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Book Review: Abarat: Absolute Midnight by Clive Barker

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I first met Clive Barker a few years ago and yes, he is really that brilliant and a little bit crazy.  As a young teen his Hellraiser movie blew my mind and I voraciously consumed every book of his I could get a hold of. I appreciated his willingness to take everything a little further than anyone else would and his beautiful crafting of language to paint pictures I had never seen before.  When I met him in Las Vegas, I had brought The Thief of Always, Mr. Barker’s first foray into fiction for younger readers.

My enjoyment of The Thief of Always     ensured that I would appreciate his Abarat series, and after seven long years, Clive Barker has finally delivered the third book, Abarat: Absolute Midnight, a beautiful 569 page epic, featuring over 100 original Clive Barker paintings. Despite the series having been written for younger readers and at one time linked to Disney, Clive Barker doesn’t shy away from his typical mind-bending surrealism. The sexual themes and visceral gore have of course been tamed down for this younger audience.

The story Abarat began nearly 10 years ago, when Clive Barker first let us into his new dream. Not only an author, he is also an accomplished painter and illustrator notorious for drawing little sketches for fans.  Though unnecessary, to assist readers with their journey, he’s included over 100 oil paintings that are reproduced within the hardback editions of the books. I suppose it wouldn’t be a book for young readers without them and surely older fans won’t mind. 

Abarat is an archipelago of islands representing the 24 hours in a day and a 25th island to represent time out of time. If this sounds a little bit Lewis Carroll, Mr. Barker’s Candy isn’t far removed from the prior’s Alice. If Alice were real, I would certainly imagine her more as Barker’s Candy than what the movies portray.  There is genuineness to his characters and no matter the bizarre circumstances they succeed and fail through their real strengths and weaknesses. It is a typically human weakness that leads to the depravity and horror in many of Clive Barker’s other books.

Absolute Midnight continues right where Book Two left off. The 16-year-old Candy Quackenbush, along with her companions Malingo the geshrat and master thief John Mischief have narrowly escaped her pursuer, The Prince of Midnight.  The centerpiece of Absolute Midnight is a brutal war that Candy and her friends are right in the middle of. Her foes are, of course, ruthless.  The powerful and evil sorceress Mater Motley, the prince’s grandmother, intends on extinguishing every trace of light from their world and ours.

Without spoiling more of the story, it would be a disservice to start reading this series with Absolute Midnight. The first two books are essential to getting you to where the final battle is about to begin and in explaining how the teenage Minnesotan was brought to this strange world. They also chronicle her journey to where she is what will lead her to the answers and choices before her.  Unfortunately, the hardcovers are out of print and the soft backs aren’t illustrated.

Absolute Midnight’s pacing is quick and though fairly long for installment in a young reader series, Barker’s wordiness is never obtuse. There is poetry to his writing but the action and dialogue flow fast. The Abarat books are somewhere between Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time and Alice in Wonderland but told with a gritty honesty.  Luckily, there are still two more books to come because Absolute Midnight will leave you with bated breath. It’s hard to imagine a single dreamer out there who wouldn’t enjoy a trip to Abarat.

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About Lance Roth

Lance Roth has over 10 years experience in the video game industry. He has worked in a number of capacities within the industry and currently provides development and strategy consulting. He participated in all of the major console launches since the Dreamcast. This videogame resume goes all of the way back to when they were written in DOS. You can contact Lance at RPGameX.com or rpgamex@gmail.com.