Days of Magic, Nights of War

Days of Magic, Nights of War

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for its prequel, Abarat. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Days of Magic, Nights of War was written by Clive Barker and first published in 2004. It forms the second instalment of the Abarat Quintet and is preceded by Abarat (2002) and followed by Absolute Midnight (2011). A release dates for the final two books of the series – provisionally titled Kry Rising and The Eternal – have yet to be announced.

The story picks up a couple of weeks after the first story ends, as Candy and Malingo have been spending their time touring the fantastical islands of the Abarat archipelago. They are pursued all the while by Otto Houlihan the Criss-Cross Man – a bounty hunter under the employ of Christopher Carrion. Although he comes close to catching them on several occasions, they always manage to escape through a mixture of luck and quick thinking.

Candy still cannot understand why the Lord of Midnight has such an interest in an ordinary girl from Minnesota but has begun to notice some strange changes within herself. Although she has never been to Abarat before, the islands are starting to seem familiar to her. On top of this, she finds that she has a natural aptitude for magic – the words springing easily into her mind even though she has not ever heard them spoken before.

Her abilities have attracted the attention of Mater Motley – Carrion’s evil grandmother – who insists that the girl must be eliminated. Candy’s power poses a threat to her plans and, now that Carrion has finally retrieved the key to the Pyramids of Xuxux, she needs to ensure that no one is around to stop her. The final battle is about to begin and, so long as nobody stands in their way, Mater Motley knows that they have to power to cause absolute midnight to descend over Abarat…

Before I begin, it’s time for my usual warning. Although Days of Magic, Nights of War is by no means a violent or gruesome story, it is a little darker than its previous instalment. Clive Barker is best known for his adult horror stories and there are definitely echoes of that here. Shapeless Lovecraftian monstrosities invade the plot in the form of the insectoid Sacbrood and Carrion’s sentient “nightmares” and lovable characters do die this time, sometimes in sudden and horrible ways. While I found this quite refreshing (it added some grim realism to the tale by not giving major characters long and heroic deaths), I feel it does have the potential to upset sensitive readers.

In my review of Abarat, I spoke about how it was an utter masterpiece of imaginative fiction and this certainly has not changed. Abarat is a wonderful world filled with boundless potential and the first half of the novel uses this to great effect. The sights that Candy and Malingo behold are even more magnificent than in the previous story. From a cavern containing the threads of fate to the never ending carnival of Babilonium (my favourite location so far), Abarat is still a place where anything is possible and the dreamlike descriptions of the islands range from breath-taking to terrifying.

Yet, particularly within the first 250 pages, it is clear that something is missing. The novel quickly establishes a pattern and does nothing to deviate it. Essentially, Candy reaches a new island and spends a little time exploring, Houlihan appears and chases her (shouting thinks like “you’ll never escape” all the while) and then Candy escapes through some random convenience. This happens at least three times over the early chapters and so quickly becomes stale. I like to see sequel stories picking up and developing the plot elements raised by the first book but the first half of Days of Magic, Nights of War is largely filler material which, while still entertaining and imaginative, does not really advance the plot or characterisation at all.

However, the second half of the story is a lot stronger and does finally begin to unravel some of the mysteries left in Abarat. It is revealed why Carrion needed the pyramid key and it’s not good. I’m not sure what I expected to be inside the Pyramids of Xuxux but it certainly was not what Barker delivered and I can’t wait to see what horrible repercussions it will have on later novels in the series. Candy’s importance to Abarat is also finally revealed within the climax of the novel, although it is still unclear what role she will have in bringing peace to the world, and it is a decent twist. It builds upon plot elements that have been present in the story from the beginning and goes a long way to explain the emotional impact that she has on certain characters within the story.

The story also has a far more impressive ending than the previous novel, building to an action packed and dramatic climax. This ending builds through a lot of the story and did not leave me disappointed – it could not really be more exciting and maintains tension incredibly well. I also appreciated that the story rounded up to a solid ending. Although it is clear what direction Absolute Midnight will take, Days of Magic, Nights of War wrapped up the loose ends left by Abarat and felt like a complete story in its own right, rather than part of a serial.

While the story does seem a little weak in places, I have very little to criticise in terms of characterisation. The secondary cast are still wonderfully fleshed out and, although there are a lot of characters in this story, it was refreshing to find that they are all so unique, individual and memorable. Malingo, in particular, has developed far since Candy granted him his freedom and he grows from being an abused slave to a confident magician. The new characters introduced this time are also fantastic, including the calculating Mater Motley and the passionate Finnigan Hob, who add new fire to both sides of the conflict.

Candy, however, has lost a little of her shine in my eyes. While I praised her in Abarat for her display of courage despite acknowledgement of her human frailties, this has largely gone in this novel. Don’t get me wrong, Candy is still strong and likable, but the introduction of her shockingly powerful magic has made her a bit less interesting. She no longer really needs to use her wits or kindness to get out of tight scrapes – her undefined (and seemingly unrestricted) magic is more than enough to defeat villains who are far more powerful that she is.

I’m also not really sure where the romance is going in the story and I’m not sure I like it. This is a personal gripe and is purely because I think that Candy and Malingo work really well together as a couple. Their relationship is built on friendship and trust, having battled through so many hardships together. The introduction of not one, but two other potential suitors for her felt like a misstep, as neither receive any where near the amount of joint development that Candy and Malingo were given. While I don’t feel that Letheo will ever become a love interest for her (his loyalty to Carrion still seems a little too strong), Finnigan only shares a single look with Candy and seems to be falling for her. While reason for this is given and is important to the plot, I really hope that this story does not take this route. Personal history aside, they just don’t seem to have any chemistry together.

These gripes aside, my favourite thing in the story is still Christopher Carrion. I adore the Lord of Midnight. This novel delves more into his past, exploring the causes of his nightmares and revealing the series of events, abuses and broken hearts that have made him the monster that he is. And it’s all compelling reading. I really sympathise with Carrion as, while he is characterised by others as just being an evil dark lord, he has far greater depths than this. I’m not sure that any character in the story fully understands him as, for all the evil deeds he does, it feels as though he has a deep capacity for kindness and even love. Carrion never comes across as a demon by nature – his evils are borne from deep abuse and an inability to express his feelings without being punished by Mater Motley. For me, he is still the best character in the series and I’m excited to see how he develops further in Absolute Midnight.

So, to conclude, I’d say that Days of Magic, Nights of War largely continues the strong start that Abarat gave this series. While the first half of the novel is a bit weak in terms of plot and Candy sometimes treads a little too far into Mary Sue territory, the novel is still rich in terms of imagination and characterisation. It conjures so many memorable locations and characters and the second half of the story ramps up to an impressively dramatic climax. It might not be perfect but I’m still loving this series and can’t wait to find out what happens next.

Days of Magic, Nights of War can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. The Bookish God
    Feb 05, 2015 @ 20:31:05

    This sounds like it’s right up my alley! Great review 🙂

    Reply

  2. Trackback: The Sobeks – Part 1 | Arkham Reviews

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