Turning to the Light


If you’re black and American, or simply a human who values the lives of other humans equally, it’s been a horrific week. I’ve said plenty on Twitter, so I won’t revisit here, but know that the malignancy of American racism flourishes in the hearts you’d least expect it and almost nothing is done to curtail it.

After several days of reflecting on it, I consulted one of my influences for guidance, the regal Toni Morrison.

This is powerful and instructive. I must not waste time refuting the absurdity of racism to the detriment of doing meaningful work.

Because today is the summer solstice, I want to share a review of my annual read, Imajica by Clive Barker.

ImajicaImajica by Clive Barker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every Midsummer, I dream of the Dominions.

Imajica by Clive Barker is one of my all time favorite books as a reader. As an author, this novel is a master class in world building. Barker’s details are impeccable, but that’s not all that impresses me. I’m drawn back into the story of Gentle, Pie, and Judith, on an almost annual basis, because fantasy and imagination on this scale, with complex and diverse characters is rare. If all you know of Clive Barker is the Hellraiser movies, and you love epic and contemporary fantasy, go get this book right now. Probably read the Abarat series first to train for a twisting “not your mama’s fantasy novel”, but then dive right in.

I have two editions, a hardcover single volume, as well as a greatly abused single volume paperback with an illustrated appendix. I couldn’t say why there’s a paperback version of the book split into two volumes, but I will say, this book is best read in one go. It was never intended to be serialized.

Even though I’d read nearly all of Barker’s other work, and knew he was not shy about visceral, bizarre, multiple ethnicity, queer, feminist themes, the first time I read Imajica, I couldn’t believe a woman hadn’t written it. This book is a big ass love letter/apology to gender studies. A heartbroken gender fluid, ethnically ambiguous assassin, is in many ways, the voice of reason. A man and a woman each at war with their biological definitions of themselves, are struggling with identity and culpability. All this was written in 1991, when diversity in speculative fiction wasn’t a hashtag movement because there was no such thing.

Ancient mysterious rites of women is familiar territory for Barker. His novels are full of dangerous women who are perhaps behaving badly, but not without provocation. His constructions are as grotesque as they are gorgeous, but not in a way that raises men above women or vice versa. There’s a sense of women having so far lost all the gender battles, but the war is very much still a go. Judith, Quaisoir, Clara Leash, and Celestine are a lively and problematic bunch.

Aside from all this heavy duty battle of the sexes, religion, dictatorship, murder, and whatnot, there is fantasy crack making each Dominion vivid and threatening. I want to stroll the Merrow Ti Ti, shop in Patoshoqua, and of course reconcile the Dominions while defeating the Autarch and the Unbeheld.

There are parts of the book that drag on the plot,like Little Ease, but, raise your hand if your own internal monologue has ever been negative to the point of derailing your entire life. I think of the Clerkenwell diversion as an odd bit of realism. If you’re trying to save the world and change it irrevocably at the same time? You shall overcome some inner turmoil. Unfortunately for Gentle, his is a bit…insistent.

Imajica has a massive character roster with peculiar species and all sorts of unnatural phenomena. It’d be a parable if it wasn’t SO long.
The story takes common plot conventions like love triangles, assassinations, and blood thirtsty madmen, adds insanely inventive imaginary things that you’re certain exist, and weaves them into an adventure tale about self-discovery. Damned impressive.

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