Ginger Nuts of Horror
WARNING: This series contains HUGE spoilers, and is designed as a discussion for people familiar with the source text. I do not wish to spoil your enjoyment of Everville, so please read it before reading this. Thanks.
So this is the final lead in story to The Scarlet Gospels – The Second Book Of The Art. Everville.
I guess I should start by saying I wasn't gripped by the opening at all. It may have been a symptom of reading the book back to back with The Great and Secret Show, but I was eager for more of Tesla, Grillo, and Harry D'Amour. Instead, I was given an almost 100 page re-run of the text-based adventure game The Oregon Trial, complete with famine and religious bullies.
Okay, that's not really fair. On its own merits, the story is fine – the characters are interesting, the situation perilous, and things develop pretty quickly – it's just not what I was hankering for. And of course once things start getting weird, they quickly get deliciously so. Barker has lost none of his talent for vivid imagery or dramatic violence, or indeed his flair for inventive naming, as Buddenbaum is introduced, sowing the seeds of the city of Everville in the minds of a young girl and her father. He's an intriguing proposition at first – clearly manipulative and with some supernatural knowledge and ability, but not as outright sinister as Kissoon was. An interesting point to note here is that in Clive Barker's work, people with hidden agendas are rarely if ever working with the best interests of others in mind.
Following a superb sequence involving an interrupted wedding that leads to bloodshed, we fast forward to the present day, with the town of Everville building towards its annual festival. Yet more characters are introduced, and at this point I had to consciously abandon my desire for continuity and just submit myself to this new tale, at which point the reading instantly became more pleasurable. I really enjoyed the set-up from there, meeting the town journalist uncovering the unsavoury past of the town, and the illicit affair between Phoebe and Joe. Some of this felt very King-esque, actually – I was on more than one occasion forcibly reminded of the set-up passages from Under The Dome or Needful Things – here are a cast of characters, watch them go about their lives, unaware that there's a piano on a very thin string hanging overhead. I found Barker's gifts for both swift and sure characterisation and situation to be as strong as ever, and was quickly caught up in the 'soap opera before the apocalypse' that I find so compelling in dark fiction.
Eventually, we do return to Tesla and Grillo, as events in Everville ping up on Grillo's radar, setting the cast of Great and Secret Show back into motion. Grillo had become a firm favourite of mine during GaSS, so I was saddened that he was terminally ill in this story, clearly unlikely to survive events in Evervuille. Barker did I thought a superb job of finding ways to pull all the disperate characters into that narrative, with the Harry D’Amour sequence a particular highlight. Harry finally came into fruition here for me as a character, that promise I began to glimpse at the end of GaSS paying off in spades. I really enjoyed his Catholic-rooted need to confront evil, even as he fears for his own life, and also the sense that he’s always nearly fatally behind the curve, in terms of understanding what’s going on around him – it’s such a different kind of ‘hero’ from the action archetype that’s always in control (though I suppose is very much in the tradition of the noir protagonist).
From there I found the plotting flowed pretty seamlessly, as the lovers crossed over to Quiddity and Kissoon and Buddenbaum’s machinations tighten around Everville, with our heroes desperately trying to work out who is running what and why. There were a few loose ends – I don’t think I ever figured out why or how Death Boy came back, and actually that whole part of the narrative with the child and Jo-Beth and Howie felt underplayed – the drama of it was satisfying, but the change in Jo-Beth behaviour and outlook felt both under-explored and underdeveloped. I suspect the fate of the child is to form a critical part of the final part of the trilogy (should such a book ever materialise), but here it felt strange – vestigial as far as GaSS is concerned, and unresolved by this book.
Elsewhere, though, I found things much more satisfying. Grillo’s death felt dramatic and earned, Tesla’s death and ascension genuinely exciting, and the entities that Buddenbaum was serving were great Barker creations – sinister, yes, but also complex, interesting. There was an alien quality to them, an otherness, that Barker conveyed very well. I also enjoyed how the narrative of the lovers played out, with Texas ultimately saving our reality from the incursion of the lad, and the ultimate conclusion of their story also felt earned, if a little overdrawn. The love story between Buddenbaum and Seth. I also found moving – a creepy relationship, in many ways, in terms of the power dynamic, but also one where love actually wears down cynicism. Barker made I think some brave choices with that part of the story, and for my money carried it off with some style.
Interestingly, I found the ending both anticlimactic and overlong. Kissoon has a portion of the lad onside, Tesla has just gained The Art… then Kissoon just disappears. I get that there’s supposed to be a book 3 coming, but I desperately wanted some face-off between those two characters, and was disappointed not to get anything. I also found that the ending from that climactic moment just dragged, honestly, though as noted above, the conclusion of the lovers story was apt and sweet, and the final image I found touching.
I’m also ever more curious about the lad. They/it feature more heavily in this story, but their true nature remains as elusive as ever, with even some hints that they might not be quite the monolithic cosmic terror that they are portrayed as – of maybe that if they are, they at least serve a more complex function than simply the conformity of annihilation. How Pinhead’s Order of the Gash fits with this mythos is but one of the threads I’m really intrigued with as I head into The Scarlet Gospels.
So how did you find Everville? Sound off in the comments below, then join us back here for the Gingernuts Of Horror review of The Scarlet Gospels...
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