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arrakiswitch

A Reciprocal Love Affair With Books

Jean, 39, lover of sci-fi, horror and fantasy, reader of comic books, conqueror of genre fiction.

SPOILER ALERT!

Review: The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker

— feeling doubt
The Scarlet Gospels - Clive Barker

Clive Barker is back with only his second adult novel in the past decade, and the result is... middling. The premise pits fan favorite Harry D'Amour against the most famous and infamous of Barker's creations, the Hell Priest, aka Pinhead (or Pinfuck, as Harry takes to calling him. master of the pun, Harry is apparently not.) In practice, while the books starts with a huge, engaging bang, it then languishes on a ton of in depth world building and exposition. Harry becomes Pinhead's witness, the proposed author of his testament, his Scarlet Gospels, and does little else. He loses any and all potency as a protagonist by sheer virtue of not doing anything except trailing after Pinhead in Hell.

 

While the plotting and the pacing in that first part of the book are really strong, the writing is fairly bare, and, by Barker's standards, nearing appalling. The prose takes a massive step up after, but the plot, such as it is, slows to a crawl, and the characters come off as shockingly flat: Dale is strangely inconsistently written after his introduction, Caz was only mention by Harry before he gets stuck in their group, and Lana's only introduced pages before she gets thrown into Hell with them. Lana bitches, Dale flirts, and Caz... calls Harry Harold? That's pretty much their most defining characteristics. Norma is cool, but has some very negative tropes attached to her (Magical Negro in fiction, yup). I loved Harry, but he's merely reactionary for fully two-thirds of the books.

 

I wasn't really here for Pinhead, so the inconsistencies didn't really bother me. I think Hell was extraordinarily well done, beautifully described, richly imagined and realized. However, setting it up so that only Lucifer himself is powerful enough to ultimately end Pinhead is hilarious and disappointing.

 

And then it continues on. And on and on, after the climax. In the reading slump I was in, that was painful. There's a reason movies cut to the heroes returning home triumphantly. And, good God, what reality did that scene with the preacher in his limousine belong to? I guess it was supposed to be humor, which was not only bizarrely executed, but poorly timed, since they're literally carrying Norma's dead body with them, grieving and bruised.

And, what is that? The Lament Configuration mysteriously appearing in Harry's office at the very end?! Do I smell cliffhanger? No. No, I don't, because they just get rid of it, and at that point, I was tired, and I was done.

 

I like to think I had realistic expectations for this novel, maybe a tad on the high side. And while it was all right, it failed to even meet my middling hopes for it.