Remember when Clive Barker mattered?
Time was, he stood shoulder to shoulder with Stephen King and his kith and kin as one of the heavy hitters of popular horror. In the late '80s and all through the '90s, his seamless weaving of the stuff of sex together with the inevitable perversity of death led to a string of critical and commercial successes including Weaveworld, Cabal, Imagica and Everville. But over the years, the man became a brand. The macabre amalgam of visceral violence and exotic erotica that set his narratives apart from the pack at the start had, by the time of its samey culmination in Coldheart Canyon, diminished his fiction. Barker was about to lose his bite—such that it was a relief, really, when he changed gears completely.
As a long time admirer of the aforementioned author, and a die-hard fan of the Hellraiser franchise—up to and including the stupidest sequels—I had high hopes for The Scarlet Gospels, which sees Clive Barker taking ownership of the High Priest of Pain for the first time since, I think, the first of the films.
If anything, my expectations were raised when, after something like a decade on the drawing board, The Scarlet Gospels saw the light of day this past May—and what do you know? It was relatively well received. Most of the reviews I perused were good going on great, so when I finally got around to reading Barker's first proper horror novel—excepting Mister B. Gone and the Abarat books—in nearly fifteen years, I was basically beside myself with excitement.
And you know what? That first chapter? Fucking. Fantastic. Classic Clive Barker.
But from there on out, I'm afraid, The Scarlet Gospels is "business as usual, at best." And the rest of the time, "it reads like an unsightly reminder of a writer past his prime."
Strange Horizons has my full review. Please do click on through.