A., the setting for Clive Barker's magical new novel for young people, is the most boring place in the world. Tired of a purposeless life with her perpetually depressed mother and alcoholic father, Candy Quackenbush is desperate to escape the monotony of a Minnesota town notable only for its chicken-processing plants. The opportunity comes on a day when, fed up with her mean-spirited teacher, Candy walks out of school and is drawn to the prairie at the edge of town. There, she finds a broken-down lighthouse, a thief named John Mischief with seven extra heads, and an ocean that appears and carries her to another world called the Abarat, where each island represents a different hour of the day. Once in the Abarat, Candy is targeted by Christopher Carrion, the malicious Lord of Midnight from whom John Mischief stole a mysterious key. As she travels across the islands, however, it soon becomes clear that Candy is under Carrion's scrutiny for more reasons than her involvement with Mischief. The more time she spends in the Abarat, the more it seems that she has been there before, and that her role in the changing future of the islands will be greater than she could have thought.
In this novel aimed at young adults, Barker presents the reader with a host of very disturbing characters: deformed men created from mud, giant moths formed from mummified corpses, and a powerful magician who comforts himself by literally drinking in his insane thoughts. Without encouraging too many nightmares, Barker tempers the horror factor with elements of fantasy and adventure that will entertain and fascinate his readers. Accompanying the text are more than a hundred spectacular full-color paintings that Barker himself spent four years completing to illuminate his fantastic tale. With the presence of so many bizarre creatures throughout the book, illustrations that exemplify just what the author had in mind when he dreamed them up are welcome. The paintings are often integrated into the text, enhancing the surreal atmosphere of the story and drawing the reader further into the world they depict. From preteens to adults, readers who love fantasy and excitement will lose themselves in Barker's intricate narrative and eagerly await the next installment in the series. Emily Morelli is a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.