Clive Barker’s The Scarlet Gospels (Ryan’s Take)

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To keep the lynch mob at bay, and because we love our readers / listeners, I will keep this spoiler-free as humanly possible.  The good people at St. Martins Press and Seraphim were generous to let us have review copes of the book, and we were thrilled.  This is a story decades in the making — and for us fans, in the waiting!   Probably in the history of Clive Barker novels, this is the one that’s gotten the most questions.  When is it coming out?  The answer is of course May 19, 2015, and Summer 2015 for the Deluxe edition from Subterranean Press.

So I think part of what has made Jose and I a good team, is that he has a good eye for facts and details, and as for me –I look for the connections .  I won’t give you a plot synopsis.  You can read other reviews for that.

The feel of the Scarlet Gospels is very fast-paced, action-oriented and even cinematic.  Reading this book, as I turned the pages I felt a sense of dread (there is no delight the equal of it) for the characters involved.  Like the sign post at the entrance to Hell in Dante’s Inferno, “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here,” we find ourselves afraid for these poor souls (Harry D’Amour and his friends).

A few weeks ago, in my enthusiasm and impatience to read this book, I wrote a feature, “Five Things to Read Before the Scarlet Gospels.”  If I were to give myself a grade for that piece of prognostication, it would probably be a C+ , having now read the book.  The Hellbound Heart, “Lost Souls” and “The Last Illusion” are a must read, but I think the Books of the Art, and especially “On Amen’s Shore” won’t add much to the world of The Scarlet Gospels and the Hell of the cenobites and Pinhead (don’t call him that!).

There’s one thing I want to address here before we go on.  There’s a line in the Boom Studios Hellraiser comic that I believe sparked the idea in fans’ minds that the comic and The Scarlet Gospels are intertwined.  It was the lines shared between the liberated Elliot Spencer and a friend of Harry D’Amour’.

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While this line certainly teases something, it may have been a red herring, or a back-story that never got picked up in future issues.  It doesn’t relate to Scarlet Gospels, trust me.  Clive Barker responded to the question this way,

 There’s NOTHING in THE SCARLET GOSPELS which has already been published [in the Hellraiser comics]. Why would I insult my readers by recycling a piece of narrative?

But after seeing this crazy teaser line, and Elliot Spence and D’Amour might have a history, you can’t blame people for wondering.

Mister Barker has fleshed out the back story of Harry D’Amour and his relationship with Norma Paine.  We get to know Harry’s tattoo artist (we’ve just heard about the tattoos in previous stories).  Another big one, is the Lead Cenobite himself.  He has evolved over the past 28 years.  Where before his was an androgynous man with jeweled pins in his head and a breathy, effeminate voice, the character here has evolved to more closely resemble the Pinhead we know from the Hellraiser franchise.  This is who Clive wanted to send off, after-all.  More on that in a bit.  The Hell of the Scarlet Gospels is very well-thought-out, and a place with its own architecture, it’s own flora and fauna, it’s own somewhat chaotic political structure.  In this story, the “Order of the Gash” is a smaller faction in larger world.  The locals call it the “Demonation” harking back Clive’s 2007 novel, Mister B. Gone.  But the hell in that novel resembles the concentric circles of Dante’s Inferno, and it’s not quite the same here.

The Scarlet Gospels is the crossroads where Clive Barker fans and Hellraiser fans meet.  Are you team D’Amour or Team Pinhead?  There’s a little food for thought here…  Is this book a parable for Clive Barker’s view on the runaway Hellraiser franchise, represented by Pinhead, and the role of Harry D’Amour trying to stop him representing Clive Barker himself.  Clive has said before that he relates to D’Amour, because he finds himself drawn to the dark.  There are lots of fun and provocative examples to discuss on this topic, but we’re keeping it spoiler free, right?

Is it worth the wait?  Yes it is! No mater how much you’ve read in interviews and articles about this book, you won’t be prepared.  The first third of the book  is the slow incline, and the last two thirds take you straight down into Hell.  No matter how prepared you think you are, this book will captivate and enthrall the fans of either camp.  I’m looking forward to the opportunity to read it again in May, when the proper hardcover is in my collection.

This review has run long, so in the words of Harry D’Amour, “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”

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  1. Ryan Danhauser

    Pre-reviews scare me, because I’m so afraid of someone giving it away. Like when Terminator 2 came out, you could totally tell that they were setting the movie up to fool you into thinking Arnold was the bad guy and the T-1000 was the good guy, but the trailers ruined it. I keep this in mind writing my review.

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