Monday, January 30, 2012
CHRISTOPHER CARRION LIVES! A review of ABARAT: ABSOLUTE MIDNIGHT
The one truly annoying thing about Barker’s kids’ series, ABARAT, is that it takes soooo fucking long for a new volume to come out. Years pass between books, and it’s hard to remember exactly what happened in the previous installment. Harry Potter didn’t have this problem because his adventures came out approximately annually.
But Barker is worth the wait. For the most part, his adult work is much better. He is allowed to work through the really dark complexities of the human (or, in many cases, inhuman) condition. When he’s writing for the kiddies, he’s got to play it relatively nice (for instance, his author’s bio makes no mention of his lover of many years, David Armstrong). Still, he doesn’t take it too easy on the little fellas. There is plenty of nastiness to find in these pages.
Candy Quakenbush of Chickentown accidentally found her way to the Abarat, an ocean world where there are 25 islands, one for each hour of the day, and an extra one, years ago. She’s been through many adventures and has gained many allies (and quite a few villains to boot). This time, she has a number of difficulties to deal with, mostly to do with Mater Motley, a vicious witch with a cloak of dolls filled with the souls of her vanquished enemies. The old hag wants to bring darkness to a world where the sun always shines regardless of the hour. She calls this Absolute Midnight, and it is a tribute to the wishes of those she serves, those who live behind the stars. She intends to fill this world with her stitchlings, ragged mud creatures worthy of their scrotum-shrinking name, who will then murder her enemies. “A knife for every heart,” she intones darkly.
Poor Candy also has to deal with Boa, who is a very different kind of villainess. You see, we learned last time around that the Abaratians of old hid Boa, a witch in her own right, inside Candy’s brain, where she lived for all of Candy’s life. Candy never noticed and always thought that Boa was actually herself. Yet now Boa wants out, and while Candy is happy to oblige, she’s deathly afraid that she’s going to lose a part of herself in the process.
And then there’s Christopher Carrion, perhaps Barker’s greatest villain. Thought to be dead at the conclusion of the previous book, we find him washed up on a beach of rotting flesh, where he somehow still lives. At his most powerful, he was the Prince of Midnight, a ghastly gaunt man with a glass neck collar, in which swam the diaphanous nightmares that eventually saved his life. He has a horribly scarred mouth because when he was a child, he had the nerve to utter the word “love.” As a result, Mater Motley, his grandmother, sewed his mouth shut. We found out last time that he was once in love with Boa, which explained his obsession with Candy in the first book. Now that he’s been resurrected, and Candy no longer has Boa in her, he feels nothing but sorrow for our protagonist. You see, the reason he’s such a good villain is because he doesn’t want to be, but he’s too scared to not be his grandmother’s servant. Near the end of the book, he says to Candy that he wishes she’d gone back to the Hereafter (earth) when he’d told her to, because now he has to kill her. He is easily the most sorrowful character in the series, and even though he has done many terrible things, a reader can’t help but feel sorry for him. Even Candy herself admits this later in the third volume.
It takes a while for Barker to get into the swing of this story. There are a few false starts throughout the first quarter of the book, which weakens this volume a bit. However, even if the narrative falters at times, the true star of this book, as with the others, is his artwork. The paintings are the reason it takes him so long to get each volume complete, but he takes such care with them the wait is worth it. Think about some of the darkest images you’ve ever seen in a children’s book, and multiply them by a hundred, and that’s what you get here. Barker’s not playing around; he’s out to give your kids nightmares as frightening as those that float around Christopher Carrion’s face.
Even if you feel like giving up in the beginning, don’t. The ending is completely worth it. Although he chickens out when it comes to killing one of the main (and most beloved) characters, the rest of it is mindblowingly awesome. To most of Candy’s companions, it’s heartbreaking, but to Candy and Malingo and Gazza . . . it’s a new world of gods and monsters! A new world full of potential and possibilities! Yes, there is a fourth book on the way, and a fifth after that, and it might take a half-decade before we get to come back to the Abarat, but anyone under its spell already knows they’ll be willing and eager to buy the next volume.
ABARAT: ABSOLUTE MIDNIGHT
Written and painted by Clive Barker
Published by Harper