Yet another YA fantasy that’s part of an ongoing series… We keep coming back to those, don’t we? Well, we can’t help it–those are our favorite thing to read!
Published by HarperCollins
8 x 5.3 x 1.3 inches
Remember way back when, in elementary school, how your teacher would hand out book order forms to your class and you could bring them in with a check and a list of the books you wanted? Well, I’m pretty sure the days when my books arrived at school were the best days of my life. Abarat was one of the books I got from those forms in the dark ages (a.k.a. when I was ten). I think I must have seen the picture of the cover and decided I had to have it. When it arrived with another five or so books (because my mom was nice enough to buy me lot of them) I immediately grabbed it from the pile and started it on the bus ride home. When each of its two sequels (Days of Magic, Nights of War and Absolute Midnight) came out, I freaked out quite a bit and now I eagerly await the fourth book, The Price of Dreams. So, here goes:
Abarat by Clive Barker
* Candy Quackenbush lives in horribly boring Chickentown, Minnesota and she is getting pretty tired of it. One day, she decides to take a walk far from town into a middle-of-nowhere-esque field, which takes her on an unexpected adventure to the Abarat, an archipelago where each island belongs to one hour of the day. As Candy travels through the Abarat, she meets many strange people, flees from the servants of the Lord of Midnight, and begins to think that perhaps she has been to these same islands before.
* Where to start? Well, the most obvious yay factor is the simple uniqueness of the setting and how completely peculiar everything is. No, this isn’t a delicately crafted world of high fantasy; it’s a party, and a fun one. Barker has ridiculousness down to an art–just look at the hamster tree song. There are no limits to what can happen in the Abarat, and that makes the setting and characters all the more fascinating. But what really ties the story together is that among the wild creations of Barker’s imaginations, there is an underlying seriousness. The combination works well.
* I also just think the Abarat itself is infinitely fascinating. There’s idea of someone being able to call the sea forth and for it to be the bridge between two worlds–way cool. And also, the fact that each island is an hour of the day. Each one has its own personality based on the hour and it is effectively that time of day on the island all the time. Pretty weird and pretty awesome.
* Another cool aspect of the world is how the exchange of cultures can be seen with regard to Americans and Abaratians. For instance, the Abaratians, though they’re rooted in an older and more magical era, use devices such as telephones and televisions. Religion is also an interesting piece of it. Frequently, Abaratians will mention “God” in exclamations or invocations, but others call to a deity called A’zo and another character prays to a pantheon of goddesses. Christianity seems to pervade the Abarat (as a result of its communication with rural Minnesota, I guess) and mix neatly with an array of other Abaratian religions.
* The artwork. Eerie pictures all throughout the book. Fun to look at and, at times, disturbing. I personally don’t think good books ever need pictures, but in a world of such complicated imagery, I say it’s a bonus. They really are cool pictures and while I trust my imagination to do most of the work of visualizing the story, it’s nice to have them. Also, they were all done by the author, so that’s kind of awesome and impressive.
* The poetry. Since the book is already such a myriad of different pieces, I love that Barker draws from so many elements of creativity. The story itself is rooted in prose, and the images give it visual substance, whereas the bits of poetry here and there provide whimsical flair and a touch of thoughtfulness.
* I really like Candy as the protagonist. Normally I get annoyed when various people keep telling the main character how special he/she is, but with Candy I found myself saying, “She totally is! I don’t know how yet, but she is!” (I know now, but that’s beside the point.) For one thing, she’s gutsy. She’s not necessarily fearless, but if she wants to do something, she will do it. She’s also just curious about everything–not in a wide-eyed helpless kind of way, but in an “I’m genuinely interested in how things work” kind of way. Plus, she has an habit of feeling responsible for anyone/anything with her that she feels needs protecting, and it’s endearing.
* In general, Barker’s characterization is great. The characters you’re supposed to like, you like quite a lot. The characters you’re supposed to not like, you hate with a fiery passion. Examples: John Mischief and his brothers are funny, charming boys and despite how creepy the picture of them is, they really do win you over and become a likeable presence. On the opposite end, there’s Wolfswinkel. Candy hates him and you’ll hate him too.
* Finally, there’s Christopher Carrion, the Lord of Midnight. At first, you only get a small piece of him and he appears to be like any other evil prince of darkness (except more terrifying, because his picture is wicked scary). But the more you read about Carrion, the more depth you see and the more you come to understand his twisted personality. And then there’s his pursuit of Candy, which is also pretty twisted. Love him as the villain.
* There’s an element of the usual “good versus evil” story. I mean, the villain is the Lord of Midnight, which sort of screams cliché. But since he’s so problematic, I forgive him, if not the general idea that night is inherently meaner than day.
* The book isn’t very well edited. My favorite typo is when Barker refers to John Sallow as “John Swallow.” This happens at least twice.
* Interestingly, Barker has this tendency to switch from very simple, straightforward language to very elaborate descriptions, depending on what’s happening in the story. It works very well, I think, since dialogue-heavy scenes tend to be bare of distractions while the more dramatic or thoughtful scenes are framed by intense prose. One thing I don’t necessarily like is that Barker uses the same words and phrases quite repetitively, for things that could probably be described in another way. (He really likes to use “mind’s eye.”) But for the most part, his writing matches the story: detailed, often extravagant, and artful.
* Fairly quick. The pictures make the pages fly by, and the story is pretty fast-paced. Besides, everything is just so weird that you can’t help wanting to know more.
* A sampling of some of the tamer art from the inside of the book. Pretty crazy-looking anyway, but there really is no better way to advertise the story than to have various pieces put together. The Abarat as a place is like a collage and that’s sort of what the cover illustrates. Also, I love the text of the title–the way it’s written, it reads the same right-side up and upside down.
* Since its publication, the cover they’re producing is different. No tile pictures, but an enlarged bluish version of Christopher Carrion’s face. I don’t like it as much, and it’s also creepy because, like I said, Carrion looks kind of terrifying.
* Wacky and wonderful. If you’re into the bizarre side of life, this is a great book for you and even if you’re not, I’d still give it a try. Plus, the next two books are already out, so you don’t have to wait for them (although there are supposed to be two more).