First published back in September of 2002, Clive Barker’s ‘Abarat' formed the first instalment into the lovingly illustrated ‘Abarat' series.  Like with Barker’s ‘The Thief Of Always’ (1992), the Abarat books are aimed at a younger audience, as well as striking a chord with his adult readers. Barker proclaimed that “the project is closer to my heart than anything I’ve done before. In fifteen years of publishing and movie making, nothing has excited me more.”  The books began life as over 300 oil paintings that Barker spent four years creating.  Over one hundred of these paintings can be found within this, the first book of the series.

DLS Synopsis:
Candy Quackenbush is a young teenage girl who has been feeling desperately oppressed by the mundane and dreary town where she lives with her equally depressing family – a town named Chickentown within Minnesota.  When everything that has been mounting within her comes to a pinnacle, Candy storms out of her school and just keeps on walking.  With her mind on other things, she soon realises that she has stumbled into a strange part of Chickentown that she has never seen before.

There, at the very edge of the town Candy spies a dilapidated lighthouse within the long flowing grass of an unusually serene field.  Venturing into the field, Candy suddenly encounters a strange individual with branching horns sprouting from his head.  Upon these horns are numerous miniature heads, each one a brother to this freakish looking man.  Introductions are swift between them.  For this strangle looking man - John Mischief, is currently being hunted by a nightmarish creature named Mendelson Sharpe.  With his capture imminent, the master thief Mischief persuades Candy to light the lighthouse lamp using a strange cup-and-ball device.  And upon the lamps awakening, the field is suddenly engulfed within a surging ocean.  An ocean that Candy has just summoned from a parallel world.  An ocean known to those that inhabit the islands of Abarat as the Sea of Izabella.

Candy Quackenbush’s life has all of a sudden become a whole lot more interesting.  Now on her way to the islands of Abarat, the young girl learns of this magical world that has remained hidden from humanity for so very long.  A world that revolves around twenty-five islands, each of which exist within a specific hour of the day, including the 25th island – Odom’s Spire, which exists within a time out of time.

Candy’s adventures start here.  Across the many islands of the Abarat the young girl will encounter strange creatures and the very real presence of magic.  Candy must learn the many cultures and traditions across this fantastical and truly magnificent archipelago.  And in doing so, she will learn of Christopher Carrion – the powerful ruler of Gorgossium - the Midnight island.  Here the nightmare baron resides with his hideous family, plotting away how he can finally rule the whole of the Abarat.

It is a critical time for the twenty-five islands that form the Abarat.  Candy’s life has now been brought into this magical world – and it is beginning to look like this was no accident.  For her life has always somehow been intertwined with the Abarat.  And now that she’s here, exploring the different islands within their own unique hours of the day, it begins to become apparent that she has a very big role to play in the future of the Abarat.  A world that was once connected to Candy’s world until the crossing harbour was destroyed by the Abaratian authorities.  A world that is now very much under threat...

DLS Review:
The first thing that hits you about the ‘Abarat’ books is the vast amount of full colour paintings that adorn almost every other page.  The book is so thoroughly well-produced, with its 418 pages of heavy glossy paper housing the large collection of full colour paintings that illustrate the entirety of the story.  Also included in this first volume is an impressive, full-colour, 25-page Appendix that gives the reader an invaluable piece of reference material that maps out the entire world of the 'Abarat’. 

Barker was inspired to create the fantastical world of the ‘Abarat’ in part by the classic children’s movies ‘The Wizard Of Oz’ (1939) and ‘Fantasia’ (1940), as well as C.S. Lewis's literary classic series ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ (1950 – 1956) and the innovative and unique French Canadian circus Cirque du Soleil. Barker explains that he also took a piece of advice from a much earlier fantasist, William Blake, who said “Make your own laws or be a slave to another man's”.  Hence Barker went on to create his own alternative world where the rules are different, and where miracles and wonderment happen everywhere.

The book is directed predominantly at a younger audience (11yrs+), utilising an adolescent fantasy setting, throwing the reader into a crazy world where a new set of rules apply.  However, like with his earlier novel ‘The Thief Of Always’ (1992), Barker has managed to create the perfect balance to appeal to both ends of the age spectrum, with an adult audience also finding their own level of enjoyment from the books.  This first volume ingeniously sets the imagination alight with its vivid descriptions of the fantastic characters and the magical places that Candy encounters. 

It’s this vivid imagery that Barker manages to inspire within the mind that really brings the story to life.  The colours, smells, characters and the hectic hustle and bustle of the islands are so pronounced within the tale that it instantly ensnares its audience.

The characterisation of the many colourful, unique and incredibly likeable characters that the reader encounters throughout the journey are created with such an obvious loving care, with so many flamboyant qualities to the various personalities perfectly captivating the energetic life that is the very essence of the novel.

The novel's pace is fast and packed with a seemingly endless array of mind-boggling images that will delight the younger readers from the very beginning to the eventual end.  The storyline is as entertaining as it is elaborately imaginative, taking the reader on an epic journey in which they will be totally immersed and absorbed within the bizarre and magical world where it seems anything can happen, and the only limits are those of imagination alone.

Like with ‘The Thief Of Always’, (1992), time is again an important and intrinsically involved factor within the storyline.  Playing with the defining capabilities of what we take for granted as an untouchably stable constant, Barker shifts the whole notion of the ‘time’ at statutory locations, defined instead by their position within the ‘Abarat’.

The ending to this first instalment is nothing short of a breathtaking cliff-hanger, with a wealth of questions and unexplored routes left open for the next instalment to follow-on with.  Although left open for the next part of the series - ‘Abarat - Book 2: Days Of Magic, Nights Of War’ (2004), this first book does still conclude with a satisfying miniature finale, with plenty of momentum bringing it up to this first ending in a line of books.

To say this is a magical read is one hell of an understatement.  It’s enchanting and adventurous, compelling and thrilling, with a gripping and totally engaging storyline that takes the reader through a world where anything and everything seems possible.  The author’s sheer energy and enthusiasm for the characters, the premise and the tale as a whole is instantly apparent.  It’s what breathes life into the story, transforming its colourful pages into this truly mesmerising adventure.

Years later you’ll still remember the intricate world of the Abarat.  There’ll still be a place in your heart for each and every one of the characters.  And the memory of Candy’s adventures will always be there, waiting for you to bring it all back to life once again.

The novel runs for a total of 418 pages.

 © DLS Reviews

Other ‘Abarat’ instalments:

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