September is a big month for Clive Barker fans because it brings something that’s rare these days – a new Clive Barker book. This time around (on the 27th, to be exact) we’re getting the third entry in his incredible Abarat series, Abarat: Absolute Midnight.
Look, I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed the Harry Potter books, but I must admit I gnash my teeth a little that J.K. Rowling’s creation has completely overshadowed the Abarat series. There are many similarities: both are aimed at a young adult audience; both are complex enough to be read by adults who shouldn’t be ashamed to do so; and both are the products of prodigious imaginations. The differences, in my opinion, are that Barker’s ability to create worlds out of whole cloth exceeds Rowling’s by a country mile, and their respective writing abilities barely belong in the same conversation.
I think there are a few factors that have kept Barker’s books in the shadows. One, most readers connect Barker with works like Hellraiser and Imajica and The Books of Blood, none of which exactly scream “young adult series.” The other is the pace of his output. Barker has become notoriously slow when it comes to finishing and releasing projects, and for a series to reach the success of a Harry Potter it’s important that a regular schedule be maintained. The last Abarat book, Days of Magic, Nights of War, came out in 2004. Seven years between entries is likely to try the patience of even the most devoted series fan.
I’m patient enough, though, and I think most people who’ve been exposed to the Abarat series will forget how long the wait has been the minute they have Absolute Midnight in their hands. While that is still a few weeks away, there’s a little something available right now that could be just the thing to tide us over for the last bit of this long, long wait.
Beneath the Surface of Clive Barker’s Abarat, Volume 1, is a companion book to the Abarat series. It comes from Phil and Sarah Stokes, the couple behind Barker’s official web presence. Phil and Sarah have been the main conduit between Barker and his fans for the last several years, and their in-depth interviews with him will cost you hours if you start reading them. (This one, in particular, gives fascinating insight into what it took to get the new Abarat book ready for publication.) Given the access they have to Barker and his reportedly extensive archives, they were the perfect duo to put this companion book together.
Based on the online preview available here, this more than just a list of characters and a little bit of backstory – this is actually a peek behind the curtain at the creative process Barker has gone through to get the series this far. Unused sketches and fragments of story, paintings (the Abarat books are lavishly illustrated by Barker – something else that separates him from Rowling), interviews and more make up this first volume of the companion, and with the Abarat series set to go at least two more books, there seems to be plenty of material available should Barker give the nod to a second volume.
The print edition of Beneath the Surface was capped at 120 copies, all of which are already sold, but the digital edition is available at the above links for around $15. It’s sure to be worth it, and should be a great warm-up until Midnight is upon us.