Wonder, Mischief, and Whimsy in Clive Barker's Abarat
I’m a big Clive Barker fan, and I credit him to being one of the authors who made me want to start writing in the first place. The Hellbound Heart damned near made my life, and when I saw Hellraiser for the first time, I knew I wanted to get as involved as humanely possible in this genre, specifically because body horror is always something that resonated with me on a very raw, visceral level. I soon made my way through Mister B Gone, Cabal, The Books of Blood, The Thief of Always, etc. etc. and I found myself continually amazed by Barker’s ability to dive into the dark fantastic and weave and create these beautiful, horrifying worlds where monsters and demons and creatures ran wild in.
Having said that, it’s admittedly been a while since I’ve spent some time with Barker, so recently, I picked up Abarat. The edition that I own has over 100 prints of original paintings that Barker did for the book spread out throughout the chapters, and this was one of my favorite parts of the reading journey. I actually first came to Barker as an art history major, so this was a real treat for me because it added to the whimsical, colorful, and frankly magical world that is Abarat, and at times, made me feel like I was standing there with Candy, the story’s protagonist.
While I found myself really intrigued by a lot of different facets in this book—and yes, I know it’s the first book in a series—it didn’t quite grab me like I wanted it to. I think Candy Quackenbush is a lovely character and I admire her strength and perseverance, and quite honestly, her sass, but she moved a little too fast on the islands for me, and because of that, I never felt like I had enough time to connect with the locations and the relationships she was building with them and their inhabitants. She also was paired off with John Mischief early on in the book, and so I kind of accepted him as her guide, but then about halfway through, he disappeared and went on his own journey, which I only caught glimpses of, so that, too, felt a little staggered to me, especially because Mischief’s character is also really interesting (and delightfully weird) so I felt a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to spend as much time with him as I hoped.
Having said that, there were a lot of pieces that did grab me and keep me invested, and (surprise! surprise!) the villain, Lord Midnight—Mr. Carrion, himself—was a source of deep curiosity for me. I loved the sections that included him and snippets of his past, and I like the set up for the battle between dark and light and this focus that is put on ancient knowledge and power that is derived from books. I don’t know that I’m going to continue on with this series, necessarily, but if I did, it would be because of his character and my interest surrounding the final battle between him and Candy—something that I didn’t get a taste of in this book, which again, was a bit of a letdown for me.
Regardless, with all of this said and done, at the end of the day, I think had I been reading this as a less- critical young adult, I would have had a better reaction to it. This is exactly the type of fantasy that I love—it’s wildly imaginative, very mystical and Wonderland-inspired-- but the adult reader in me just ultimately wanted a little more development and restructuring when it came to how characters and information was delivered. That’s not to say I didn’t like the book, because I absolutely did, but compared to his other stuff that I’ve read, it just didn’t hit me the same way.
I give this book 3.5/5 stars.