Throwback Book Review: Abarat by Clive Barker

Way back in my middle school days (well, what would have been my middle school days if I hadn’t been homeschooled), I picked up this book from the library, knowing nothing of the author or the series. Let me just say, to most people Clive Barker is a horror writer, but since this is the only series I have read by him, he’s a fantasy writer to me.

Despite me having great memories of this book, I would be the first to concede how many problems the book has from an analysis perspective. While I’ll be focusing on the first book of the series, I have read all three of the books released, so at the end I’ll give my general thoughts on the series as a whole.

Now, where to start?

Release: 2002

Synopsis: Candy Quackenbush is an unhappy teen living in Chickentown, Minnesota who gets magically transported to Abarat, a fantasy archipelago comprised of twenty-five islands. There, she begins to piece together her destiny while meeting many interesting creatures and running from the Prince of Midnight, Christopher Carrion.

What I Like About This Book

One of the best things I love about this book is the world itself. From each island being a certain hour (Gorgossium—the Island of Midnight—being my favorite) to the characters unique descriptions (like John Mischief having seven brothers on his antlers), the world is one of the most interesting and disturbing fantasy worlds I have ever read about. Each new character brought in is new and different, and the world is definitely the main strength of this book.

The villains are amazing. From Christopher Carrion himself to his grandmother Mater Motley (that woman is creepy!), all the villains are a perfect mix of horror but also pity, which is very hard to do as an author. It’s easy to make a villain evil, but to instill such fear and disgust at their presence and yet still feel sorry for them is something I have rarely seen an author do with any success.

Also, slight spoiler, the idea of the soul of a princess being within Candy is personally, I think, a much better way to connect her with this other world rather than simply “she is the savior” or something like that. While Candy is the protagonist, her part in the world never feels cliqued. She does not have a main love interest (in fact, little romance is involved, which is a breath of fresh air from the majority of YA fiction). Some might dislike this, but I enjoyed the focus being away from romance and focusing on the world and plot.

The information about the world is introduced very well. We see from Candy’s perspective in the beginning so being thrown into such a weird world seems as strange to her as it does to us. The concepts are easy to understand and new information gets introduced at a good pace.

However, there are some issues with this book.

What I Dislike About This Book

Unfortunately, while Clive Barker shines in developing worlds, the progression of the plot and characters feels flat.

Very little happens in this first book (and the next two books) when it comes to plot progression. Yes, we learn a little more about the world and Princess Boa, but most of the book is Candy learning about the world and Christopher Carrion trying to capture her. Yes, that is the basic plot of not only of this book, but the second book as well. There doesn’t feel to be really any rising of conflict, climax, or resolution in this book. Instead, there are many small dramatic scenes throughout. In this way, the book’s plot feels disorganized.

Now, unto the characters. While the unique characters look interesting and may have a couple unique quirks, the only character I see having any depth is Christopher Carrion himself. In fact, I feel like he is the only character who even comes across as a real human being (which is ironic, him not really being human and everything).

Most of the characters react very weirdly to things. Candy is far too calm in seeing things that defy reality. Most of the characters’ only unique feature besides their looks is that they’re ‘eccentric.’ But if every character is eccentric, then that would make them all normal, right?

The Series as a Whole (Spoilers!)

There are currently three books in the series, though when I read them as a child there was only two (and I waited years for the next one to come out). There are Abarat (2002), Days of Magic, Nights of War (2004), and Absolute Midnight (2011). According to Wikipedia, there are two more books planned, though there is no release date.

Similar to the first book, the main problem I have with this series is that it is more about exploring the world and less about going anywhere with the story. The second book ends with a flood coming from Abarat to Candy’s hometown of Chickentown, bringing many of the people of Abarat (including Candy and Christopher) to our world. In the end, it is unknown whether Christopher Carrion survives or not and his grandmother takes over, hoping to create Absolute Midnight. Which brings us to the next book…which I waited years to read (I understand Game of Thrones book fans).

The only difference in the third book with plot is that Mater Motley is now the main antagonist and Christopher Carrion is against her. Besides that, the book ends with nothing being resolved and Candy and her group falling into another universe.

Again, like the first book, the entire series feels like it’s examining a world but not really progressing a plot much.

Conclusion

I have a love/hate relationship with this series. I want to see want happens to the characters (mostly Christopher Carrion), but it’s taking forever to get to the end. At first, when I started the series, it was supposed to be a trilogy (three books, two of which were already out). Then I waited years for the third book, just to find out that it wasn’t the conclusion and there would be multiple books after it.

Yes, I will be reading any sequels that come out. However, I plan to get them from the library and not spend any money on them, because I really feel like it’s a waste of money. If you happen to see this series at the library or at budget books, check them out. But they aren’t good enough where I really anticipate the new books anymore (if any new books do indeed come out).

Saying that, if they ever make this into a movie, it would be visually stunning, I am certain. But as a book, it has a lot of failings.

Have you guys read this book? Is it a series you would be interested reading? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more madness and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

5 thoughts on “Throwback Book Review: Abarat by Clive Barker

  1. Thanks for this throwback! I read this book so long ago, but it always stayed with me. It was a book I picked for the cover and I thought I wouldn’t have liked it, but I did. However, I had no interest in going beyond this book.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m a huge Clive Barker fan, but haven’t touched this series yet (Abarat is in my TBR pile; I’m nearly finished Everville now, which has the same failings). I agree that he builds fantastical worlds that draw you in, but the plot itself seems to get bogged down by all these details. His earlier works are much leaner, which I liked.

    Liked by 1 person

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