Book Review : Clive Barker - Imajica (1991)
There's an ongoing misconception about longer books among readers. People gravitate towards them because they seemingly offer a grander, more fulfilling experience for the few dollars invested into them, but I find this assumption to be often wrong. I was really excited to read Clive Barker's self-appointed magnum opus Imajica in August and spend a whopping 880 pages of quality time with an author who's work I enjoy, but it turned out to be an uncomfortable middle ground between an Ironman marathon (for which I was unprepared) and the inherently promised memorable getaway.
Imajica is... well, the story of the universe, really. Or, in this case, the five dominions which the known universe is made of. Earth being the fifth dominion, estranged from the other four. Now, to keep it simple and enticing, here what you need to know: the protagonist is an art forger named John Furie Zacharias, who's also known as Gentle by his friends. One day, he receives a weird call from his ex-lover's Judith O'Dell's husband Charlie Estabrook, warning him that there will be an attempt on her life. Gentle gets there in time to save Judith, but faces off with a shapeshifting creature named Pie'oh'pah who will reveal to him his own destiny and nature.
Well... it's more complicated than that, but it's the gist of it.
I'm going to get screaming, all caps emails for saying this, but... sweeping, iconic fantasy novels such as Imajica have a problem with structure. They're wound up way too tight in Joseph Campbell's monomyth and therefore become eerily predictable. The first two hundred pages of Imajica were as fun, mysterious and challenging as any Clive Barker material I've eve read, but as soon as Gentle and Pie'oh'pah stepped into the In Ovo to reach the Fourth Dominion, I knew exactly everything that would happen from then on. They would systematically travel all four remaining dominion, witness splendors and face increasingly difficult challenges in each, face their own (not so) metaphorical death and triumph by the end.
Imajica follows beat-by-beat the hero's journey after its gloriously winding introduction and it disappointed me. I understand this is a matter of expectations, but the novel's premise was so creative and cerebral that it bugged me to see it take such a narrow and unrewarding path after getting acquainted with it characters. I mean, Imajica is still more than just competent for what it is. It's filled with eerily prescient questions. For example, the relationship between Gentle and Pie'oh'pah, who eventually get married, questions the nature of gender in a loving union. Pie is a shapeshifter with no set gender, but its relationship with Gentle is so intellectually and emotionally fulfulling that even the reader tends to forget the very notion of gender. It's a bit of a headtrip.
So yeah, I was lukewarm on Imajica, but it might be your thing more than it is mine. I have a thing against long-winded fantasy novels because they introduce so many variables (names, characters, places you need to build from the ground up inside your mind) that it become exhausting for me to read. And the fact that it follows such a narrow and predictable structure made me all the more lazy when I could start anticipating the beats. I still love Clive Barker for his horror, but his fantasy, like most fantasy for me, simply doesn't cut it. Imajica a a bit like a skyscraper, you know? I hadn't been into it, but I knew what to expect going from room to room and I didn't even bother remembering much of what was inside.
Except maybe for Yzordderrex. That place was cool.