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Book Review

A Living Nightmare by Darren Shan has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It in the first book in the "Cirque Du Freak: The Saga of Darren Shan" series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Darren and his friend Steve — both fascinated by the macabre — sneak out of their houses to attend an "underground" freak show, Cirque Du Freak. Steve recognizes one of the performers, Mr. Crepsley, who charms a spider using telepathy, an act performed by a vampire whom Steve has read about. Steve secretly confronts the man and asks to be his apprentice. Darren, who is obsessed with spiders, uses the conversation he's overheard to steal the spider (Madam Octa) and blackmail Mr. Crepsley, who is a vampire. Mr. Crepsley refuses Steve's request to be his apprentice, but Darren finally reveals to Steve that he's stolen the vampire's spider and has been training her. While she is uncaged, Madam Octa launches herself at Steve and bites him. He is close to death. Darren's only hope to save Steve is to get Mr. Crepsley's help. The vampire will only save Steve if Darren agrees to die and become reborn as the vampire's apprentice.

Christian Beliefs

Darren begs the comatose Steve to recover, and then says (when his friend doesn't regain consciousness) that his "prayers" were not answered. Mr. Crepsley laughs at Darren when the boy tries to destroy him with a cross and holy water. Mr. Crepsley is amused that people believe what they see in movies instead of using real weapons. A priest presides over Darren's funeral.

Other Belief Systems

Both Mr. Crepsley and Darren control Madam Octa using mental telepathy. Darren sometimes "senses" things that lead him down a certain path. He calls it destiny. Mr. Crepsley asserts that vampires are not necessarily evil. They just have a thirst for blood now and then.

Authority Roles

Darren's mom and teacher, Mr. Dalton, both recoil at the idea of freak shows, saying they exploit the performers. Mr. Dalton is so upset when he learns about Cirque Du Freak that he goes to the police in an effort to get the show shut down. Darren's parents try to be involved and talk to him when they sense he's upset. They understand his emotions but have no clue about what he's up to or what sort of danger he's in. Steve lives with his mom, and the two fight regularly. Though he's a vampire, Mr. Crepsley comes across not as evil as much as someone doing what is necessary for his survival. In the end, he is rather pleasant and nurturing to Darren. Darren's friend Tommy says anything that adults hate is normally awesome. Steve shares plans to take money from his mom's money jar and sneak out to buy Cirque Du Freak tickets. Darren's parents share a bottle of wine at dinner.


The words h--- and crap appear a few times. At the freak show, the wolf-man bites off a woman's hand, and it is sewn back on. That same evening, Madam Octa sinks her fangs into a goat and paralyzes it before killing it. Steve is envious that Darren is a vampire and he isn't.

Steve tells Darren the violent ways he'll kill him when he gets a chance. Darren offers a morbid description of his death, burial and being exhumed by Mr. Crepsley. The next book in this series is previewed after A Living Nightmare ends. In it, Mr. Crepsley and Darren feed on a nice scout leader with a wife and kids.


Darren reads adult comics of which he knows his parents would disapprove.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

10 and up




Darren Shan






Record Label



Little, Brown and Company, a division of the Hachette Book Group


On Video

Year Published





We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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