Review: “The Damnation Game” By Clive Barker (Novel)

Well, since I was still in the mood for horror fiction, I thought that I’d re-read a novel that I’ve been meaning to re-read for ages. I am, of course, talking about the old second-hand copy of Clive Barker’s 1985 novel “The Damnation Game” that I first read about twelve years ago.

After all, I couldn’t remember a huge amount about “The Damnation Game” other than it was a horror novel that I’d enjoyed at the time. So, I was curious to see what I’d make of it these days.

So, let’s take a look at “The Damnation Game”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1991 Sphere (UK) paperback edition of “The Damnation Game” that I read.

The novel begins in Warsaw, shortly after the end of WW2. The city is in ruins, filled with death, poverty and depravity. But, to a war profiteer known simply as “the thief”, it is a paradise. And, on one night in this scarred city, the thief ends up talking to a Russian soldier who has lost to a mysterious gambler who always wins. Even though the thief doesn’t believe the soldier, the story intrigues him. So, he decides to find this man and beat him at cards. When the soldier is later found murdered over his gambling debts, this just makes the thief even more curious. And, eventually, he finds the gambler.

Then we flash forwards to 1980s London. Marty Strauss is a prisoner in Wandsworth, six years into his sentence for an armed robbery gone wrong. Although the day starts out like any other, he is summoned to a parole hearing. A man called Mr.Toy is interviewing prisoners on behalf of a reclusive millionaire called Mr.Whitehead who, as a philanthropic gesture, wants to give a prisoner a honest job as his bodyguard. Although Marty thinks that he has failed the interview, he is paroled a few weeks later and ordered to report to Whitehead’s estate. However, he slowly realises that he has stepped out of the fire and into the frying pan…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, even though it is a bit more slow-paced than I remember, it is a brilliantly atmospheric and exquisitely creepy horror novel of the type that only Clive Barker can write. If you enjoyed Barker’s “Cabal“, “The Hellbound Heart” or his short story “Dread”, then you’ll be on familiar ground here 🙂

So, I should probably start by talking about this novel’s horror elements. Although the novel might seem a bit tame for a Clive Barker novel at first, stick with it. This is one of those horror novels that gradually builds in intensity as it progresses. Although it isn’t exactly frightening, it is unsettling and disturbing in a way that really creeps up on you. This is achieved through a well-crafted blend of psychological horror, suspenseful horror, claustrophobic horror, bleak horror, cruel horror, character-based horror, sexual horror, paranormal horror, death/decay-based horror, war horror, taboo-based horror and, of course, gory horror.

Interestingly, like with Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus” and “Deathday“, this novel also blends the vampire and zombie genres in an innovative way. But, whilst Hutson takes more of a “cool late-night zombie movie” approach to this, Barker’s novel reads more like a vampire novel with zombies in it. The undead in this novel are either sentient beings who are slowly decaying (without realising that they are zombies) or are cruel life-stealing immortals warped by centuries of undying loneliness. And, as you might imagine, this is about ten times creepier.

As you might expect from a Clive Barker novel, there’s a lot of thematic depth here. Not only is “The Damnation Game” a novel about how power corrupts, but it is also a story about chance, fate and free will too.

It’s a novel about the darker side of the human psyche – summed up brilliantly with the line: “Every man is his own Mephistophilis, don’t you think?” And, as the title suggests, it is a novel about damnation – not in the religious sense of the word, but in the feeling of impending doom that hangs over many of the story’s characters.

For all of this novel’s unsettling horrors, it also contains a surprising amount of humour too. In addition to some brilliantly bizarre moments of dark comedy (such as Marty talking to a fly he finds near a corpse), the novel also contains the kind of impishly subversive satire that you’d expect from a 1980s Clive Barker novel (eg: a convicted criminal being more moral than a respected aristocrat, two religious missionaries who gleefully commit acts of evil in the mistaken belief that they are doing “God’s work” etc…).

The novel’s writing is absolutely brilliant, but something of an acquired taste. As you might expect from a 1980s Clive Barker novel, this novel’s third-person narration is very much on the formal and “literary” side of things and can be quite slow-paced until you get used to it. But, this style really works here. Not only does it add a lot of atmosphere and personality to the story, but this “old school” formal writing style is also expertly contrasted with the events of the story for horrific and/or comedic effect on numerous occasions too.

Likewise, the characters are also really well-written too. All of the main characters have realistic motivations, desires, personalities, flaws etc… Not only does this novel have a certain gritty realism to it, but the novel’s characters are often a brilliant source of horror too. Whether it is an undead serial killer called Breer or his immortal master, Mamoulian, Clive Barker certainly knows how to write disturbing villains.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel works reasonably well. At 374 pages in the older edition I read (and probably more in modern reprints with larger type), it’s a little on the longer side of things. Likewise, the novel’s pacing is slow to medium throughout most of the novel. Yet, somehow, this really works. It allows the novel to gradually build atmosphere and suspense, not to mention that the slightly slower pacing also makes the novel’s more grotesque moments a bit more intense too. Plus, whilst this novel becomes a bit more understated after the spectacular opening chapter, it gradually becomes more and more compelling (and creepy) as it progresses.

In terms of how this thirty-five year old novel has aged, it has aged both brilliantly and terribly. On the one hand, the novel’s atmosphere, horror, humour, themes, locations, characters and story seem almost timeless and it is still a very effective horror novel when read these days. On the other hand, the novel’s formal writing style will seem noticeably old-fashioned and slow-paced if you’re used to more modern novels, not to mention that this novel also includes a few descriptions or moments that would probably be considered dated or “politically incorrect” these days too.

All in all, this is a really creepy and atmospheric horror novel 🙂 Yes, it’s a bit more slow-paced than I remember and it can be a bit more understated and small-scale than something like Barker’s “Cabal” or “The Scarlet Gospels“, but if you stick with this novel, then you’ll find it to be classic Clive Barker 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Three Things That Writers Can Learn From 1980s Clive Barker Novels

Well, since I’ve started re-reading a 1980s horror novel by Clive Barker (“The Damnation Game”, if anyone is curious), I thought that I’d write something vaguely similar to my other recent article about writing lessons that can be learnt from 1980s Shaun Hutson novels, but about the writing lessons that can be found in Clive Barker novels – especially those from the 1980s.

Still, I should point out that this article may contain some SPOILERS for Clive Barker’s “Cabal” and “Weaveworld”.

1) Mediums, imagination and creativity: One of the most interesting things about Clive Barker is that he didn’t really start out as a horror author. Before his first short story collection, “The Books Of Blood”, was published in the mid-1980s, he was already a playwright and an artist. Then, sometime after the publication of his novella “The Hellbound Heart“, he both wrote and directed the famous film adaptation of it. Later, in the early 2000s, he also helped to design a computer game called “Clive Barker’s Undying” too.

The main lesson we can learn from this is that learning other skills and experimenting with different creative mediums will result in better writing. Not only will it give you a better idea about which creative ideas will work best in story form (and which might be better suited to art, poetry etc…), but it also forces you to learn more about your own imagination too.

I mean, one of the cool things about Clive Barker’s art, fiction, films etc… is that you can tell that they all came from the same person. For example, Barker’s paintings often display the same focus on the human body and/or bizarre dream-like weirdness that his fiction does.

So, don’t be afraid to experiment with other creative mediums. You’ll get to know yourself better and this will result in better and more imaginative writing.

2) Don’t self-censor: Although the 1980s was well-renowned as a time where horror authors had more creative freedom than ever before (I mean, it was the heyday of the splatterpunk genre) and probably ever since, Clive Barker used this creative freedom for more than just shock value or titillation. He also used it to tell the kind of weird, subversive, nuanced, emotionally mature, imaginative, transgressive and unique stories that feel timelessly refreshing to read.

For example, his 1988 horror/dark fantasy novel “Cabal” contrasts an underground city of strange, scary-looking “monsters” with an upstanding, respectable psychologist…. who is also a serial killer. It’s a brilliantly subversive novel, showing how mainstream society is eager to destroy or condemn whatever it considers “weird” without ever looking at the far greater problems within itself.

This theme is also explored in Barker’s 1987 dark fantasy novel “Weaveworld“, where the main antagonist isn’t a fantastical monster (in fact the closest thing to a villainous “monster”, Immacolata, actually becomes a more sympathetic character later in the story) but a fanatical “moralistic” policeman who is often depicted in a brilliantly satirical way. Again, this comments on how mainstream, respectable etc.. society never really thinks to look at the problems within itself whenever there is something else it can condemn instead.

Plus, of course, when he was writing in a genre that was seen as “low brow” in the 1980s, Barker never simplified or toned down his writing. Although most 1980s horror fiction is more well-written than it is often given credit for, Barker often wrote the kind of complex, poetic, intelligent, painting-with-words, nuanced etc… fiction that would have probably won numerous major literary awards if it didn’t have the word “Horror” on the back cover.

Likewise, despite the highly “literary” writing style and the many grim and macabre horrors within his 1980s novels, Barker’s fiction will often display a wonderfully impish sense of humour too. These two things might seem like polar opposites, but it’s the contradiction between them that really makes his stories so distinctive. And it is the kind of thing a writer can only truly do if they don’t censor themselves.

One other great thing about old Clive Barker novels is how they don’t contain the puritanical undertones of most 1980s horror fiction and this is still refreshing even today. These are novels that don’t hypocritically condemn their more risque elements, but instead often show both their comedic absurdity and also their timelessly human and spiritual qualities. This is difficult to describe whilst still keeping this article “safe for work” (ironic, I know), but it results in the kind of timelessly open-minded stories that are still refreshing to read even thirty years or more after they were published.

Yet, Barker’s brilliant lack of self-censorship also manifests in more “PG-rated” ways too. For example, despite initially building his reputation as an expert writer of “edgy” horror stories during the 1980s, he decided to write a much more innocent, fantastical and wonder-filled series of YA novels in the 2000s (the “Abarat” novels) and they are just as creative, imaginative, subversive etc… as his general fiction novels are. You really get the sense that Barker is genuinely showing off another part of his imagination, rather than watering his stories down for the sake of popularity.

Yes, these days, “don’t self-censor” is probably dangerous advice. Perhaps it always has been. But, the less you censor yourself, the more interesting and creative your stories can be.

3) Imagination is infectious: One of the great things about Clive Barker’s writing is how it lingers in your imagination long after you’ve finished reading. This can have some wonderfully weird effects.

For example, in early 2010, I tried reading Barker’s 1989 novel “The Great And Secret Show”. Although I couldn’t get past the first 100 pages for reasons I still don’t quite understand, what I read still lingered in my mind to the point that, whenever I saw a dramatic-looking road I used to walk along every few days, I always thought of this story. After this happened a couple of times, I suddenly started thinking of it as “The Clive Barker road”. And the idea of visiting somewhere that reminded me of a Clive Barker novel made this road feel like a more interesting place.

In 2009, I fell asleep one night and had five nightmares – these were all “dream within a dream” nightmares which each began with me dreaming about waking up. Interestingly, the coolest – and least scary – moment in this sequence of dreams was when, at the end of the third one, I suddenly found myself triumphantly shouting the tagline from the cover of my old second-hand 1980s paperback copy of “Cabal” (“At last, the night has a hero”).

Anyway, what was the point of these journeys down memory lane? Well, it is to show how imagination is infectious. If you write something that is distinctive, unusual, interesting, personality-filled and/or imaginative enough, then it will take on a life of it’s own. To give you an example, even though Clive Barker hasn’t ever made a heavy metal album, his books were imaginative and inspirational enough to inspire the band Cradle Of Filth to make one (called “Midian”).

So, one lesson that is worth learning from Clive Barker’s fiction is that imagination is infectious. That you should strive to tell the kind of stories that linger in your readers’ imaginations and which inspire people to create things themselves.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Review: “The Hellbound Heart” By Clive Barker (Novella)

Well, although I’d originally planned to read a different horror novel for the next book in this month’s horror marathon, I was having a terrible day and needed to read something that was both short and familiar. So, I found my copy of Clive Barker’s 1986 novella “The Hellbound Heart” and decided to re-read it.

If I remember rightly, this was a novella that I first read when I was about eighteen or nineteen after realising that the movie “Hellraiser” (directed by Barker himself) was based on it. I was going through a bit of a Clive Barker phase at the time and I remembered enjoying this book, even if it was slightly different to what I’d expected. So, naturally, I was curious to see whether it was similar to what I remembered of it.

So, let’s take a look at “The Hellbound Heart”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

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I read the 1997 Voyager (UK) paperback edition of “The Hellbound Heart”. Unfortunately, I probably can’t show the book cover here since one small part of it is very much “not safe for work” and would probably fall foul of some content rule or another.
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The story begins with a man called Frank trying to solve a puzzle box called the Lemarchand Configuration. Jaded by a life of hedonism, he has heard that this box is a gateway to realms of even greater pleasure than anyone can even imagine. However, when he solves the box, a bell tolls and a gateway to another world appears.

From this gateway, hideous beings called Cenobites emerge and drag Frank into their realm – where pain and pleasure are considered to be one and the same thing.

Several months later, Frank’s brother Rory and his wife Julia show up at his house. Since the inherited house is technically also owned by Rory and because Frank hasn’t been there in months, Rory decides to move in. Initially, things seem fairly mundane as they go through the rigmarole of moving in. Julia is unhappy with her life with Rory and Rory’s friend, Kirsty, secretly has a crush on Rory too.

But, after Rory injures himself with a chisel and spills blood on the floor of one of the house’s abandoned rooms, Julia notices that the blood mysteriously disappears from the floor several hours later. Not only that, Frank’s spirit starts calling to her. In order to take physical form, Frank needs more blood….

One of the first things that I will say about this novella is that, although it takes a while for the story to really get going, it definitely improved with a second reading. In short, I noticed a lot of hidden depths that I missed the first time round. But, if you want an intense fast-paced splatterpunk horror thriller, then you’re better off reading the excellent sequel “The Scarlet Gospels” instead. Even so, this novella is fairly impressive- if more understated than I remembered.

In terms of the novella’s horror elements, they mostly consist of a combination of suspenseful horror, body horror/gory horror, claustrophobic horror, cosmic horror, monster horror and character-based horror. In a lot of ways, this novella is more of a slow burn, with the level of horror gradually increasing as the story progresses.

Interestingly, upon re-reading this novella, I realised that it is also a vampire novel in disguise. If you’ve ever read Whitley Strieber’s “The Hunger“, then you’ll probably notice this. Frank’s jaded hedonism, his predatory attitude, his need to drain the life from other people and the fact that he is awakened by spilled blood are all very vampiric qualities. And, like with Strieber’s “The Hunger”, this novel offers a much grittier and more claustrophobic take on the vampire genre too.

One of the major themes in this novella is passion and hedonism. In addition to a lot of the novel’s main events being motivated by desire (which might explain the title of the novel), the fact that the Cenobites have gone so far into hedonistic excess that they cannot distinguish pain from pleasure is one of the things that makes them such compelling antagonists. Likewise, the fact that Frank first encounters them because he has become so jaded by a life of hedonism that he cannot take joy from it any more also seems to be a critique of hedonism too.

Like H.P.Lovecraft’s horror fiction, this is also a story about curiosity and forbidden knowledge too. It is a story about strange, nightmarish worlds existing a mere fraction of an inch from reality. It is a story where the miserable banality of the ordinary world can seem like heaven compared to the horrors that lurk just behind it. Yet, at the same time, this novella is pretty much the opposite of Lovecraft. The characters aren’t motivated by cold scientific curiosity or menaced by indifferent cosmic horrors – both the characters and the cosmic horrors are motivated by very carnal desires.

In terms of the characters, they’re very well-written. All of the main characters come across as realistic people with compelling motivations and imperfections, which the events of the story flow from. This is one of those stories where the plot really seems to emerge from the characters, rather than the characters merely following a plot.

In terms of the writing, it both is and isn’t a good fit with this story. Barker’s third-person narration is fairly formal and, whilst this does add a lot of atmosphere to the story as it progresses, it can also get in the way of the story a bit during some parts of it. Although many of Barker’s other horror novels also use a slightly more literary style, it is a lot more noticeable in this novel than it is in – say – “Cabal” or “Weaveworld“.

In terms of length and pacing, this novella is interesting. At an efficient 128 pages in length, it is the kind of story that can be enjoyed in a couple of hours 🙂 As mentioned earlier, the story starts off in a relatively slow-paced way, with everything gradually building in intensity as the story progresses. So, although some earlier parts of the story might seem a little bit “boring”, stick with it and it will improve.

As for how this thirty-three year old novella has aged, it is pretty much timeless. Yes, the writing style is a little on the formal side of things, but the focus on the timeless elements of the human condition (eg: love, desire, curiosity etc..) and the mixture of timeless mundane life and unearthly horror are as effective today as they probably were in 1986.

All in all, this is an intelligent, compelling and atmospheric horror novella. Yes, the narration is perhaps slightly too formal and the story takes a while to really get going, but this is a timeless novel that improves with each reading of it. Yes, I preferred Barker’s fast-paced sequel, “The Scarlet Gospels”, to this novel – but “The Hellbound Heart” is a surprisingly sophisticated, and refreshingly short, horror story 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least a four.

Review: “Cabal” By Clive Barker (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d revisit an old favourite today 🙂 Ever since I got back into reading regularly again several months ago, I’ve meant to re-read this book again, but have always got distracted by other books. I am, of course talking about Clive Barker’s 1988 horror masterpiece “Cabal” 🙂

This book and I have a rather strange history. I first found this cool-looking book in a charity shop in Waterlooville when I was about fourteen or fifteen. However, shortly after I bought it, I found that the inside cover illustration terrified me so much that I didn’t dare to open the book again.

About three or four years later, I discovered Cradle Of Filth’s “Midian” album and learnt that it was inspired by “Cabal”. I then read the novel twice in about as many years. Not to mention that the tagline from the cover also appeared in a nightmare that I had about a decade ago too. So, I’m honestly surprised it has taken me this long to re-read it for a third time.

So, without any further ado, let’s take a look at “Cabal”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1989 Fontana (UK) paperback edition of “Cabal” that I read.

The novel begins in Canada, with a mentally ill man called Boone meeting his psychiatrist, Decker. To Boone’s shock, Decker tells him that – under hypnosis – he has confessed to a series of grisly murders. Although Boone cannot remember the crimes, Decker seems to have evidence of them and inisists on talking more with Boone about them before he goes to the police.

Racked with guilt, Boone throws himself in front of a truck. However, he survives and wakes up in hospital. There is another man in the room with him, a strange man called Narcisse who has metal hooks attached to his thumbs. Narcisse tells Boone about a place called Midian, a fabled sanctuary for the strange and monstrous. Then, as Boone watches in horror, Narcisse removes own his face.

In the chaos and panic that follows, Boone slips out of the hospital and decides to search for Midian….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was even better than I remembered 🙂 If you like atmospheric, intelligent, well-written, subversive, timeless and fantastical horror fiction, then you need to read this book. Seriously, it’s the kind of book that lingers in your imagination and improves with every reading of it. It is the kind of book where, even if you know what is going to happen, you’ll still want to read it again and again.

I should probably start by talking about the novel’s horror elements, and what a feast of fear it is 🙂 This novel contains an exquisitely dark mixture of ultra-gruesome splatterpunk horror, suspenseful horror, gothic horror, paranormal horror, dark fantasy, body horror, slasher movie-style horror, psychological horror, social horror and character-based horror. But, interestingly, this is one of those novels that comforts as much as it horrifies.

In essence, it is a gleefully subversive story about misfits and mainstream society. Unlike more traditional horror stories, this is a story about a group of strange creatures trying to protect themselves from the cold evil of mainstream society and all of it’s authority figures. Although some of the creatures in this novel may be monstrous in appearance and/or deeds, the true monsters of this novel are all too human. In other words, this novel is a bit like “Blade Runner” (thematically, at least. It isn’t a sci-fi story) , but from the replicants’ perspective. And it is awesome 🙂

Like with Barker’s “Weaveworld“, this novel is a giant middle finger to the mundane and the mainstream. It is a furious critique of a narrow-minded mainstream society that hypocritically condemns what it considers to be “strange” without ever glancing inwards.

Nowhere is this better seen than in the novel’s main villain, Decker. Although he appears to be a respectable psychiatrist, it is revealed surprisingly early in the story that he is actually a serial killer (who is trying to frame Boone for his crimes). Not only is Decker an incredibly chilling character, but one of the most horrifying elements of the story is how easily he is able to blend into mainstream society and enlist the help of policemen etc.. to do his bidding.

This novel is also an incredibly well-written and atmospheric story too, with so many wonderfully evocative descriptions and intriguing locations that you’ll probably want to visit Midian again and again.

Seriously, although the novel’s third-person narration may appear a little bit formal or elaborate when read today, it flows really well and is an absolutely beautiful mixture of formal descriptions, impish irreverence and fast-paced matter-of-factness. Seriously, Clive Barker has an absolutely amazing narrative voice 🙂

Another cool thing about the older edition of “Cabal” that I read is that it also contains some illustrations by Barker himself. Although the front and inside cover art is by a different artist, the illustrations within the novel itself are these eerily symmetrical and surreal Rorschach ink blot type drawings in Barker’s unique art style. They’re illustrative enough to add atmosphere and personality to the book, but infrequent and mysterious enough to allow the reader to picture the story in their own way.

In terms of the characters, they are brilliant 🙂 This is one of those novels where the main characters (eg: Boone, his girlfriend Lori, Narcisse and the inhabitants of Midian) are intriguing, flawed, sympathetic, complicated characters who really feel real when you read about them.

They’re characters with histories, emotions, libidos, introspection and all of these wonderfully human qualities. This contrasts really well with the novel’s incredibly creepy villains, who are motivated by things like authority, sadism, conformity etc…

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really interesting. Usually, I praise books for being short. This novel is a very rare exception. At a slender 253 pages in length and with an intriguing open ending, this novel feels like a mere fragment of a much longer story.

It’s the kind of compelling, gripping story that will make you want to read more (and, despite the formal narration, this novel is a surprisingly quick read). So, you will probably feel a little bit disappointed that it ends when it does. Even so, by leaving the reader wanting more, “Cabal” is the kind of book that you’ll return to again and again.

In terms of how this thirty-one year old novel had aged, it has aged astonishingly well. Thanks to the novel’s fantastical elements, themes and character-based drama, it is pretty much timeless. Yes, it is written in a slightly formal (but beautiful) way, there are a couple of mildly dated moments and the story has a slightly “80s” atmosphere to it. But, the story, characters, atmosphere etc… are wonderfully timeless 🙂

All in all, this novel is a masterpiece 🙂 Seriously, the only real criticism I can make of it is that it is too short. If you love intelligent, atmospheric, beautifully-written and imaginative horror fiction, then you need to read this book 🙂 Or re-read it again.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a very solid five 🙂

Review: “The Scarlet Gospels” By Clive Barker (Novel)

Back in 2015, I was delighted when I heard that a new horror novel by Clive Barker had been released 🙂 Not only that, it was also a sequel to Barker’s “The Hellbound Heart” – the novella he used as a basis for the film “Hellraiser“.

Unfortunately, I heard this awesome news during the 3-4 year period when I didn’t read much. But, I added “The Scarlet Gospels” to my list of books that I meant to read sometime.

Yet, when I got back into reading regularly again, it took me more than fifty novels before I eventually got round to reading another Clive Barker novel (one from the 1980s called “Weaveworld). It was then that I remembered “The Scarlet Gospels” and, to my delight, I was able to find a cheap second-hand hardback copy of it online 🙂 So, this review has been a long time coming 🙂

So, let’s take a look at “The Scarlet Gospels”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2015 Macmillan (UK) hardback edition of “The Scarlet Gospels” that I read.

The novel begins in a gloomy, candlelit crypt. Five magicians have gathered around the grave of their fallen friend, Joseph Ragowski, in order to raise him from the dead. When – much to his annoyance – Ragowski returns to the realm of the living, the news isn’t good. The five magicians who raised him are the only magicians who are still alive. Something has been systematically killing the world’s magicians and stealing their knowledge. Something that has just found the crypt…….

Meanwhile, hard-boiled paranormal detective Harry D’Amour is drinking in a bar in New Orleans and reminiscing about his past. He has been sent to the city by his old friend Norma, a blind medium who has been contacted by the ghost of a recently-deceased lawyer who wants someone to get rid of his secret occult love nest before his family find out about it.

When Harry finds the house, everything seems relatively normal. But, after a bit of searching, Harry finds a secret chamber filled with magical grimoires. And, whilst searching this hidden room, he finds a mysterious puzzle box that starts to solve itself…….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is Wow! Oh my god, this novel is amazing 🙂 Yes, it might lack some of the sophistication of Barker’s earlier works, but it more than makes up for this by being this utterly badass combination of an old-school splatterpunk horror novel, a hardboiled noir detective story, a heavy metal action thriller that could give the original “Doom” a run for it’s money, an epic dark fantasy story, a cheesy late-night horror movie and so much more 🙂 This novel is one of the coolest novels I’ve read in a long time.

I guess that I should probably start by talking about the novel’s horror elements. First of all, imagine the movie “Hellraiser”. Compared to this novel, “Hellraiser” is a Disney movie. In addition to some intriguing paranormal horror and some delightfully grotesque body horror, this novel is the kind of gloriously over-the-top ultra-gruesome splatterpunk novel that could easily have come from the 1980s 🙂 Seriously, imagine all of the grisly horrors of the original “Hellraiser” movie, but turned up to eleven, and you might begin to come close to the macabre majesty of this novel! Seriously, this is a Clive Barker novel 🙂

But, although this novel isn’t exactly scary, it is a joy for any fan of the horror genre to behold 🙂 The novel is saturated in gothic darkness, “film noir” gloom, cackling malevolence and diabolical delights. It is the kind of novel where, like in any good 1980s/90s horror movie, you can practically feel the ominously gloomy lighting. It is the kind of gloriously uncensored, over-the-top, darkly imaginative medley of the macabre that will probably cause you to grin with immature, rebellious delight for at least an hour or two after reading the first half of the story.

Another interesting thing about this novel is that it’s a thriller novel. Yes, it slows down a little bit in some of the later parts, but it is about a million miles away from the slightly slower and more contemplative fiction that Barker is famous for.

The first half of the book is a little bit like one of those awesome noir-influenced gothic horror thriller movies from the 1980s/1990s like “Jacob’s Ladder” or “Angel Heart” or something like that. The second half of the book is kind of like a cheesy heavy metal-influenced 1980s dark fantasy epic 🙂 Seriously, this story is a lot more fast-paced and gripping than I had expected 🙂

The novel’s fantasy elements are kind of interesting too. Although the novel starts out like a really cool urban fantasy novel, it eventually turns into more of a dark fantasy/high fantasy story.

Even though the scenes set in hell initially seem to be pulled straight from a heavy metal music video or a level of the original “Doom” (which certainly isn’t a bad thing), the novel’s mythos gradually becomes a bit more interesting and a fair number of the hellish locations and creatures display some of Barker’s uniquely twisted imagination 🙂 Likewise, the novel also includes a rather interesting take on the topic of Lucifer too, and some truly epic scenes later in the story too 🙂

Yes, compared to the sophisticated imagination of some other Clive Barker novels like “Weaveworld”, “Abarat” etc.. this novel isn’t as unique or imaginative. But, surprisingly, this doesn’t matter. It’s a badass, fast-paced horror thriller novel that is almost like heavy metal music in book form. Yes, some aspects of the location design might be a little bit cheesy or cliched (eg: a building covered in lots of spikes, which are also covered in spikes etc..) but this is half of the fun of a story like this 🙂

Another cool thing about this novel is that, like any good Clive Barker novel, it isn’t for the prudish or narrow-minded either 🙂 In addition to taking a glorious delight in frequent descriptions of the male anatomy, this novel is the kind of story that is both gleefully anti-conservative and “politically incorrect” as hell. Seriously, this novel is a rebellious delight 🙂

As for the characters, they’re something of a mixed bag. Whilst many of the supporting characters (eg: a muscular tattooist, a cute guy from New Orleans, a medium etc..) don’t really get that much characterisation, this kind of lends the story a wonderful “cheesy B-movie”-like quality. Plus, it leaves more room for the stars of the story to really shine. Whilst Harry D’Amour is a typical hard-boiled detective, the real star of this story is the Hell Priest. Or, as he hates to be called, Pinhead.

And, yes, if you’ve seen Doug Bradley’s performance as this character in “Hellraiser”, then this novel will be such a delight to read 🙂 In addition to having lots of wonderfully malevolent lines of dialogue, the Hell Priest also has a really interesting story arc which really helps to explore and define this mysterious monster. In a story that mirrors Lucifer’s fall from heaven, he is a chillingly tragic figure whose ruthless ambition proves to be his undoing.

As for the writing in this novel, it works surprisingly well. Whilst some parts of the novel’s third-person narration have the kind of rich, descriptive style that you’d expect to see in a Clive Barker novel, other parts of the story are written in a more unsophisticated and “matter of fact” kind of way. This helps to keep the story reasonably fast-paced and, although some of the story’s dialogue is corny (even by B-movie standards), the less sophisticated parts of the narration really help to add some fun to the story. Seriously, as long as you don’t go into this novel expecting to read a work of literary fiction, then you’ll probably enjoy the narration.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good 🙂 From what I’ve read about the long history of this novel, it was originally going to be a giant tome at one point. Fortunately, the hardback edition I read had been edited down to a much more efficient 361 pages 🙂 Not only does this help to keep the story streamlined and gripping, but it also means that the pacing is really good too. Yes, it slows down a little in some of the later parts, but for the most part, this is very much a thriller novel 🙂

All in all, this novel is amazing 🙂 Yes, it isn’t as sophisticated as some of Barker’s older stuff. But, this is like comparing an elaborate classical symphony to a modern album by a 1980s heavy metal band. Yes, one might be more complex and sophisticated, but the other is a lot more fun to listen to. And, yes, this what I love about this novel. It is fun. It is a gloriously over-the-top heavy metal horror movie of a novel 🙂 And it is just so much fun to read 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get six six six.

Review: “Weaveworld” By Clive Barker (Novel)

It has been way too long since I last read a Clive Barker novel! I think that the last time was in late 2010/early 2011 when I started reading the third “Abarat” novel one evening, only to leave it half-finished because I couldn’t bear the idea of the story ending. I moved on to other books for a couple of years, but that was the last Clive Barker novel I read for quite a while.

Then, when I got back into reading regularly a few months ago, it took me something like fifty-four books before I finally read another Clive Barker novel. Sure, I’d thought about re-reading “Cabal” a few times but, since I’ve already read it twice, I felt like reading something else instead [Edit: Expect a review of “Cabal” in August 🙂 ]. Then, a week or two before I wrote this review, I found my old copy of Barker’s 1987 dark fantasy novel “Weaveworld”.

This was a book I’d found in a charity shop or a second-hand shop during my late teens/early twenties. I’d probably meant to read it at the time, but I held back because I’d heard that it wasn’t a horror novel (unlike the other Barker novels I’d read). Over time, I forgot about it. It became one book amongst the piles of books. Then I found it again. So, yes, this review has been a long time coming.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Weaveworld”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1988 Fontana (UK) paperback edition of “Weaveworld” that I read.

The story begins in Liverpool, where a man called Cal Mooney is tending to his elderly father’s pigeons. One of them escapes and Cal gives chase. Soon, it becomes clear that the pigeon has joined a giant flock of birds who are converging on an abandoned house that is being gutted by removal men. The pigeon perches on a windowsill outside the house.

Since Cal can’t open the window from inside, he tries to climb up the wall of the house to get the pigeon. As he gets close, the removal men take a carpet out of the house and inspect it. At that moment, Cal falls. As he descends, the carpet seems to come alive and he glimpses an entire world within it before he hits the ground. Although he is mostly unharmed, he cannot shake the memory of what he saw when he was falling…..

Whilst all of this is going on, two ominously mysterious people called Immacolata and Shadwell have an intriguingly cryptic conversation and, in London, a woman called Suzanna Parrish recieves an urgent letter from her grandmother in Liverpool…

One of the first things that I will say about “Weaveworld” is that it is the quintessential Clive Barker novel. Everything from the beautifully grotesque horror of “The Hellbound Heart”, the themes of “Cabal”, the metafiction of “Mister B. Gone”, the bewitching seduction of “Coldheart Canyon” and the magical wonderment of “Abarat” can be found inside this one novel.

It’s a beautiful, profound, intelligent, libidinous, subversive and awe-inspiringly fantastical saga that is expertly melded with twisted, grotesque horror and gripping suspense. This novel is Clive Barker. No other imagination could have produced it. Yes, it isn’t quite a horror novel – but it isn’t exactly a typical “swords and sorcery” fantasy novel either. It is a Clive Barker novel. And I’d almost forgotten how awesome they are.

You might have noticed that I’ve mentioned forgetting stuff quite a lot in this review. This is because it is one of the novel’s most intriguing themes. Unlike pretty much every story I’ve ever read, this novel focuses on how easy it can be to forget magical, wonderous and astonishing things as the mundane march of everyday life continues. And I absolutely love the way that this timelessly universal theme is handled in this novel (seriously, it’s a pretty central part of the story). But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

I should probably start by talking about the story’s genre elements. This novel is a beautifully seamless blend of a fantasy, horror and thriller novel. Even though the novel’s horror elements take a little bit of a back seat most of the time, they include a really interesting blend of gory horror, grotesque horror, body horror, sexual horror, gothic horror, authoritarian horror, suspenseful horror, tragic horror and paranormal horror. Whilst this novel isn’t outright scary, these exquisitely disturbing horror elements certainly help to add some dark drama to the story.

The novel’s fantasy elements are absolutely amazing. If your idea of fantasy is the traditional “swords and sorcery” stuff or more modern urban fantasy, then you’re in for a joyous surprise here 🙂 Although it would take far too long to explain the novel’s complex (but well-explained and well-developed) mythos here, it is both very different and very similar to everything that has come before or since.

This novel is partially inspired by traditional things like fairytales, “Alice In Wonderland” etc.. but it also has a maturity, complexity, imagination and depth to it that far surpasses these things. In other words, this is a truly unique and imaginative dark fantasy story. If you love computer games like “American McGee’s Alice” and “The Longest Journey” or graphic novels like Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman“, then you’ll be well and truly at home here 🙂

The novel’s thriller elements are really good too. Despite the more literary narration, the intellectual depth and the breathtakingly beautiful imagined worlds, this is a thriller novel. And a really gripping one too! For example, a lot of the earlier parts of the novel focus on two groups of people trying to find and take control of the carpet before the other one does. In addition to this, there’s also plenty of gripping suspense, thrilling drama, dramatic confrontations, shorter chapters etc.. too. Seriously, despite the “slow” writing style in some parts, this is a much faster-paced novel than you might expect!

As for the characters, they’re absolutely brilliant – with all of the story’s characters having unique personalities and realistic motivations. It would take too long to talk about all of the characters here, but this is the kind of story where you’ll find yourself really caring about what happens to all of the characters. Even the villains.

Another interesting thing about this novel is how much all of the characters develop and change as the story progresses. Not only do the main characters (Cal and Suzanna) emerge from the story as very different people to who they were at the beginning, but even the story’s villains have complex, poignant character arcs too.

For example, Shadwell gradually goes from being a sleazier and more pathetic version of Mr.Dark from Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes” to being a chilling dictator/demagogue to being a vengeful sociopath to eventually being a weak, pitiable and impotent figure.

Likewise, a character called Hobart starts off as a mercilessly satirical portrayal of a 1980s policeman (he’s authoritarian, violent, mean-spirited, racist etc..), before we slowly start to see more tragic elements of his character which eventually make him more of a figure of pity by the end of the story.

Plus, Immacolata goes from being a fairly clear-cut “villain” character at the beginning of the story to a more complex, and even vaguely sympathetic, character as the story progresses. And, even the giant fearsome monster at the end of the story has an utterly beautiful character arc which will probably make you cry.

In terms of the writing, it is absolutely brilliant. This novel’s third-person is written in Barker’s uniquely playful way, which can quickly alternate between awe-inspiringly beautiful formal descriptions, thrillingly fast-paced “matter of fact” narration and gleefully impish informality in the blink of an eye. This novel is beautifully written. It remains grippingly readable and wonderfully atmospheric at all times, whilst also not being afraid to be irreverently funny, fearlessly crude, deeply profound or intelligently mature whenever the situation calls for it.

This novel also has a lot of thematic depth too. I’ve already talked about the theme of forgetting, but there are so many other themes here too. Not only is this a novel about the magic of stories and imagination, but it’s also a brilliantly subversive and satirical novel about how authority corrupts people (or, more accurately, how authority allows evil people to become even more evil). It’s a novel about myth and religion. It’s a novel about gender. It’s a novel about desires. It’s the kind of novel which starts in summer and ends in winter. I could go on for quite a while…

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is ridiculously long (722 pages!!!) – but it remains compelling and gripping throughout. It also crams a lot of storytelling into those 722 pages. Seriously, reading this novel is kind of like binge-watching several seasons of a really good TV show. Likewise, although the narration can get rather complex and formal at times, the story is surprisingly fast-paced for such a sophisticated story. Even so, don’t go into this novel expecting a quick read.

In terms of how this thirty-two year old novel has aged, it has aged really well. Yes, some rather dated words/descriptions appear infrequently, and the whole novel has a rather understated “1980s” atmosphere to it – but, for the most part, this novel is timeless.

Not only does this novel focus on timeless human drama and timeless themes, but the novel’s fantastical elements are also brilliantly timeless too. Not only are they as ageless as a fairytale, but the novel’s moments of wonder and magic are still more impressive than the average CGI-filled modern movie. In addition to this, the novel’s plot is still incredibly gripping to this day and the narration is still very readable and very beautiful.

All in all, this novel is a masterpiece. It is also, as I mentioned earlier, the quintessential Clive Barker novel. If you want a novel that is like a “best of” compilation of what makes Barker such a brilliant, unique and awe-inspiring author, then read “Weaveworld”. If you want intelligent, atmospheric, subversive, unique and imaginative fantasy fiction, then read “Weaveworld”. If you want a quirky, gripping tale, then read “Weaveworld”. Yes, it’s a really long novel, but it is well worth reading nonetheless.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least five.

Three Reasons Why Physical Media Is Awesome

Although there are certainly a lot of things to be said for digital media (for starters, I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I actually had to publish it as a physical magazine), I thought that I’d talk about physical media today.

This is mostly because, I definately prefer certain things on physical media (eg: paperback novels, DVD boxsets etc..). Physical media is absolutely awesome for a whole host of reasons. Here are a few of them:

1) Discovering random signed things: One of the cool things about physical media is that writers, musicians etc.. can actually sign it. What this means is that sometimes you can end up inadvertently buying a signed copy of something new or second-hand. Yes, it doesn’t happen that often, but it can certainly happen.

My most recent experience of this happened the day before I wrote the first draft of this article. This was mostly because I ended up finding my CD copy of Cradle Of Filth’s “Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder” after feeling slightly nostalgic about the album.

I’d bought it in Aberystwyth during the late ’00s and I wanted to relive my memories of that time. Since the album was new at the time (and I was a little wealthier then), I ended up getting the special edition version.

Whilst the discs were still fine, my present-day self was annoyed that the special edition has some rather flimsy cardboard packaging. However, I soon stopped being annoyed when I tilted the back of the sleeve slightly and noticed a small signature in black ink against the dark brown cardboard. Somehow, I’d never noticed this before! Ok, I couldn’t work out if it was an actual signed copy or whether the signature had just been printed on the sleeve, but it was a really cool surprise nonetheless.

Here’s a close-up, featuring the signature in question. It’s a little hard to see, but I’m still not sure if it is actually a “proper” signature or whether it was just printed onto the CD cover.

But, my coolest memory of accidentally finding a signed copy was when I bought an old second-hand copy of Shaun Hutson‘s “Victims” from a market stall in Truro during a holiday in Cornwall when I was a teenager. When I opened it a while later, the first thing that greeted me was none other than the signature of my favourite author at the time! Needless to say, I was amazed!

Seriously, seeing THIS for the first time was such a cool moment! Although, annoyingly, it seemed like such a cool thing that I didn’t dare to sully this precious object by actually reading the novel. Still, this is something you can’t experience with e-books.

Amusingly, a few years later, I later found several signed hardback copies of one of Hutson’s books (“Twisted Souls”, I think) in the bargain bin of a sadly-defunct bookshop in Aberystwyth called Galloways. At first, I’d just bought one copy but, as soon as I learnt that it was signed, I made the decision to trudge back into town the next day to buy the other copies of it in the bargain bin (I can’t remember if I followed through with this or not, but I bought at least one extra copy of it. Alas, it is lost amongst my piles of books though).

But, yes, this is an experience which you can only really have with physical media.

2) Second-hand stuff (is awesome for so many reasons!): This is a fairly obvious one, but you can actually buy second-hand copies of physical media. Yes, sites that sell digital goods will occasionally reduce the prices of older things and occasionally have sales, but it isn’t really quite the same.

For starters, there’s something wonderfully democratic about second-hand copies of things. Yes, you can’t keep up to date with everything if you mostly buy second-hand copies, but the fact that you can buy decent quantities of books, DVDs etc… at sensible prices is absolutely brilliant if you are on a budget. It’s what has allowed me to build up a fairly decent DVD library these days and to build up a decent collection of novels when I was younger.

Secondly, although I mostly order second-hand things online these days, one cool thing about second-hand stuff was the experience of actually visiting the shops that sell it – whether that was dedicated second-hand shops or just charity shops. These places are awesome for so many reasons. Not only do second-hand bookshops have really cool “old”/ “non-corporate” atmosphere to them, but they are also places where serendipity can happen.

What I mean by this is that you have no way of knowing what they do or don’t stock. And, in the pre-smartphone age (or the present day if you avoid these irritating gadgets like the plague), if you found a book that you’d never heard of before then you had to judge whether it would be any good by looking at the cover and reading the first few pages. And, since the prices were fairly sensible, there was more of an incentive to take a chance on unknown authors. Yes, sometimes this didn’t work out, but sometimes it did. Of course, on the internet (where you have to actively search for specific things), it is a lot more difficult to have an experience like this.

Thirdly, there’s the historical element of it. Even though I only really “discovered” second-hand books during my teenage years during the 2000s, I got quite the education in 1980s-90s horror novels, 1950s-60s science fiction novels etc… for the simple reason that these cool historical relics were cheaply available in second-hand and charity shops.

Finally, second-hand copies (and physical media in general) are awesome because they put the consumer in control! To give you an example, it isn’t exactly unheard of for companies to remotely delete e-books from people’s e-readers (yes, the news report is almost a decade old and this sort of thing doesn’t happen often, but it’s still creepy that they can do it in the first place). So, physical media ensures that the consumer is in control, as they should be!

3) Cover Art: Although I only really even began to get serious about being an artist in 2012, I’d already had much more of an art education than I knew. This was, of course, all thanks to physical media. Or, more specifically, cover art.

Yes, digital media will sometimes try to include “cover art” by including digital image files. But, having physical copies is also kind of like owning a collection of art prints too. Seriously, cover art is one of the most under-appreciated types of art out there!

Not only that, thanks to my preference for second-hand and/or slightly older things, I got to see a lot of cover art from the 1980s and 1990s. And, wow, people certainly knew how to make good cover art back then! To give you an example, here’s the cover art for the 1989 UK paperback edition of Clive Barker’s “Cabal“:

Seriously, the cover art for this paperback edition of “Cabal” could almost be a movie poster! Not only does this cover art make effective use of high-contrast lighting, but it also uses a complementary orange/blue colour scheme too.

In fact, one of the major parts of my art style can be directly attributed to cover art. Virtually all of my art uses high-contrast lighting (my rule is that 30-50% of the total surface area of each of my paintings has to be covered with black paint), and it looks a bit like this:

“Metallic Magic” By C. A. Brown

“Backstreets” By C. A. Brown

And this is a direct result of seeing numerous horror novel covers, heavy metal album covers, VHS/DVD covers etc… over the years. Although I couldn’t name that many famous artists when I was younger, my artistic tastes and sensibilites were already being unknowingly moulded and shaped by physical media.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂