Imajica: Clive Barker
Reviewed By Joseph Sale
Imajica is like no other book I have read: at turns fantastic and mundane, eerily phantasmagorical and earthily grounded in real-world locations and problems. It might be described as an epic of sexuality and gender, but even that is doing a disservice to the spiritual dimension of the novel that almost haunts the characters on their journey into realms beyond imagination.
In précis, Imajica is a story of the Five Dominions: the Four Reconciled Dominions, and the Fifth Unreconciled Dominion of Earth. Our story starts in the Fifth Dominion, London, which itself seems a fantastical dimension when later viewed from the perspective of characters from other worlds. Estabrook, a wealthy man slighted by his lover Judith, contracts a legendary killer, Pie ‘oh Pah, to end Judith’s life.
Estabrook, however, soon regrets his rash decision, and contrives to cancel the hit. Here, we meet Gentle, a layabout, wanderer, and womaniser, and former lover of Judith’s, who is sent after her and the assassin to New York.
None of these three are who they seem, and it is from their meeting that the story starts in earnest, taking us into realms lying just behind the veil of our reality. No interaction is entirely honest in this novel, and there are secrets and magic buried behind even the most seemingly innocuous act.
Clive Barker once again demonstrates his extraordinary imagination, unveiling a landscape of tremendous vastness and complexity that maps the human mind as much as anything. Unlike the secondary worlds of many fantasy writers, Barker’s Five Dominions are partly defined by their interaction with our modern world and are all the stranger as a result.
The pure weirdness of Imajica cannot be overstated. In no other novel, for example, could our heroes meet Jesus Christ in an insane asylum, and then be married by Him. Barker’s prose-craft evokes, at times, genuine awe, rendering his climactic moments with startling clarity and power. His exploration of gender is fascinating if, at times, slightly heavy-handed for my taste. However, some of the issues he raises are more pertinent now than in 1991, when the novel was original published, showing the timelessness and importance of his themes. In some respects, he was almost too ahead of the curve, writing about non-binary and gender-fluid characters in a way that can perhaps be greater appreciated now than at the time of publication.
Barker never flinches from darkness. And whilst Imajica is unlike Books of Blood or The Damnation Game in that horror is not the central focus, there are memorable encounters in this tome that will raise your hair and shatter your sleep-cycle. In one scene, not for the faint of heart, a creature of the God Hapexamendios rips the soul of a little girl from her body whilst physically abusing her. However, this horrifying scene is certainly not written gratuitously or for entertainment, but as a powerful statement on the crimes of man (specifically the male gender).
Many authors of epics, and Fantasy aim to conjure an ending that is ‘bittersweet’, that resonates with pathos that eternises the human condition of suffering whilst offering glimmers of hope. Despite many instances in Imajica that defy conventional religion, Imajica’s ending is nothing if not spiritual, even Tolkien-esque. It offers the glimmer of true reconciliation with ourselves, our world, and most profoundly, with those we love who were lost to us.
Utterly heartbreaking, joyously inventive, Barker’s Imajica deserves a place amongst the canon of the greats.
Joseph Sale is an editor, novelist, and writing coach. His first novel, The Darkest Touch, was published by Dark Hall Press in 2014. Since, he has authored ten novels, including his duology Gods of the Black Gate and Beyond the Black Gate. He grew up in the Lovecraftian seaside town of Bournemouth.
He edits non-fiction and fiction, helping fledgling authors to realise their potential. He has edited some of the best new voices in speculative fiction including Ross Jeffery, Emily Harrison, Christa Wojciechowski, and more. He writes for journals and magazines such as GameSpew, Storgy, Idle Ink, and The Shadow Booth, and has been published by Blood Bound Books. In 2017, he was nominated for the Guardian’s ‘Not the Booker Prize’.
He is the creator of †3 Dark, a unique publishing project born in 2017 showcasing the work of 13 writers including Richard Thomas and Christa Wojciechowski; the collection features original concept art from Shawn Langley and cover art by Grand Failure.
He is obsessed with Attack on Titan.
You can find out more about Joseph by visiting his official website www.themindflayer.com
Follow Joseph on Twitter @josephwordsmith
Beyond The Black Gate
Once, he killed in the name of the gods.
Now, he’ll kill the gods.
Following on from the events of Gods of the Black Gate. Craig Smiley was once one of the most dangerous serial killers the world had ever known. He killed in the name of seven dark gods. Now, betrayed and offered up as a sacrifice by the very deities he served, Smiley finds himself transported to a mysterious realm beyond the Black Gate. On a quest for revenge, and possibly redemption, Smiley will face the gods that made him, and kill for the very last time.