“Oh, God! Chickentown! After all this, these wonders, these miracles: Chickentown! The thought was unbearable.”
Abarat by Clive Barker is the first book of a planned series, although so far there have only been two. Candy, a young teenager, lives an uninspiring life in awful Chickentown until one day she walks out of school, beyond the town, and into an adventure. She is initiated into this new world by a very strange creature named John Mischief, who enlists her help to save him from a terrible enemy. By following his instructions, she actually summons the Otherworld into her own, enabling his escape, but choosing at the last minute to follow him. Once in the Otherworld (a fantastically imaginative land consisting of an archipelago where each island is an hour of the day), she is joined by a number of different companions.
There are two adversaries here, a classic dark prince who wants to make the whole world darkness, and a more modern evil – a man who essentially wants to turn the world into Disneyland. The former has his eye on her, and tries to capture her, with the possible end being a romantic relationship. At various times she is left by her companions (or taken from them) to make her way alone. In one example of this, she confronts an evil magician and must defeat him to save herself and his slave – in doing so, she reveals the fraudulent source of his power.
The twist is that Candy has been to Abarat before, it seems, though perhaps in another life.
While the second book in the series (Abarat: Days of Magic, Nights of War) continues the storyline nicely, we have yet to see how this ends.
Aside from being a wonderful example of the Girls Underground archetype, Abarat is just a fascinating, creative masterpiece, both in the story and characters and in the original paintings by Barker that fill the book. I leave you with this poem from the world of the islands…
and pleasures few,
and holed the ship,
and drowned the crew,
But O! But O!
How very blue
the sea is!”