Darren Shan is a writer that I admire hugely. He writes fantastic horror stories and, when I've had the opportunity to see him live, does great readings and really cares about his fans. His current series, The Demonata, concludes with Hells Heroes, the 10th volume in the series.
Shan likes to leave his readers dangling and the end of Vol 9, Dark Calling, was no exception. Bec had allied with Lord Loss, Grubbs and Kernel seemed to no longer trust each other and Demons were breaking through all over the planet. Things were, as they say, looking bad for planet Earth.
Hell's Heroes picks up where Dark Calling ended. Grubbs is trying to come to terms what he's done to Kernel and with Bec's betrayal. Kernel doesn't trust him any more and threatens to leave first chance he gets. From this inauspicious start, Shan weaves a compelling tale of action, loyalty and the inevitable lots of gore that wraps up all that has gone before and answers the questions raised in previous volumes.
Although he displays a solid grasp of tone and plotting, Shan's greatest strength as a writer is, in my opinion, the quality of his endings. His massive 12-volume Vampire series finished with an ending that was unexpected, appropriate and, in hindsight, set-up right from the beginning. Above all, it gave me a sense of conclusion that avoided cliche and felt right. Hell's Heroes ending is just as satisfying and, without giving anything away, takes the story in a totally unexpected direction that, again, had been foreshadowed throughout the series for those who paid careful attention.
One aspect of the final volume that I found interesting was the nature of the narrator. Grubbs has become bitter and despondent and the easy-going, wise-cracking character of earlier novels isn't as much in evidence. Although this makes Grubbs lass sympathetic to the reader, it's a natural progression based on earlier events and makes the character more honest and believable. It's a difficult thing to pull off, particularly with a younger readership, but Shan does it without ever losing the characters basic humanity. It's a bold step but in the contxt of the overall story, a necessary one.
The Demonata itself was a more complex series than the Vampire one. Not only did it have have different narrators in various volumes (Kernel, Grubbs and Bec) but, as it progressed, it spun out of being just a horror story to address bigger themes. In the course of the series it covered the true meaning of friendship, the nature of Death and the origin of the universe, without ever becoming worthy or forgetting that its primary function is to tell a good story. It takes great skill as a writer to balance these aspects of the narration and manage to keep the reader engrossed. The Demonata manages to achieve this effortlessly and is a fitting ending to a magnificent series.
Not content to rest on his laurels, Shan has a new book, The Thin Executioner, coming out early next year and follows that with a four-volume series about Larten Crepsley, one of the most enduring characters in the Vampire series. Does the man ever sleep?