I lost track of the Abarat series a handful of years ago. I'm not sure why; even before I re-read it this month, I had fond memories of the story, and still had much of the imagery of the book in my mind. It's hard to get out of your mind the image of men with their mouths, noses, and eyes on insect legs that scuttle about their faces, and even disengage and chase after folks so that the men can keep up with their pursuit. But when I found out that there was a third book already released, with two more shortly behind it, I realized that I needed to go back and get caught up with the series.
Abarat holds up very well, for it being a twelve-year-old book. The imagery is still vivid and unforgettable (even without the illustrations), and the story is one of several that cover the hero's journey, only this time in a much, much darker world. The world of Abarat exists just on the other side of reality near Chickentown, Minnesota, and is made up of twenty-five archipelagos on an ocean, each island representing one hour of time in a standard day (with the twenty-fifth island existing outside of time). So, if you visit the six o'clock island, you find an island in perpetual twilight, while the midnight island is always dark, both in environment and theme. Candy Quackenbush, our heroine, is thrust into this world by accident, but the more she learns and experiences of Abarat, the more she's convinced that her existence there is less coincidence, and more fate.
The story is mainly one of exposition, world-building, and character development, as we find reason to sympathize with Candy and her friends, see the world of Abarat through her eyes, and get an idea of how important she is to the world. There is a main plot that weaves through the entire story, but given that this is the first of five volumes, we can't expect to get too many questions answered here. Instead, we get just enough to give us a taste of the world, and hopefully get us hooked into what will come.
Barker has always excelled at creating disturbing, vivid imagery, and he doesn't shy away from doing it here, in what is ostensibly a young-adult novel. He does shy away from his typical pairing of horror and sex, for good reason (I once told someone that the monsters in most of Barker's work either wanted to kill you or fuck you or both, and sometimes you hoped for the former), and I think it actually strengthens the effectiveness of his imagery by taking that out. I've already mentioned the insect-like facial features above, but when you get to the description of Christopher Carrion ... well, let me just go ahead and warn you to be prepared for it.
Abarat is an exceptional book in a lot of ways, and I'm looking forward to seeing what comes next. It's been long enough since I've read them that these re-reads are almost like reading them anew, and I've discovered a lot of things that I don't remember at all. I can't wait to see how the series develops, and what new new there will be in Absolute Midnight.