The Lake of Souls by Darren Shan (Cirque Du Freak #10)

"If you step through after Harkat, you might never come back. Is your friend worth such an enormous risk?"

Darren and Harkat face monstrous obstacles on their desperate quest to the Lake of Souls. Will they survive the savage journey? And what awaits them in the murky waters of the dead? Be careful what you fish for...

TITLE: The Lake of Souls
AUTHOR: Darren Shan
PUBLISHER: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
YEAR: 2002
LENGTH: 263 pages
AGE: Middle Grade
GENRE: Fantasy, Horror

Queer Rep Summary: Genderqueer/Nonbinary Secondary Character(s).

THE LAKE OF SOULS follows Harkat and Darren in a very weird place on Mr. Tiny's direction, doing cryptic steps in order so that Harkat can find out who he was before he was a Little Person (a stitched-together creature made by Mr. Tiny from a soul that wanted a second chance). Once they reach the Lake of Souls, Harkat must retrieve his old soul and find out who he was before he died. Partway through they meet a very strange ex-pirate named Spits who (the book won't let you forget) really wants to drink alcohol. I wasn't enjoying how much he took over the narrative, but it has a great payoff so it works out overall. 

This is the tenth book in the series and the first book of the final trilogy. It wraps up the long-teased question of Harkat's original identity, a mystery which has lingered since early in the series. While the need to answer the question is old, the way the do it is so strange of a quest that I do count it as a new storyline. While I knew they needed it answered, I wasn't expecting "shoved through a portal and told to figure it out or die" as the start of a quest. They get slightly more information, but it's nearly that cryptic and definitely that threatening at the time. 

It introduces and resolves the backstory of a strange person they meet on their journey, as well as their best guess at what that strange place actually is. It's not the final book, and specifically teases that the final battle with the Vampaneze Lord will be some time in the future. 

Darren is still the narrator, and he feels more like an adult in terms of what he knows, but his narrative style still feels like a teenager. Since this hits a sweet spot on his reactions feeling appropriate to the target audience while also not shying away from the horror in certain events.

Even though this is the start of a new arc in the series, it's the final arc which will wrap up everything they've been building towards. It's answer time, and if you hop right in without having sat with questions it won't be nearly as satisfying. Also, Darren is trying to figure out how to grieve for someone he lost in the previous book, and it won't have nearly the emotional impact it's meant to for someone who hasn't at least read as far back as the sixth book. For the big mystery of Harkat's identity, you really ought to go back to the fourth book where Harkat's first major journey with Darren takes place.

Graphic/Explicit CW for grief, alcohol, alcoholism, body horror, animal death, death.

Moderate CW for ableism, vomit, gore, blood, violence, fire/fire injury, injury detail, war, cannibalism.

Minor CW for infertility, child death.

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