Today’s Art ( 12th March 2020)

Well, although I was in a bit of a rush, I felt like making a gothic fantasy/dark fantasy painting and, for something that I made relatively quickly, this digitally-edited painting turned out better than I’d expected 🙂

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Ritual” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (18th September 2019)

Well, I was still feeling a bit uninspired. So, today’s artwork is a slightly random heavy metal/dark fantasy – themed digitally-edited drawing.

As usual, this drawing is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Realm Of Fire” By C. A. Brown

Review: “Kill The Dead” By Tanith Lee (Novel)

Well, after seeing several horror fiction websites mention Tanith Lee’s novels over the years, I’ve been meaning to read one of them. But, when I looked online for second-hand copies, they often seemed to be slightly on the pricer side of things. So, when I saw that a second-hand copy of Lee’s 1980 fantasy novel “Kill The Dead” was going cheap, I decided to check it out. And I’m so glad that I did 🙂

So, let’s take a look at “Kill The Dead”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS (but I’ll avoid major ones).

This is the 1990 Legend (UK) paperback edition of “Kill The Dead” that I read.

The novel begins in the leaning tower of a decaying house beside a mountain road. A young woman called Ciddey Soban stares out of a window and sees a mysterious man in a dark cloak walking along the road. Panicked, she warns her sister – Cilny – to hide.

The man on the road, Parl Dro, is a famous exorcist who is searching for the legendary city of the dead, Ghyste Mortua. But, when he nears the house, he senses something. So, he enters the garden to investigate. Ciddey rushes out of the door with a knife and tries to threaten him. More amused than frightened, Parl leaves with a promise to return.

In a nearby inn, the star-struck locals are more than happy to tell Parl all of the gossip about the Soban family. Yet, they are disappointed that Parl doesn’t want to do anything about the ghost they suspect lives with Ciddey. On his way to bed, Parl plays a sneaky practical joke on a musician called Myal who tries to pick his pocket.

The next morning, Parl climbs a nearby hill and watches the villagers throw stones at Ciddey’s house. To Parl’s surprise, Myal joins him on the hill to remonstrate about the fact that the purse he’d stolen contained nothing but stones. The two of them talk for a while and then go their separate ways, both of which lead towards Ciddey’s house…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is excellent 🙂 Once you get used to Lee’s writing style, you will be rewarded with an enchantingly atmospheric, gloomily gothic and beautifully bittersweet tale that will draw you in and leave you tearful and astonished when it is over. Seriously, this novel is astonishingly good. Imagine a mixture between an Alice Hoffman novel, a 19th century ghost story and an episode of “Game Of Thrones” – and this should give you some idea what to expect.

Interestingly, it’s a bit difficult to categorise this novel by genre. It has elements of a traditional ghost story/horror story, elements of gothic fiction, elements of dark fantasy and elements of “grimdark” fantasy. It’s a tale that is hauntingly tragic, gloomily morose and bitterly bleak and yet it also has a heart and soul to it that you might not expect. Despite the fantastical trappings, this is very much a human story about loneliness, sorrow, redemption, memory, genius, self-loathing and psychology.

The novel’s fantasy elements are fairly interesting. In essence, the novel only really has one fantastical element – ghosts. But, by focusing on the mechanics of how ghosts are created and dispelled, this novel has an intensity to it that stories with lots of different fantasy elements don’t really have. Seriously, by just using this one fantastical thing as the main focus of the story, Lee gives the novel much more depth than you might expect. Not to mention that the novel’s ghost-based elements also contain some hints of vampire fiction too 🙂

The novel’s medieval-like settings are really atmospheric too. With the exception of one mystical location (Ghyste Mortua), none of the other locations are named. They are just small villages, crumbling houses, desolate plains etc… and, yet, rather than making these locations seem generic, this just adds realism and atmosphere to the story. In addition to lots of well-written descriptions, the fact that these rural locations are so ordinary that they aren’t even named really helps to add emphasis to the “long journey” theme and bleak atmosphere of the novel too.

In terms of the characters, this novel is exquisite. Not only is the begrudging friendship between the terse, mysterious and morose ghost-hunter Parl Dro and the optimistic, but tragic, musician/thief Myal Lemayal a huge part of what makes this novel so interesting, but both characters get loads of characterisation too 🙂

In addition to this, the novel’s antagonist – Ciddey Soban – comes across as a very chilling, yet thoroughly realistic and tragic, character too. Seriously, the main characters in this novel are some of the most well-written that I’ve ever seen.

And not only that, even the briefly-glimpsed/described background characters seem intriguing and real too. Seriously, the characterisation in this book is so good that it can even make you care very deeply about an inanimate musical instrument. Yes, a musical instrument is a character in this book – and it works!

In terms of the writing, this novel’s third-person narration is utterly brilliant… when you get used to it. In short, the novel is written in a highly elaborate and ultra-formal 19th century-like style which will probably seem “overwritten” at first.

It is the kind of book that casually uses phrases like “such a dwelling betokened the proximity of the village” and even taught me a new word (“concupiscence”) too. But, Lee uses this style for a good reason. Not only does it add to the historical/fantastical atmosphere of the story, but it also gives everything in the story a level of atmosphere and depth that might catch you by surprise.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really interesting. At a gloriously efficient 172 pages, this novel is that wonderfully rare thing – a short medieval fantasy novel 🙂 Due to the highly formal and detailed writing style, this novel is very much on the slow-paced side of things. But, once you’ve got to know the characters and immersed yourself in the setting, the story becomes so compelling that the fact that it moves slowly just means that you have more time to enjoy it 🙂

As for how this thirty-nine year old novel has aged, it has aged really well 🙂 Thanks to the vaguely medieval setting, the elaborate 19th century-style narration and the really well-written characters, this novel is timeless.

All in all, this novel is a masterpiece. Yes, it might take you a while to get used to the writing style, but it is well worth putting in the effort. This novel is an atmospheric, poignant and compelling gothic/dark/grimdark fantasy story that is filled with some of the best characters you’ll ever see. Plus, it is a short fantasy novel too 🙂

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

Review: “Anno Mortis” By Rebecca Levene (Novel)

Shortly after I finished reading Rebecca Levene’s “Ghost Dance” a few weeks earlier, I looked online for other books by this author.

To my surprise, I learnt that Levene had written a book for Abaddon Books’ “Tomes Of The Dead” collection 🙂 This was a short-lived collection of zombie novels published during the late 2000s and they often used to be the highlight of bookshop horror shelves (anyone remember those?) back in the day 🙂

So, needless to say, I ended up finding a second-hand copy of Levene’s 2008 novel “Anno Mortis” and then… got distracted by other books. But, since I was going through slightly more of a horror fiction phase than usual, I thought that I’d take a look at it. And I’m so glad that I did 🙂

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

——-
I read the 2008 Abaddon Books (UK) paperback edition of this novel. However, I won’t include a scan of the book cover in this review, since part of it probably borders on being “Not Safe For Work”. Still, as a work of art, it is a really cool-looking cover that also uses both composition and visual storytelling in a way that hearkens back to novel covers of the 1980s (especially since, unlike a lot of modern book covers, it’s an actual painting too 🙂 )
——–

The novel begins in Ancient Rome, during the cruel reign of the Emperor Caligula. On a hot summer afternoon, an enslaved gladiator called Boda steps into the arena for the first time. Being a fierce Cimbri warrior from the north, Boda shows no mercy after besting her opponent. Whilst the crowd’s reaction to this is a little bit mixed, and Boda doesn’t exactly make any friends with the other gladiators, the senator Seneca is pleased since it means another dead body for his mysterious plot.

Caligula is also in attendance at the games and, after his uncle Claudius is accidentally humiliated, Caligula decides to rub salt into the wound by taking ownership of Claudius’ slave Narcissus. Narcissus is forced to work in the accounting offices of the palace, where he discovers some irregularities with the cargo manifests of one of Seneca’s ships and decides to investigate.

Meanwhile, a young man called Petronius incurs his father’s wrath after he is caught indulging in a moment of hedonism. Incensed by his son’s gluttony and debauchery, Petronius’ father orders him to spend his days studying rhetoric under the stern tutelege of Seneca. Although Petronius finds this dull at first, he happens to notice a fragment from the Egyptian book of the dead amongst Seneca’s scrolls. So, when Seneca leaves the house, Petronius decides to follow him…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is like heavy metal music in book form 🙂 Seriously, this gripping dark fantasy thriller novel is epic in almost every sense of the word 🙂 This is a novel about Ancient Egypt, Ancient Rome, Vikings (in all but name), gruesome zombies, evil cults meeting in dark catacombs, gladiatorial combat, epic mythology and lots of other dramatic stuff. Seriously, this is what fantasy fiction should be like 🙂

And, yes, you’ll notice that I said “fantasy” rather than “horror”. Whilst this novel does contain some really great horror elements, it is more of a fantasy novel than it initially appears to be. This mostly takes the form of magic, ancient mythology, Bangsian fantasy and supernatural creatures.

Although the novel’s fantasy elements do contain some small inconsistencies (eg: a character is suddenly shown to have the ability to use magical disguises, even though such an ability would have been much more useful during a chase scene several pages earlier), there is so much cool stuff here that these don’t really matter.

We’re talking about things like giant stone crocodiles, jackal-headed men, giant zombie elephants, mythical beasts, dark rituals, mysterious portals, evil scarab beetles, ancient gods/goddesses, the river Styx etc… But, all of this awesome heavy metal album cover stuff is also given a bit more depth than you would expect thanks to the characters and the plotting. Not only that, this novel has the kind of clever conclusion that is as capricious as an old saga and yet as emotionally powerful as one of Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics. Seriously, the epilogue left me in floods of tears, in the best way possible.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they’re really good. In addition to lots of nail-biting suspense, some tragic horror, some cruel horror, some gory horror, some occult/paranormal horror, some character-based horror and some psychological horror, this novel is also a surprisingly inventive take on the zombie apocalypse genre too.

The novel’s zombies are corpses whose skulls have been inhabited by possessed scarab beetles (and, yes, there is actually a good explanation for this). The more recently-deceased a zombie is, the more intelligent it is. Yet, even the most skeletal of zombies is still smart enough to do things like follow military strategies. But, at the same time, the zombies are also close enough to traditional horror movie zombies to still add a bit of classic-style zombie horror to the story 🙂

This novel is also an absolutely brilliant thriller novel too 🙂 In addition to all of the suspense that I’ve mentioned earlier, this novel contains some brilliantly dramatic fast-paced set pieces too. In addition to gladiatorial combat and several large and small scale zombie battles, this novel also includes a dramatic chariot chase through the streets of ancient Rome and other grippingly fast-paced things like this 🙂

The novel’s atmosphere and historical settings are really cool too 🙂 Whilst I haven’t studied the history enough to be able to say how accurate this novel is (then again, it has zombies in it), the Roman settings feel kind of like a cross between HBO’s “Rome” and “Spartacus: Blood And Sand” 🙂 This is also a novel that doesn’t shy away from the worst aspects of Roman society (eg: slavery, cruelty, poverty etc..) too. Likewise, there are also a couple of interesting historical cameos, such as the main characters meeting a young Emperor Nero.

In terms of the characters, they’re really good. The main characters are a really interesting and sympathetic group of misfits, all of whom have personalities, flaws and motivations. Plus, although the novel’s villains do seem a little bit cartoonish (especially the cruel Emperor Caligula, who veers into the realms of dark comedy at times) even they are shown to have just enough redeeming qualities for you to both care about them and relish their satisfyingly cathartic demises.

In terms of the writing, this novel is really good too 🙂 The third-person narration is “matter of fact” enough to keep the story flowing at a fast pace, whilst also including enough descriptions to lend the story some atmosphere and personality too.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good. At 356 pages, it is refreshingly lean and efficient when compared to the average tome-sized fantasy or thriller novel. Likewise, the novel’s pacing is handled really well too. Whilst the story remains consistently gripping and fast-paced, there’s a really good progression from the suspenseful drama of the early parts of the story to the more action-paced and epic later parts of the story 🙂

All in all, this novel was a hell of a lot of fun to read 🙂 It’s like heavy metal music in book form 🙂 It is a gloriously badass mixture of the thriller, fantasy, historical fiction and zombie genres 🙂 If you enjoy things like HBO’s “Rome”, “Spartacus: Blood And Sand”, Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics and the “Stargate” movies/TV shows but also wish there were zombies too, then read this book 🙂

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

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.