Saturday, June 18, 2011

Book Evaluation: Abarat (2002) by Clive Barker

Abarat is a young adult book with elements of fantasy, horror, and dreams. It is a well thought-out  novel with an intricate story, characters, and setting. It does have some more negative elements as well, but I'll get to those later. First, I'll start with what I know about Mr. Clive Barker. It's not much, I assure you. He's an author of primarily dark fantasy and horror fantasy and what I know about him the best are two video games that have his name attached to them: Undying and Jericho and the Hellraiser series of movies. That's about it.

Growing up I wasn't a fan of Clive Barker. I was for Stephen King all the way. I didn't really know much about him and his stories never seemed to interest me, at least what I knew about them, which again, video games and the movies. Other than those things I knew almost nothing. Unfair, I know, but there's the truth. Well, recently I read through Abarat and I have to say I really liked it.

Yes, it is very obviously aimed at the young adult market. So, don't read this if you're not expecting something for the twelve to fifteen demographics. That being true, it holds up remarkably well. It is a well-written young adult novel that, albeit heavy-handed at times, exploring a fantasy realm that stands well on its own. Some of the characters, most of them not exactly the friendliest crowd, are fantastically well-rounded even if the main character, a twelve-year old girl named Candy Quackenbush who acts much older than she is, is much more of a generic heroine character.

The setting, with twenty-five islands representing the twenty-four hour clock with one extra, is an incredibly well done idea and work fantastically in this novel.

The problems are easier to jump on though. Although the novel is well-done, it seems that it sympathizes with the wrong characters (in my opinion, of course). It has a bland protagonist and the story seems fairly generic once you take a step beyond the new kind of setting and some of the more brilliant characters. The writing, as I said before, can be heavy-handed, and seems to be written by a man who does not usually write for young adults. (This is where I wink knowingly. Clive Barker is not usually an author for the young adults and kids of the world.) It comes off as if he is trying desperately to dumb down his own language. Clive Barker, when I was eight I was reading The Lord of the Rings. You don't have to dumb down your language for young adults. They'll understand if you use big words, and if they don't then they should pick up a dictionary and learn. My point is the writing is simplified in many ways.

I'm also going to clarify my "heavy-handed" statement. It seems that there is a working morality within the story and that the readers and audience are supposed to go, "Oh boy, that's wrong." or "Oh man, that's right! You go girl!" I don't like either of these things. I guess I like the vague ideas better. This novel seems to be more a take on fairy tales. Actually that is one of the first things I thought about when reading this. It's a modern fairy tale with clear cut good and clear cut evil, and I find that tedious.

Altogether though, it is well done. The beginning of the novel is particularly great. It starts the story off ridiculously well. The lighthouse scene is one of the best in the entire book and even holds up well against many other, better novels. The ending is weaker as the novel clearly wants me to side with the good guys, when the big evil dude is clearly more sympathetic and the stronger character, a selfless character who gets dragged into evil because of a very selfish woman... or maybe I'm being unfair... although I don't think so. I think people can make sacrifices for peace... I guess that's just my limited imagination or something...

Oh, I don't have a limited imagination? Huh. HUH, I say.

Anyway,if you want to read a decently done young adult fantasy novel done by a horror novelist, this is well done and is very interesting, but you should really read The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King instead. Great novel, standalone and, in my opinion, brilliant. Plus, it's connected to The Dark Tower series. How can there be a loss there?


  1. That's interesting--when you first said heavyhanded I thought you were going go into how Barker is trying really hard to get the audience to feel sympathy for Carrion. Then again maybe it's just because this is only the first book evaluation. Even in an interview, Barker commented something about his own portrait of christopher carrion, stating that if you covered his left eye (from his side), there's a feeling of sadness.

    So I would say the book is sometimes heavy-handed, just for the opposite reasons.

  2. I have only read the first book so far and that was my written impression of it.

    My girlfriend is a huge fan of the books... she's the one who gave me her copy to read... and she's basically said the same thing as you have, Anonymous, but she, like I'm assuming with you, has also read the second book and knows what is to come whereas I literally know nothing about any of this series at all except for the first book. I'm simply going by what I've read so far.

    This is also the only book by Clive Barker that I've ever read, so I may simply not be as used to his writing style as I am with Stephen King or other writers whose works I read much more often.

    I do intend to read the other books in the series though, so my opinions can always change. I find the interview aspect of your comment interesting though. I don't really follow interviews about things, mostly relying on my own thoughts and feelings, and the writing to speak for itself.

    Anyway, thanks for the comment! I'd really like to read more of the series when I get the chance. Hopefully the other books can convince me that it is heavy-handed in the opposite direction!