Review: Abarat - Absolute Midnight / Author: Clive Barker / Publisher: Harper Collins / Format: Hardcover / Release Date: Out Now
Never one to dumb down to a lowest common denominator audience, Clive Barker's series of fantasy books for youngsters is no different. Absolute Midnight is the latest entry in Barker's Abarat series, set in the titular 25-island (one for each hour of the day, plus one extra – like Dave ja Vu or C4+1) archipelago of Abarat.
Absolute Midnight is the third book in the series, picking up immediately as the previous story ends. Sixteen-year-old Candy Quackenbush has narrowly escaped the clutches of Christopher Carrion, the Prince of Midnight. As the title might suggest, it's the darkest book in the series, often pushing the boundaries for what one might expect from a youths' book. Where it's quite common for a series to go 'darker' during later entries, it feels entirely organic for Absolute Midnight. It is a Clive Barker book, after all. Like Harry Potter meets Alice in Wonderland crossed with Philip Pullman's Dark Materials. Like Harry and Alice, young Candy is an innocent child unexpectedly dragged from her everyday life and thrust into a world of magic, mysticism and untold horror. With the sinister witch Mater Motley threatening to bring total war to Abarat, the stakes have never been higher for poor Candy.
It is possible to follow the story without having read previous instalments, but we wouldn't recommend it. Barker has created a dense universe here; one best appreciated as a big, glorious whole – like a tapestry. Heroes and villains alike are wonderfully memorable, with such great names as Christopher Carrion and John Mischief. His signature mix of sex and violence may have been toned down greatly, but Barker's way with words remains as masterful as ever.
If we were to criticise Abarat, it would be from an entirely selfish perspective. The books are great and all, but we can't help but miss his gorier, more terrifying Books of Blood, his Damnation Game and his Great and Secret Show. Kids these days. Don't know they're born.