This is for the benefit of those of my readers who are just discovering Abarat and the wonder it offers. You have met the characters, gotten a glimpse of the setting, seen some of the wondrous paintings populating the novels. Now, it’s time for you to get a hint of the story contained within the pages of the novels. This is not going to be a review in the objective sense of the word because I really can’t review it without…you know, resorting to gushing. So, first I’ll just say that I am not very familiar with Mr. Barker’s writing. His work is generally horror (I believe) and that is not one genre I’m too interested in. (Fine, call me chicken but I like sleeping without nightmares.)
I don’t remember what led me to picking up the first Abarat novel. I really don’t. I must have gotten it from the library. Or perhaps I bought it from Chapters on a whim. I have no idea. I just remember that as soon as I finished book 1, I had to get book 2 and I was lucky because Eid had just passed (and kids get money during Eid) so I had the moolah that was required to purchase this novel.
Here’s an aside: If you are going to read this book, read it in hardcover form so that all the paintings are in full colour and you can properly appreciate the gorgeousness of the art. Seriously.
Paintings aside, there is a reason people love Abarat as much as they do. The setting is as much a character as any “real” (and I use the word in the loosest sense) person in the novel. The protagonist, trapped by her family and situation in a deadend town called “Chickentown” yearns to escape. And escape she does. But the place she goes… well, let’s just say that it is way stranger than anything she could have dreamed up. She meets people/creatures along the way, all of whom leave some sort of tangible (or intangible) impression upon her and all the while, she battles this sense of strange familiarity. As though she has been to this place before. As though she’s seen these things before. Experienced the life of Abarat before. The story is a journey and it is layered ever so exquisitely. It’s a coming of age story, it’s a treasure hunt, it’s an explorer story. An amalgamation of genres designed to appeal to anyone who likes reading.
And Christopher Carrion has to get special mention. He is one of the most intriguing villains out there. Voldemort is interesting yes but I believe that Carrion is much more compelling. He is terrifying. His visage is a horror to look upon but he is more a product of his surroundings than perhaps of genuine evilness. There is something broken about the man that even as you see him commit the atrocities he commits, you still find yourself feeling this helpless pity for the “man” he is. Or was forced to become. Did I mention that despite the pity, he is still terrifying as hell?
Candy is also a fun character. She’s quirky. Seemingly fearless but still vulnerable enough that a reader can relate and empathize with her. She is a dynamic character and grows as the book progresses and it is sort of fascinating to see her apply human logic in a world that is blatantly not human.
The plot is, hmm, the word would be intriguing. The first book is largely world building. It lays the foundation (very firmly) and plants the seeds that start to germinate in book two. It introduces characters, gives them individuality, hints at the past, shows glimmers of a possible future. It’s rather brilliant. Very brilliant.
Book 2 ends with a loud enough bang that I was in paroxysms of agony coupled with a large dose of despair at having to wait almost seven years for book three. But I’ve read it (and the review of that comes tomorrow) so I can tell you that I was not disappointed in it.
Tomorrow: Review and trailer of book 3.