Clive Barker is, without doubt, the coolest character at Midnight Pals, and I wanted to find out why. Yes, this is a weird motivation for reading an author, but I’ve read worse with less reason. Much worse, as it turns out – Imajica was a good read.
The best word to describe maybe not the book, but my interest in it: it’s an adult book. Not in the sexy way (though I guess that too, plus one sudden actually shocking bit of violence), but in the deep understanding that being an adult usually includes being tired, in over your head, trapped in situations that are not bad so much as that they are not what you dream of. People in Imajica feel real in a way I hadn’t realised I had missed. Real in the exact way you don’t get from Pratchett, maybe.
It helps that the people are as different as they can be: Rich upper-class white guys, their oppressed servants, gay guys dying of AIDS, humanoid hermaphrodites from a different world, slaves and smugglers and merchants and god-kings. Earth is just one of five realms – the others are somewhat connected, and Earth is cut off, except for some smuggling and hidden ways. The last attempt at Reconciliation failed, and badly, and people have conspired to prevent a next attempt at all costs. The four reconciled worlds are ruled by the brutal Autarch, who rules through brutal monotheism in a factually polytheist world (nice concept), but who I found very hard to be interested in (but thankfully, the story didn’t try to force my interest, for the most part).
Our protagonists both have a curious lack of backstory that becomes loadbearing after a bit. It was interesting – I don’t usually like memory loss troping to support exposition, but it was exceedingly well done here, and in an uncommon way, so I had to forgive it (though it made the protagonist hard to bear). The story is fine, but surprisingly I was more into the people than into either the story or the worldbuilding. (It’s not often I pass up good worldbuilding).
Though, to be fair, there are some worldbuilding tidbits that I loved. For example, Christ as just another ancient magician/maestro is a classic, but “maybe he died to save us from his Father” was a new one. Then-current-day racism taken as granted and commented upon the same way homophobia is just assumed: extremely well done and refreshing to read (plus, not shying away from discussing Fantasy Racism/Slavery as a thing). Plus some nice and non-icky commentary on femininity and masculinity.
Most interesting, looking back, is that I don’t love the book, and I’m not even all that sure that I like it. But I’m interested and fascinated. Two or three parts punched me right in the feelings (towards the end, the protagonist’s mother tells him a story in a flashback that’s just all sorts of fucked up). Intellectually, it’s a kind of anti-Narnia without being stupid or edgy. I don’t know: it’s a weird book, and I’m happy I read it.