darren, keeping him warm, and the next day, there is another obstacle- a friend of huge brambles, covered in ice. To save their clothes from being destroyed, Darren, Crepsley and Gavner must strip to their underwear and go under the brambles, but there, they also find evidence of Vampaneze, including a scrap of cloth with Vampaneze blood on it. After they clear the brambles, Crepsley and Gavner check the area for Vampaneze, leaving Darren safe in a small valley.

But while they are gone, Darren decides to hunt for game for them all, and is attacked by the largest bear he's ever seen. With the help of the pack and the two little people, he manages to kill it, but Bones is killed in the fight. And when Gavner and Crepsley return, they realize that the bear was insane because it had feasted on Vampaneze blood. The little person who Darren called Lefty reveals that he is able to speak and that his name is Harkat Mulds. Most little people aren't able to speak, but he was given a tongue to be able to give the Vampire Lords a message from Mr. Tiny. And the message is this: The Vampaneze Lord is coming.

Both Crepsley and Gavner shudder when they hear that, and Gavner explains that the Vampaneze were once one with the vampires, but left over the argument over drinking blood. While vampires live on only a little bit of human blood, the Vampaneze kill their victims every time by drinking *all* the blood. The other thing the Vampaneze objected to was the Vampire system of rulers, so the Vampaneze have no rulers, and no one to tell them what to do. But the Vampaneze Lord will be the one person who can command the Vampaneze, and if he leads them, the Vampire race will fall, but Mr. Tiny's words can't always be trusted. Sometimes, he lies.

Still, the three of them continue on to the palace of the Vampire Princes, which is located inside the Mountain. Darren and the wolves part as the wolves go on to their own council. Darren is saddened by their going, but is considerably cheered up when Crepsley tells him that the wolves will remember him when they are old and gray- they will never forget him until they die.

They continue into the mountain, and finally come to the door, where each of them must make themselves known to the gatekeeper. Harkat Mulds causes quite a stir. but is finally allowed to enter, and they are given shoes before they enter the feastng Hall, also known as The Hall of Osca Velm. Each part of Vampire Mountain is named after a famous Vampire, and here Darren meets Crepsley's mentor, Seba Nile.

Seba is the Quartermaster of Vampire Mountain, and one of the oldest vampires, long-lived because he lives in the mountain all the time. Crepsley is very glad to see him and wants to show Seba Madame Octa, his spider. Seba, who also loves spiders, is enchanted with Madame Octa, having never seen a Spider like her before, but when Crepsley offers Madame Octa to Seba, he turns her down, saying he is too old and looking after a Spider is a young man's job.

After showing them to their quarters, he leaves them to sleep. The next day, Darren is shown the latrines under the mountain, which empty into rushing rivers that run beneath the mountain, and a shower that is a waterfall, each in a separate Hall under the mountain. He also meets another of Crepsley's friends, the vampire Kurda Smahlt. Kurda is a Vampire Warlord who is about to become a Vampire Prince, because he has been discussing peace with the Vampaneze. He even has three small scars under one eye- a Vampaneze prey mark, as a sign that the Vampaneze respect him.

Kurda shows Darren around the Mountain, and Darren keeps seeing non-vampires that seem to be sneaking around and keeping to the background. But he doesn't get to ask Kurda about them before Kurda shows him to the "Game Room", a chamber where Vampires fight against each other to keep themselves strong and sharp. Here, he meets the Vampire Games Master. the one-eyed Vampire General, Vanez Blaine.

He also meets Arra Sails, another vampire general who refuses to shake the hands of anyone she doesn't respect. When she refuses to shake Darren's hand, Darren agrees to staff combat on the pipes, a twisted construction of plumbing pipes, to see if he can win her respect. Even the knowledge that she hasn't lost a battle in eleven years won't dissuade him. And although he is only a half-vampire, and young, Darren manages to get in some solid blows on her, and even nearly knocks her off the pipes, though she manages to catch herself at the last minute.

She does lose her staff, and Darren offers to let her retrieve it, but she thinks he is mocking her and refuses. So he fights her again, his staff to her bare hands, and this time he loses, with Arra knocking him out and off the pipes. When he comes to, she still refuses to shake his hand, until he tells her he will keep fighting her on the pipes until she does shake his hand, at which point, she relents with a reluctant smile. Darren shakes her hand, and passes out again.

A few days later, the Council really begins, and the council of Vampire Princes is upset with Crepsley, who made Darren at a very young age. They ask him if he had a good reason, and Crepsley says no, inviting the council to punish him for his actions. Gavner speaks on Crepsley's behalf, saying that Darren is an unusually strong Vampire, and that he even got Arra to respect him, despite his young age. Arra also speaks, saying, yes, she respects Darren, but he should undergo tests to prove his strength. Will the Vampire Council make up their mind to accept Darren, punish Crepsley or is there another way to go? And can Darren survive the kind of tests that even Adult Vampires can fail?

This was another volume big on Vampire lore and secrets. Lots of new characters are introduced- not just people like Seba Nile, but the vampire council as well, and the Little people are finally explained. They are spirits, pulled from the afterlife by Mr. Tiny and given another chance to live. Should they die as a little person, and without fulfilling their destiny, they simply cease to exist- or so Harkat Mulds thinks.

We also get to see a lot of Vampire Mountain, but, of course. some things troubled me. For instance, Kurda's scars. Something seems off to me about them- how can a mark the Vampaneze uses to mark its prey also be a sign of respect? It seems more like Kurda will be first up against the wall when any kind of war starts between the Vampires and the Vampaneze. After all, he *is* marked as prey. And who were those human figures in the background of Vampire Mountain, the ones who looked so frightened and harried. Are they sources of blood for the vampires, or something else? We never really find out in this volume, but I am curious.

This volume is curious in itself, because it ends on a huge cliffhanger- Darren's ultimate fate is definitely up in the air, and there is the threat of the message sent by Mr. Tiny through Harkat Mulds still hanging over the Vampire Council and all unresolved. Of course, this is only the fourth book in what is a twelve volume series, so more is assuredly going to happen, including a war between the Vampires and the Vampaneze.

And I must say, that even though I have some problems with the story being in black and white (I have a feeling I am missing so much more without being able to see it in color- there is a scene where Crepsley selects a cloak and Darren remarks about how Crespley loves the color red- but the color is gray/screentone in the manga- that I feel there is so much more missing here I would love to see. And for that, I'll have to read the books. I'd definitely recommend this manga series to those interested in Vampires, though. It's well worth it.

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