Week 12 and I kind of fail again. I have read this but I should have finished last week. But well, here it is – my review of Abarat of Clive Barker. Ready to find me completely freaked out? Oh, you better be.
By: Clive Barker
Published by Lindhart og Ringhof, 2003,
First published 2002
Candy Quackenbush is a troubled yet good-natured Minnesotan girl, but when she ventures into an empty field one day and meets John Mischief, a creature with seven extra talking heads on his antlers, she’s rendered awestruck and knows she’s bound for a heap of adventure. Soon the two are narrowly escaping a dark hunter sent by the evil Lord Carrion and diving into the Sea of Izabella, a vast ocean containing 25 islands that stand for each hour of the day, plus a mystical Twenty-Fifth Hour. As Candy embarks on her adventure throughout this mind-bending archipelago, she visits the average citizens of Yebba Dim Day, joins a clan of tarrie-cats and slothlike Malingo to battle the dastardly Kaspar Wolfswinkel, and even gets a horrific taste of the Twenty-Fifth Hour itself.
Rating on Goodreads: (it was okay)
There are some spoilers in this, so if you plan on reading this, maybe you should leave this for now. The spoilers aren’t very big, though, as there aren’t that many big reveals in this. Anyway – on to the review.
Now, I’m not crazy enough to say that any book would ever drag me into a hellish fantasy land and stab me with a sharpened ruler, but if any book were to do it, I guess this would be it. Let me elaborate…
My overall first impression of this book is that it is weird. Just plain odd. First of all, it’s very heavy because of the paper it’s printed on. Second, I thought it was a children’s book and was surprised at how big it is and (later on) how gritty. Third it’s based on a series of paintings by Barker, paintings that are in the book – I guess it’s supposed to improve the reading experience and to give a certain tone to the story. Personally, I just found them to be in the way (and they sort of embarrassed me when I read this on the bus) and also… they’re a bit disturbing. I’m sorry guys they’re just… they’re creepy. They’re beautiful and all but they’re creepy.
Now, to start talking about writing, the book is already described in heavy detail, and I actually enjoyed the prose more than I did the paintings. If the characters weren’t described that much, the pictures would have been cool, but when they’re already so well described, I don’t need them. I already formed pictures of the characters in my head and I liked my versions better (d’uh, everybody knows the only place I’m truly happy is in my own head).
Also, is it just me, or is the book a bit unaware of its audience? It’s a young adult fantasy book with colourful, childlike (though creepy) images, somehow written in the tone of a children’s book and with some very, very dark details (did I mention the pictures are creepy?). The main character is, I think, around thirteen years old (at least I think she’s in the sixth grade) and she has a father who’s an alcoholic and hits her. That’s… really dark. You pick this book up and the paintings are likely to make you think it’s for kids – heck, that’s what I thought. I’m told this is young adult, but other than the rather grisly details, I don’t feel it – both writing and paintings have a childlike feel to them.
It is a very imaginative fantasy worlds with some truly original ideas and a very unique feel to it. I like the ideas in this and I like the descriptions but that’s pretty much what I like. I don’t care too much for the story, because it seems to have no purpose, other than to set up the next book in the series. I know the whole ‘journey to fnarg and saving the world’ is old, but it has some kind of a goal. The main character in this is just sort of being thrown around and meeting different people and seeing stuff and then fleeing from the Big Bad. It’s cool enough to get around the setting, but it does nothing for me. I like the setting but not enough that I want to read the next book in the series. Sorry.
The characters are likeable enough, I will say. They’re mostly weird creatures that are very imaginative, but they don’t have much in the way of personality. The main character is a bland Chosen One-type of character and while I just regretted this is not a typical journeyish story, I would not regret if the main character wasn’t some kind of ‘Chosen One’. I don’t like Chosen Ones. The last book I read with a super spechul Chosen One was friggin’ Marked, and the less said about that travesty, the better. While this main character, Candy, is less annoying than Zoey Redbird, it’s because she’s bland, not because she’s more interesting. The side characters are the most fun – even the villains happen to be quite good fun. Their designs are cool and they have more depth than Candy. Nothing stands out much, though, which is a shame – this fantasy world has a lot of potential.
In the end, what really made me dislike this the most was the – if you ask me – unnecessary grittiness of this. When I’m saying that the fantasy world has potential, I mean that I had a potential to enjoy this, but Barker wouldn’t friggin’ let me. He showed me this amazing world and then he slapped me in the face with gems like a dragon vomiting over a ship as a sort of attack and the Big Bad thinking he’s going to fall in love with the main character who is flipping thirteen. WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT? This is such a dark, cruel story, and while fantasy worlds aren’t necessarily all light and happy, at least give me something nice to hold on to! I want to experience a beautiful world, not to read about paedophilia and vomiting dragons. It’s like this book is so mean spirited, so needlessly cruel. One second it’s funny animals with ladders for legs (I quite liked that one) and tarrie-cats, the next it was peeing octopodes and dead tarrie-cats and vomiting dragons (and I did not make a word of this up, honest to Austen I didn’t).
I didn’t hate this book; I just didn’t like it all that much. The two stars are for funny descriptions and the ladder-leg-thingy (seriously, how cool was that thing and he only mentioned it once) and an original fantasy world. If there’d been a good story and characters that lived up to the setting, it might have been better. But most of all, I’d like to not be bombarded with vomiting dragons, thank you very much.
I like the ladder legs thingy, though. Did I mention?