Yay sequels! Loved faces and familiar places! Well, okay, maybe not in the Abarat. This gorgeous and meaty second book, in Clive Barker’s four book series about the adventures of Candy Quackenbush through the Abarat’s many things rich and strange is certainly every bit as entertaining and mysterious as the last, but in the Abarat, nothing is familiar, or comfortable, or certain. At least not for Candy, who resumes her tale — ominously subtitled Days of Magic, Nights of War . . . that can’t bode well — as a happy sightseer through the islands of Day and Night with her happy, orange, geshrat pal Malingo, but is steadily sucked into a vortex of mystery, calamity and violence despite her best intentions. Clearly, Something is Going On. In this fine second book in the exquisitely illustrated Books of the Abarat quartet, a few mysteries are solved, but the adventure seems to be far from over.
We begin more or less where we left Candy and Malingo. In between their narrow escapes from Otto Houlihan the Criss-Cross Man, who is still hot on their tails on behalf of the insatiable Christopher Carrion, Lord of Midnight, Candy and Malingo have, for the most part, been engaging in the dubious but always entertaining pastime of tourism. They’ve evidently seen a smorgasbord of fantastic Abaratian sights, and are enjoying themselves thoroughly, when they are finally chased towards the carnival island of Babilonium (a singular treat for visitors and readers), where they are separated. Candy then begins a new chapter of her travels alone. On the beautiful and melancholy evening island of Scoriae she hears the disturbingly familiar tale of Finnegan Hob and the beautiful, magical and saintly Princess Boa, who died in the mouth of a dragon on their wedding day. This tragic story underscores all of Candy’s subsequent adventures as well as those of her cohorts Malingo and John Mischief, who finally dig up (in a strange literal sense) the missing Finnegan Hob on the isle of Nonce, where he has been battling a particularly nasty member of the dragon species. It seems that Hob has made dragon killing a career since the day that his beloved Princess Boa was murdered by one. All of their stories seem to be heading in a general direction — one that hasn’t been fully revealed as of yet, but promises to be spectacular. The evil Mater Motley (grandmother of sinister Lord Carrion) has some wicked designs on the Abarat. There is a lot of magic in the air. A war is coming.
Now, please allow me a moment in which I can, in the most graceful way possible (which for me, may not be so graceful), eat my words. In my review of Abarat, the first offering in the series, I said that the next book was likely to have “little to do with chickens, and a lot to do with magic,” seeing as how Chickentown seemed such a good candidate for leaving behind in the fictional dust in favor of such an interesting and well-crafted fantasy world as the mystical archipelago known as the Abarat. But it seems that I was only half right. Magic is indeed everywhere — Candy has a bunch herself that she was previously unaware of, and it causes all kinds of fantastic and calamitous events, and of course there are also the women of the Fantomaya, who seem to be awful meddlers, and possess a vast range of mystical skills. However, rather than being relegated to the lonely cemetery of boring places we’d rather not remember, Chickentown instead returns to the foreground on occasion. We are engaged not only with Candy’s Abaratian adventures, but also with those of Henry Murkitt, official Chickentown ghostie, and Melissa and Bill Quackenbush, Candy’s estranged parents. These rare glimpses into Chickentown life after Candy’s disappearance solidify Candy’s Abaratian experiences for the reader, as unlike Dorothy and her Oz we cannot mistake Candy’s mysterious adventures for mere wishful thinking or an elaborate dream resulting from some strange head injury. In addition, we are offered the opportunity to explore the depth of Candy’s family life in greater detail. Melissa Quakenbush, Candy’s mother, bears traces of a much richer depth of complexity than we may have realized in the first book, and both Melissa and Candy’s relationships with Bill lightly address some of the painful issues that surround alcoholic and violent family members. These issues are only lightly addressed for now, however, for most of the story belongs to Candy as she struggles with her emerging identity in the Abarat as well as in her Minnesotan hometown.
Again, there is much to be said for Barker’s wildly creative and evocative paintings, many many of which illustrate this second book, and all are in full color. These illustrations only add to the imaginative power of the text, rather than detracting from it, as there is much left to the reader’s imagination, and each painting is so exquisitely and elaborately detailed. Like the novel itself, the illustrations run the gamut from the delightful to the macabre to the mysterious, and all have a strange, upbeat flair to them that make them remarkably attractive. I found myself hugely eager to see what would pop up next, whether a curious member of the bizarrely diverse Totemix or a gangly, upside-down portrait of the munkee Filth.
All in all, the second Abarat offering is a tremendous success. Though it may be a bit slow to start, once it gains momentum it fairly rockets along, hurling Candy and her friends and foes along with it. It reveals just enough mysteries to satisfy our curiosities, but keeps even more to itself to surprise us with later. The fun and witty dialogue, wildly creative descriptions and outrageously colorful illustrations will delight those seeking a good young adult book, and its darker bits will satisfy fans of Barker’s previous unusual and inventive work.
Once again, I am looking forward to the next Abaratian adventure. Though knowing what I know now, I’ll just keep any predictions about chickens and whatnot in the next book to myself. For all I know, there’ll be chickens uttering incantations and taking orders for spicy smatterling soup in the next book. Just about anything weird can happen over there in the Abarat.