I had to luck to read an advanced copy of both Trial of Death (book 5) and Vampire Prince (book 6). The two concerns I had when I started to read were: First, that I would be lost since I had not read the first four. Second, that I would get the awkward and strange vampire names all mixed up. Both concerns were baseless. Each book is a complete story unto it's self; I never felt that I had missed a vital fact by skipping the first four books. As far as the names go... the characters were very well written, I had a clear image of Darren (the hero) and each vampire, wolf, vampaneeze etc... A sign of a good book for me is to actually care about each character, and these books succeeded in doing that. After I had read book 5, I was very thankful that I had book 6 because it was a HUGE cliffhanger!
Book 5 (Trials of Death) was about the trials (vampire tests of skill) that Darren Shan endured in his quest to be accepted in the vampire colony. The down side is that if he doesn't pass his tests, he will be put to death. The choosing, training, executing of the trials moved quickly, I liked that I never felt the story line was dragging. There was a festival/feast at which vampires played the so called "vampire games". I found that to be my favorite part, as it made the vampires seem very human like - they like to play, laugh, feast and have a good time. In this book, all is not what it seems. By the end, my idea of who was good and who was evil had been turned upside down.
Book 6 (Vampire Prince) is the continuation Darren's story. He has to expose a former friend as a traitor, turn him into the Vampires, and hope that they believe (and not kill him). This book was different from book 5, in that I felt maturity in Darren that had not been there in book 5. Book 6 was more about his path to becoming who he was meant to be - a man. He has to face his own beliefs and faults. It was still action packed and had plenty of fighting scenes and suspense. It also had an amazing ending.
I had requested books 5 and 6 of the Cirque Du Freak books so that I could decide weather or not theses books would be appropriate for my 13-year-old son. After reading both of them, I got onto amazon.ca and purchased books 1 through 4 for him! I also posted my review on amazon.ca. Theses books are perfect for the so called "tweens". I would highly recommend any Darren Shan book to any and all of my friends who have boys 10 years old and above. However... I gotta say - I will be reading all of these books myself.