** spoiler alert **
Like many, I've been (im)patiently waiting seven years for the third installment of Clive Barker's Abarat series to be delivered into my waiting arms. This Saturday, I finally had it in my hands! A day or two of reading later, and I'd devoured every chapter. So how was it?
In a nutshell, I think Absolute Midnight suffers from Middle Child Syndrome - a necessity to the plot, but doomed to be largely overshadowed by its siblings. The first book was whimsical and dreamy, bursting with vibrant characters and one of the best villains (though I s'pose he's really more of an anti-hero now) I've ever read. DMNW was a natural outgrowth of the first; still fantastic and winding, but with a bit more maturity and sinister foreshadowing. With the third book, I knew that Motley's takeover of the archipelago would be the main focus.
But now that I've read it, I have to agree that something isn't quite right about this installment. It's hard to pinpoint exactly where it fails, but by the time I finished, I felt as though I'd missed something. Anyone who has read it will know what I'm talking about: Boa, anyone? It's as though Barker just forgot to mention an entire sequence of events, or that he only decided upon starting the third book that he wanted to make her a villain (not that I think he did, but that's the level of sloppy characterization we get). There's actually a lot of issues with characterization this time around. Few of the characters grow during this book, and those who do seem to develop in random or nonsensical ways. Candy falls instantly in love halfway through with a brand-new character, and rather than salvage this cheesy love-at-first-sight plot twist by making Gazza interesting or likeable, he remains a bland, flat character and blends in with the sea of other bland, flat characters. And Carrion! Resurrected dramatically, vowing to be the enemy of love, and then proceeds to show up once or twice as the plot requires him and fading into the background when it doesn't.
There are a lot of issues in Absolute Midnight, and I think the fact that it took him seven years to finish might imply that it was difficult for him to love working on it. You can tell when an author is just trying to write through to the interesting bits. I hope that book four inspires Mr.Barker more than book three.